The elements of beer illuminate a multitude of flavors and aromas that all crash together in perfect harmony. Who’s familiar with the terms “orthonasal” and “retronasal?” Well, I don’t think it’s a common term used in everyday vocabulary, but in the beer industry, it’s what separates you from the rest of the pack! So, who’s ready for a quick lesson?

We’ve all seen wine enthusiasts “swirl” a wine glass to coat the interior and measure the “legs on the wine” as it coats the glass…well grab a beer, pour into a small sample glass and, you guessed it, swirl. This highlights the beer’s aroma by swirling it so a thin layer coats the glass and evaporates quickly. To take in the aroma of the beer, do a “drive by” under your nose, followed by a longer sniff, which is normally taken through the front of the nose and gives you the orthonasal affect.

Next, plug your nose and taste the sample of beer. No, this isn’t your first swimming lesson, but rather an exercise for the retronasal senses. Do you get a carousel of senses such as texture, temperature, bitterness, sourness, sweetness and saltiness? Notice you do not perceive any aromas in the beer. Now unplug your nose and breath out your nostrils. All the aromas you are now experiencing are perceived through retronasal olfaction.

So, what about chocolate? Chocolate also goes through a fermentation process with raw cocoa in the pod. The rich, fattiness from the cocoa butter compliments the complexities of a bubbly barley treat that ultimately harmonizes and contrasts each other all at the same time, making it the perfect love affair.

Valentine’s Day around the corner, you can always do something original and buy chocolates. . .or you can pair those chocolates with beer! There are many styles you can mix and match with an assortment of chocolates from truffles to chocolate covered malted milk balls.

As a general rule of thumb, I like to match similar strengths and styles of beer and chocolate that will balance and complement each other. The rich, fatty cocoa butter notes from chocolate typically always pair well with the creamy, bitter flavors from a stout or a dark, roasty porter. Similarly, beers with fruit or spice notes can add character to the pairing. A great example of this is a Lambic or Chocolate Cherry Bock paired with a smooth, delicate chocolate ganache. Another combination to consider is pairing the toasted, nutty notes of an English Brown Ale or Nut Brown Ale with a creamy caramel treat or peanut brittle that can bring at tasty, toasty, nutty surprise.

Perhaps you are interested in pairing your favorite IPA with a special treat for your sweetheart. This can be tricky because the bitterness of IPAs sometimes can be overwhelming when paired with a bitter chocolate. But this challenge is not impossible to overcome. The floral accents of an IPA can complement candies such as a milk chocolate lemon drop or a citrus infused truffle.

Ultimately, there is no wrong way to pair beer and chocolate and sometimes the best sensations come from experimenting with flavor combinations. So, go out and buy a box of chocolates and grab a six pack of mix-and-match beer this Valentine’s Day and make the perfect date night right in your own home.