Beer and chocolate are two of my favorite things on the planet. If you asked me to define myself in one sentence, the words beer and chocolate would probably be in there somewhere. So you can imagine my dismay when I was burdened with the arduous task of helping pair Stone beer with the innovative artisinal offerings of Eclipse Chocolat for our Beer & Chocolate Pairing event on May 3rd. But I’m not one to complain. Rather than drag my feet and mope about the daunting task ahead of me, I decided to tackle it head-on and get it over with, and so did my equally apprehensive compatriots, Beer & Chocolate Host Ken Wright and Brewer Jeremy Moynier.
We arrived at Eclipse late in the afternoon, just as rush hour traffic was rearing its ugly head on El Cajon Boulevard. Immediately upon entering the reasonably populated, pleasantly decorated dessert cafe, we were greeted by Chocolatier Extraordinaire Will Gustwiller, the Owner of Eclipse Chocolat. After exchanging customary introductions, we tended to the irksome job before us.
The first piece of chocolate that Will offered us was one of his first creations—a Lavender Sea-Salted Caramel truffle. This creamy milk chocolate delicacy is Eclipse’s most popular truffle, and it’s easy to see why. After striking out with Stone Levitation Ale, we decided to pair it with Stone IPA. Success. The prevailing salt and herbal notes of the truffle harmonized beautifully with the citrusy, hoppy bite of Stone IPA. We were off to a promising start.
Next up was Will’s Chili-burnt Caramel Truffle, a chili-infused dark chocolate truffle with a subtle, delayed spicy note. Will warned us that this would be the most difficult truffle to pair, due to its overwhelming flavor profile. We promptly assured him that we rarely encounter food capable of smothering the bold flavors of our beers, but sure enough, we were wrong. The truffle overwhelmed several of our beers before we finally stumbled upon a winner. The long-lasting bitter finish of Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout was the only heavy-hitting flavor that could stand up to the prolonged chili spice of the truffle. When the ooh’s and ahh’s subsided, they were replaced by talk of using this pairing as the finale of the pairing on May 3rd. And for good reason.
The next truffle, Will’s Balsamic Pink Peppercorn truffle, was a definite departure from the previous offerings. If you’re thinking of the slight spicy flavor found in commercial peppercorn dressings and such, think again. Will uses actual fresh peppercorns for the filling of this truffle, resulting in an earthy sweet flavor that is enhanced by raspberry balsamic vinegar sweetened dark chocolate. Double Bastard Ale and Stone Cali-Belgique IPA weren’t a match, but we eventually found the right supplement. The smoky, roasted barley note and strong hop finish of Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale proved a perfect mate for the unique truffle.
At this point our spirits were low as the backbreaking labor began to take its toll, but somehow we mustered the strength and determination to persist. Will introduced the next delicacy, a Black Sesame Anise truffle, and we valiantly resumed. This dark chocolate ganache-infused creation comes packed with anise seed and star anise, and is topped with toasted black sesame seeds. Again we tried to pair it with Stone Levitation Ale, along with a few other Stone beers, all to no avail. At last we found a champion in the form of Stone Cali-Belgique IPA. The dense fruity note of the Belgian Yeast provided the perfect contrast to the bittersweet anise and the toasty sesame seeds.
The next chocolate was met with desperate cries for mercy as the unceasing consumption of gourmet chocolate and delicious craft beer began to erode our morale, but the painful ordeal was almost over. We knew that once we found a pairing with Will’s Macadamia Ginger White Chocolate, we could go home. So we found one in the form of 2009 Stone Old Guardian Barley Wine. The sweet tang of the lemon sang in perfect harmony with Old Guardian’s hoppy finish, and the ginger in the chocolate worked opposite of the bold barley presence of the barley wine. And for all of you who think white chocolate isn’t real chocolate, let there be no mistake. White chocolate is indeed chocolate if it has real cocoa butter in it. Many commercially available white chocolates opt for vegetable oil instead of cocoa butter because it’s significantly cheaper. Will does no such thing. His white chocolate is the real deal.
But alas, there was more! Will cemented his standing as a wizard of chocolate with his last delicacy—a Banana Rum Cigar truffle. Will explained that he deftly weaved actual cigar leaf into this rare truffle, immediately dropping our jaws and leaving us mystified. Unfortunately, the Valentine’s Day rush depleted Will’s inventory, and he didn’t have enough of this spectacular truffle to finish the pairing. Thankfully, he offered to send us more so we could finish the pairing here at the brewery. So let it be known that there will be a surprise pairing in store for you on May 3rd, should you choose to attend Beer & Chocolate.
After nearly two hours of drudgery and copious amounts of beer and chocolate, we emerged with five spectacular pairings and one “to be announced” pairing. We would like to thank our gracious host and culinary genius Will Gustwiller for offering us a glimpse of his wildly imaginative take on chocolate. If you like Stone beer, and you like equally bold-flavored chocolate, you’d be crazy not to enjoy the fruits of his (and our) labor on May 3rd. Though we won’t discourage you from arming yourself with our tasting notes and going down to Eclipse to try the pairings we came up with, we do hope that you send us your suggestions for the sixth pairing. We’d really appreciate your help!