GetRealNY's 2011 Belgian Festival took place July 8-9 at New York City's Altman Building.
Featuring brewed-in-Belgium and Belgian-style beers brewed in the US, the event attracted well over 2000 beer lovers during its four sessions. Nearly 80 beers of all styles were served from an innovative central cooler and dozens more were served at other locations around the venue, many of them paired with the food being served.
Each session also featured a series of four seminars on various topics related to beer, including a chocolate and beer pairing seminar—sponsored by Godiva Chocolatier and Grand-Place Chocolates—on the downstairs stage set up to present to 70 or more people with beer garden-style picnic bench seating.
What makes an event like this a lot of fun is the ready availability of literally dozens of beers to choose from to make the pairings. In many ways, pairing beer with chocolate is easier than pairing wines, especially red wines. Beers share similar roast and fermentation flavors with chocolate and the creamy bubble structure of many beers is more "sympathetic" than the structure and texture of red wine that is imparted by the tannins present.
The two Friday sessions featured the Grand-Place 36% Classique Milk chocolate, the 75% Origine Dark and three selections from Godiva Chocolatier; their raspberry swirl, milk chocolate caramel, and classic milk chocolate ganache.
The first pairing of the two Friday sessions was the two Grand-Place chocolates - both strong examples of classic Belgian-style chocolate making - with Brooklyn Brewery's "Local #2" a bottle conditioned 9% ABV brew flavored with citrus peel, dark sugar syrup, and honey. The idea here was not necessarily to present pairings that "worked" but to show how flavors interacted with each other and changed in the presence of other flavors. In this particular case, the sugars in the beer (sugar syrup and honey) enhanced the sweetness of the milk chocolate and the bittering elements of the beer (including the citrus peels) brought out bitter notes in the dark chocolate that were not present when the chocolate was eaten on its own.
We then progressed to pairing the Godiva raspberry piece with the Half Maan Straffe Hendrik Quadruppel (11% ABV). This beer has some bright citrus notes on the nose and berry coupled with brown sugar notes on the tongue. The citrus and berry went very well with the raspberry and the brown sugar note mellowed the dark chocolate in the shell. The sole purpose of a pairing like this is to show just how pleasurable pairing chocolate with beer can be. The flavor combination was enhanced by the smooth creamy bubble structure of the beer.
The final formal pairing for the Friday sessions was the Leffe Blonde with the Godiva milk caramel. In this case we also returned to the Grand-Place milk chocolate to see how the cooked sugar notes of the caramel affected the perception of the flavor of the beer.
We gave everyone who sat through the pairing seminar an assignment with the third Godiva piece, the classic milk ganache, which was to taste it with a selection of the other beers being poured upstairs - using what they had learned during the pairing seminar to evaluate the taste and texture combinations.
On Saturday, the two Grand-Place chocolates being presented were the 58% and 64% Classique darks; the Godiva selection was unchanged.
As with Friday, we started out with the two Grand-Place chocolates, but in this instance they were paired with Barrier Brewing Co's Dubbel Down, 7.4% ABV. Because the two chocolates are, on the surface, so close to each other, the idea was to see how the beer changed the perception of the two chocolates. The differences were subtle but definite. This was not necessarily a "good" match in the sense that the chocolates and beer improved each other but it was definitely a good tasting exercise that showed how seemingly small differences in the chocolates can be enhanced (or not) in the presence of another flavor.
We stayed with the pairing of the Godiva raspberry and the Half Maan Straffe Hendrik Quad, but took advantage of the presence of a case of Dubuisson Scaldis Amber refermentée for the early session seminar. This is a phenomenal brew (my favorite of the entire weekend) with pleasant slightly sour top notes and rich, thick, round caramel notes in the body with a very creamy bubble structure. The refermentée refers to the fact that the beer is first fermented outside the bottle and then a second fermentation takes place inside the bottle - much like the traditional methode Champenoise for Champagne. The sour top note added some very interesting complexity to the combination with the caramel in the piece.
The late session seminar featured another Dubuisson Scaldis, the Amber Trippel. This brew lacks the depth and complexity of the refermentée, but it more than makes up for it with an amazingly creamy bubble structure.
Finally, if you thought chocolate flavor wheels were complicated, below is a photo of a beer style chart. The flavor wheel builds on top of this!