Japan’s Valentine’s Day is different from western culture, wherein the ladies give the gents chocolate. On White Day (March 14), gentlemen give cookies, white lingerie, flowers, expensive dinner, jewelry, designer label hand bags, and so on to the ladies. However, the culture of exchanging chocolate is not only between lovers but also it takes place in the office (sorry guys, it’s a dying tradition in Japan over the last few years).
Chocolate givers are broken down into five groups: Honmei Choco (本命チョコ) where the person has feelings for the other person; Giri Choco (義理チョコ) does it out of obligation; and Gyaku Choco (逆チョコ) is where men give chocolates. Then there’s the Tomo Choco (友チョコ), which is exchanged between friends and finally a Jibun Choco (自分チョコ) that is only for oneself.
As the title stated, this article isn’t about Japan’s unique view of Valentine’s Day, but it’s all about chocolate and what style goes great with it. One key point, excellent chocolate truly changes the flavor notes, so don’t cheap out and buy the over the counter stuff.
It’s sweeter with less intense chocolate notes and pairing it nicely is quite difficult because of the amount of sugar and the fat from the usage of dairy milk. As for pairing recommendations, Pale Ales and India Pale Ales will be fine, but go with American Amber Ales, thanks to the strong malty flavors with hints of chocolate, caramel and toasty malts, which are usually common in this type of style. In addition to that, hoppy flavors in an American Amber are usually lower than a Pale Ale or IPA, so the bitterness should range from medium to medium-high levels to help focus more on the flavor profile.
The obvious thing about dark chocolate is the dark color. It has richness with bitter chocolate and a touch of sweetness. Stouts, Porters and Imperial IPAs would be the best match. After saying that, you will have to look around for Stouts and Porters, because not every retailer will be carrying these styles in Japan. Plus Japanese labels Stouts, Porters, and Black Lagers are under one category, Kuro Biru (黒ビール), which means black beer.
Deciding on pairing dark chocolate with either a Stout or Porter boils down to preference. Stouts will have a dark roasted maltiness with flavor notes of coffee or chocolate. As for Porters, they have a light burnt malt quality to it and the malt flavor profile could be medium to strong, and sometimes accompanied with coffee or chocolate notes. So it comes down to how toasted you want your malt.
Another favorite would be citrus wheat beers or fruity sours, especially with Wheat Beer. The citrus can cut through the strong bitterness to complement the chocolate taste.
This is basically a dark chocolate with additional sugar for sweetness that is still creamy and smooth. The best thing of pairing semisweet chocolate is that it boils down to your favorite style. The range of pairing is endless: Stout, Porter, American IPA, Pale Ale (both American and British), English-style Sweet Stout to only name a few. Personally, I love a creamy Oatmeal Stout, because the oats will create an earthy and nutty flavor with a balance of sweetness.
Considering that white chocolate doesn’t have any cocoa liquor to create a chocolate flavor, it’s still considered chocolate due to the cocoa butter. As for which style to lean towards it is a bit difficult because of the high content of sugar; this will subdue the bitterness from any beer. So, on that note, pair white chocolate with a fruity Wheat Beer or a fruity Lambic. The fruitiness will add some character to the smooth creaminess of this variety of chocolate.
Chocolates with other flavors
Depending on the characteristics of the flavor notes, your options of what style you choose could be a hit or miss. Below are a few ideas, depending on the flavor profile of the chocolate to pair nicely for your sweet tooth.
Ginger: Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Ale is a malty beer that’s packed with fresh ginger. Remember, you can’t go wrong when pairing with strengths.
Chili: For those that like a little spice in their chocolate, our recommendation would be an IPA. The range of IPA is plentiful in Japan. A few highly rated recommendations are from Shiga Kogen, Hakuba Brewing Company’s IPA, Baird Brewing Company’s Suruga Bay Imperial IPA, Ise Kadoya, TDM 1874 and so on. Remember, preference is preference when it comes to your type of IPA.
Nuts: A proper English Brown Ale should have a symphony of flavor notes of toffee, nuts, and toast to match it. A highly rated brown in Japan is Baird’s Angry Boy Brown Ale, but be on the lookout for the British brewers in Japan brewing up their own Brown Ales.
Chocolate covered Strawberries: Strawberries dipped in white chocolate goes with a nutty Brown Ale. Ones that use milk chocolate will complement a White Ale. As for dark chocolate, a malty Porter would be fine. If you are elaborate with your recipe, like dipping strawberries into dark chocolate with a sprinkle of sea salt then go with an IPA.