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Talking Head - I'm dreaming of a chocolate Christmas

If you didn't get your fill of chocolate at Halloween, several adventurous brewers are making it easy to get your chocolate fix at the same time you get your beer fix. Germans have long enjoyed chocolate with their beer, but since the appearance of the Reinheitsgebot in 1516, they haven't been permitted to put chocolate in their beer. Dogfish Head brewer Sam Calagione's disdain for the Reinheitsgebot is well-documented, and he has been working with molecular archaeologist Dr. Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania to create beers made with ingredients found in ancient alcoholic beverages, such as honey, saffron, chrysanthemum flowers, and muscat grapes.

When McGovern came to Calagione with evidence of a fermented beverage from Central America dating to 1200 B.C. that was made from cacao, he didn't hesitate to take up the challenge, even though the recipe also called for ancho chilies and annatto (an aromatic tree seed). This is pretty much the kind of thing that he lives for. The result is Theobroma ("food of the gods"), an intriguing blend of malt, spice, and faint chocolate notes that is surprisingly sophisticated for a beverage inspired by a primitive Mesoamerican elixir. My only complaint is that it is not very chocolatey. Close your eyes and remember Necco wafers, and you will get a sense of the dry, cocoa-powder-like flavor. But what really stands out are the chilies and annatto. They bring a soft, warm burn and nutmeg-like spiciness that plays off the sweetness imparted by the use of honey. Hints of nut and smoke add to the complexity. The exotic aromas and flavors and dry, tart finish make this an ideal aperitif.

Calagione is not the only one experimenting with chocolate in beer. Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, N.Y., which produces Belgian-style ales, came out with its Chocolate Indulgence Stout last year, and it proved popular enough to release again this year. The recipe has been tweaked somewhat and only for the better. Last year's version had a definite metallic finish that was off-putting, but the newest version is solid all the way through. It pours a velvety black with a thin ring of clingy foam. Roasted coffee, chocolate, raisins, and a bit of smoke are evident in the aroma. The taste is of strong black coffee, baker's chocolate, vanilla, dark fruits, and an herbal bite of anise. The mouthfeel is smooth and bright, with a lingering bitterness, and the gentle carbonation is appropriate for the style. Chocolate Indulgence is a fantastic sipper – rich, malty aroma, warming alcohol, and a complex bittersweet flavor.

Now, if you are looking for the alcoholic equivalent of a Snickers bar, then Sam Adams Chocolate Bock is your beer. Part of the Boston Beer Company's Extreme Beer series, it certainly satisfies in the extreme chocolate department. The aroma is full of roasted malt, coffee, licorice, chocolate, and maple. Silky and slick on the tongue, Chocolate Bock delivers flavors of cake-like chocolate, nut, and a malted lactose suggestive of Whoppers candy. The sweetness is balanced with some herbal bitterness and a solid carbonation that comes through in the tingly finish and lingering roasted bitterness. While it lacks the earthy malt character of a traditional bock, this is a delicious dessert beer that delivers plenty of chocolatey goodness without being overly sweet or heavy.



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