Hops & Grain, Blue Owl, Whichcraft
Valentines Day is all about love, right? So what better way to celebrate than with two of the most loveable things out there – beer and sweets?! Specifically, I love beer and JB loves sweets, so it was lucky for us that not one, not two, but three awesome ATX craft beer venues felt the same way. This Valentines, we embarked on a rather special stuff-ya-face odyssey of craft brews, cakes, candies and chocolates to find that perfect pairing, or at the very least eat and drink an awful lot of yummy stuff.
Our adventure began at Downtown stalwart Hops & Grain, where we arrived shortly after cake kick-off (or should that be cake-off?!) to a beautiful display of goodies from local celebrity bakers Sideserf Cake Studio. I’d not come across Sideserf before, but a little bit of internet research has revealed them to be expert bakers of super-life-like cakes – check out the awesome bloody heart and hanging cow skull! While the offerings at Hops and Grain weren’t as dramatic (but much more affordable I’m sure!) the quality was very high indeed, and each of the three cakes on offer was paired with a suitable H&G beer, with purchase of said cake ($4.25) including a dollar off the appropriate beverage. This specialised approach wasn’t quite what we were expecting, but for our first stop we were happy to take it slow, and sat out in the East 6th sunshine with a red velvet cake and glass of Barleywine.
There’s no denying that this was an excellent pairing, the rich, boozy, vinious beer and the light, fluffy cake with its soft, tender flavour and creamy frosting made a mouth-watering sweet-savoury combination. Hops & Grain’s Barleywine is absolutely delightful on its own, but we were more than satisfied with this tasty addition. As we had two more pairings to embark on, we decided to call it a day, but both remaining combinations (orange buttercream with The One They Call Zoe and chocolate peanut butter with the Lactose Porter) also looked good. While we do prefer a pairing session with smaller servings of different beer and sweet options, this was nonetheless tasty and enjoyable!
Regular readers will know what a fan I am of Blue Owl’s incredible oeuvre of sours, so needless to say expectations were high! Before we started on the pairing, we found it absolutely essential to indulge in their specially brewed Valentines beer, the Cacao Dapper Devil – an absolutely heavenly combination of sour Belgian Strong Ale, raspberry and cacao nibs. The way that you can taste the intense, powdery dark chocolate, fresh raspberry and potent sour ale all at once without it being either heavy or overwhelming is a work of genius. Possibly the best Valentines beer ever.
But I digress, back to the cake situation. Blue Owl also paired up with Austin-based baking talent in the form of Alpaca Market and Crave Artisan Chocolates. Each provided four varieties of sweet treat, so you could choose between cake or chocolate options for your pairing, although at a most reasonable $5 for your goodies of choice, one could arguably have done both. We went for the cake option, and set ourselves up with a delightful plate of organic, gluten-free, vegan fare – what else would you expect in Austin?! First up, my favourite of the Blue Owl flagships – the awesome Professor Black Sour Cherry Stout. This was well-matched with a light, chewy coconut cookie sandwich – the cherry and coconut flavours complementing each other nicely for a bit of a gateau-like experience. Excellent. Next up was the lovely light Little Boss Sour Session Wheat Beer, which paired very naturally with a lemon bar made with almond flour and vanilla, creating a yummy zingy citrus sweet-sour-flavour. The mighty Admiral Gravitas Sour Oatmeal Stout went down a treat with an incredibly decadent chocolate truffle cake pop, while the Dapper Devil Sour Belgian Strong Ale was nice with a chocolate chip cookie, although given the awesomeness of the cacao version of this beer, the pairing wasn’t really necessary. We absolutely loved this event, the ever-brilliant beers and cakes that were good enough to make us overcome our reluctance to consume vegan food. The chocolate option also looked great – looking forward to next year already!
We’re regulars at Austin’s premier taproom and bottleshop, so weren’t going to miss out on a multi-brewery pairing of local craft beers with a selection of sweets to top off our Valentines experience. After all the cake we’d eaten by this point, we weren’t at all sorry that Whichcraft chose to match four beers from their current tap selection with popular candies, and luckily we arrived just in time to get one of the last pairing sets.
We kicked off with Vista Brewing’s Le Saison, a light, crisp, summery beer that turned super-fizzy and tart when accompanied with a mouthful of Nerds! Martin House Brewing’s Reverie Pomegranate Sour was up next, a lovely fresh, bright fruity beer with nicely balanced acidity. I found the candy hearts it was paired with much too sweet, but JB was chugging them down like there was no tomorrow. Ahem. We moved on to Austin Beerworks’ Sputnik, a rather fabulous Imperial Oatmeal Stout that I have a great fondness for. We tried it with both dark and milk chocolate, and the dark was definitely the winner, adding an extra layer of smooth rich sweetness. Our final pairing was Lakewood Brewing’s incredibly intense Sin Mint Temptress, part of their impressive Seduction series. This isn’t my favourite of the Temptresses – the mint is so strong that although it tastes good, there’s only so much of it you can drink. Adding a mint chocolate to it was a little overkill for me, although said mint-choc York was very nice by itself. This was a really fun way to try some different, exciting beers from a great range of Texas breweries paired with the kind of sweets you have at home. We had a blast and always love hanging out at Whichcraft!
In conclusion, we can say that pairing beer and sweets is a great way to spend Valentines Day, or pretty much any day. Also, that beer really does go with candy, cake and chocolate, it’s just a case of finding the right beer. We’re also pretty impressed with our collective beer-candy stamina – that was one heck of a consumption marathon! When’s the next one?…