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If you enjoy beer, I'm sure you'll agree that beer has no season — a cold glass of beer in the hot summer can be life-savingly refreshing, but a beer in the dead of winter along with a piping hot dish like nabe (Japanese hot pot), can also be heavenly.
One of the reporters from our sister site Pouch introduces us to a unique beer that you may want to savor slowly after a nice meal. It's a special 2013 line-up of chocolate beer, and it's available only around Valentine's Day in Japan!
Produced by the Sankt Gallen Brewery based in Kanagawa Prefecture, this so-called "chocolate beer" surprisingly isn't made from real chocolate or cacao/cocoa. It's made mainly from a combination of high temperature roasted chocolate malt and regular roasted base malt, which gives it a distinct rich flavor, not to mention the dark chocolaty color, all quite different from the typical light, golden-colored beer that we're accustomed to. And in case you're wondering, many women in Japan go crazy buying chocolates (some of them quite expensive too — Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin and Pierre Marcolini , to name just a few of the chocolate brands popular in Japan) for Valentine's Day, hence the chocolate beer promotion at this time of year.
This year's chocolate beer line-up was released on January 10th, and our lucky reporter had the chance to sample some of the dark, bittersweet drink and even received some tips from the folks at Sankt Gallen on how to make the most of your chocolate beer experience.
Our reporter first tried the Imperial Chocolate Stout, which we could say is the classic chocolate beer (if there is such a thing as a classic chocolate beer), priced at 630yen ($7) for a 330ml (11oz) bottle. Chilled and fresh out of the fridge, the beer tasted almost like a cold espresso drink, the fluffy foam on top the texture of creamy frothed milk. Hmm…the beer may be a little bitter for some people's tastes, although drinking the foam and the actual beer together would probably make it go down more smoothly.
But wait! According to Sankt Gallen's chief operational director, Nobuhisa Iwamoto, chocolate beer changes flavor depending on the temperature. We left the Imperial Chocolate Stout at room temperature for about 10 minutes as suggested, and…magic! The beer really did taste smoother and milder, like red wine that has been allowed to breathe.
According to Mr. Iwamoto, chocolate beer is best enjoyed like a glass of brandy. Having tasted the chocolate stout, we could certainly agree that the beer would be nice to sip slowly with a piece of bitter dark chocolate or a delicate chocolate truffle, and better yet, in a cozy warm room during the cold winter.
If the Imperial Chocolate Stout is a little too bitter for your liking, there are also some "sweet" chocolate beers available as well. There's the Orange Chocolate Stout (525 yen ($6) a bottle) that contains oranges in addition to the chocolate malt, a creation based on the chocolate covered orange-peels known as orangettes in France. Mmm…yum, a beer inspired by a French confectionery, what more can a girl ask for?
There's also the Sweet Vanilla Stout (450 yen ($6) a bottle) which contains a type of vanilla from Papua New Guinea commonly used by top patisserie chefs. This drink is sweet with just a hint of bitterness and may be a good choice even for those you not too fond of beer.
Now, for further advice from the brewers on how best to enjoy chocolate beer:
Pour the chocolate beer into a wine glass (or any glass with a wide opening). The ideal temperature is 10°C-13°C (50°F-55°F), so if the beer is straight out of the refrigerator, you may want to leave it standing for a while. You can also try warming the glass with your hands and experimenting to see what temperature is the best for you. Some people actually prefer to let the beer mature for a few years before drinking it, like wine or brandy.
Sankt Gallen is selling their chocolate beer now through their website (Japanese), where you can also check out information on restaurants serving chocolate beer, and for those of you with a sweet tooth, even delectable looking deserts made with the sweet brew. And if you're in the Tokyo area, you can also purchase the beer at the Tokyo Home Town Festival (Furusato Matsuri Tokyo) being held at Tokyo Dome City until January 20th.
So what do you think? Would you be willing to try such a "chocolaty" beer, or would you rather stick to the regular stuff? Whatever your preference, a nice glass of beer after a day's work is always a welcome treat, isn't it? Well, we certainly hope many such treats come your way. Cheers!
▼This is what the chocolate malt originally looks like; it has a bitter taste like coffee if you chew on it
▼Chocolate malt (front), base malt (left) and caramel malt (back)
▼The wort made during the brewing process which is then fermented to produce chocolate beer
▼Inside the brewery, where everything is measured, processed and bottled
▼Hot water is added to the malt which is then fermented in a large processing pot — even the slightest difference in temperature at this stage results in a different flavor
▼There's lots of foam, and it lasts, too!
▼How Orange Chocolate Stout is made: Oranges are chopped with the skin and simmered, then added to dark beer made from chocolate malt and fermented
▼Sankt Gallen's 2013 line-up of chocolate beers