Four Unlikely Friendships Between Beer & Dessert

...Sitting home one recent evening, watching the flittering of holiday lights flashing outside my window, I find myself hit with a sudden need for something sweet. I set down my beloved Ballast Point Sculpin IPA and head to the kitchen. I rummage through the pantry in search of something delicious that would satisfy my cravings. Pop-tarts? Uhmm, no. Graham crackers? Peanut butter? No and no. It just won’t do.

I am then overcome with a bout of wild excitement when I remember that slice of carrot cake I brought home from the co-op the other morning. Bingo! I grab for the little wasteful plastic container and eye the decadent treat inside. Layers of moist carrot cake, generously frosted and topped with a perfectly piped little carrot. I grab a fork, head back to my seat, and it’s on! I devour the first few bites in seconds. Then, I remember that I always eat too fast and I slow down to savor the bites. The sweet frosting melting in my mouth, divine, rendering me unable to do anything but smile.

In all of this splendor, I realize I need something to wash my delicious carrot cake down with! Having only my beer handy, I go for it, all the while realizing I may regret this decision immediately. I guzzle a few sips.

Hey, this tastes really good!

The sharp IPA hop cuts through the immense sweetness of my dessert. It was like magic! The combination was surprising. I went back and forth between bites of cake and sips of beer, just to test my theory. I lamented on the nuances and picked apart how these unlikely two things complemented each other so well.

This got me thinking…what other desserts might pair well with a good craft beer?? I had to know. Now before you ask, the answer is yes…I had to eat a lot of desserts and drink a lot of beef for this experiment, and I’m totally okay with that!

Carrot Cake and IPA

My immediate instincts said no on this one mid-sip, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Upon further research, I discovered this is actually NOT that unusual of a combination and is actually quite a classic when it comes to beer tasting.

The cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake is very rich and thick. It coats your palate and overpowers most any other flavors you might combine with it. The carrot is a nice backdrop, but cut through it with an IPA? That brilliant bitterness from the IPA does a perfect job of riding over the carrot cake like a wave.

The citrus form the IPA contrasts amazingly with the caramel and carrot notes of the cake. Alternatively, the raisins and nuts one traditionally finds in a carrot cake complement the malt in the IPA as well. It all comes together to make a really awesome and unique dessert adventure.

On a cool note, there is actually a brewery in Pennsylvania named Tired Hands Brewing Company that brews a Carrot Cake Milkshake IPA. They’ve obviously been tipped off about this whole carrot cake IPA thing as well. Yum!

Apple Pie and Belgian Style Tripel

After being wowed by the first dessert combination, an apple pie with a Belgian Tripel didn’t sound so outlandish to me now. So, we put this one to the test and yup, sure enough, the taste combination is phenomenal.

The Tripel is heavy when it comes to bitterness, but it does have a lighter body than what you’d expect. It actually strikes quite a nice balance between light and heavy that usually works. Add that to a sweet and buttery apple pie, and once again you have that permeating mouthfeel from the Tripel and the apple pie kind of smooths it all over. I call it, the “goo” factor. It soothes any harsh notes brought on by the beer.

The fruity esters of the Belgian Tripel play really well with the apple notes of the pie as well. The cinnamon and spice really compliment the Tripel on the finish. Really something to be tried, in my opinion. And, I mean, who doesn’t love an old fashioned slice of apple pie? Might as well have it with a beer! We really thought Sierra Nevada’s Belgian Trippel was a good choice for this experiment.

Vanilla Ice Cream and Porter

Vanilla ice cream and a nice, thick porter is a complementary contrast made in heaven. The perfect balance of black and white, yin and yang. Vanilla ice cream is smooth, creamy, and sweet. It is light and enveloping.

A porter is the opposite. It is heavy, robust, roasted, and rich. It can sometimes have a bitter finish or even a spiced side given the right variety. So when you pair a good porter with vanilla ice cream, there is an unlikely union that absolutely works. Like a root beer float for adults, it just makes a luxurious and thick dessert-like drink. Or, if you don’t want to go all-in, you can simply savor bites of ice cream between sips of porter and enjoy the combination that way.

Deschutes Brewery makes a Black Butte Porter that seemed like a great contrasting choice, but you can also opt for a sweeter, more dessert-like porter to start with like Southern Tier Brewing’s Chokolat.

People have clearly caught on to this, as there are tons of varieties of vanilla or ice cream porters on the market, all trying to harness that milky, toasty balance.

Pumpkin Pie and Amber Ale

What I really liked about this dessert pairing idea is that it lets the pumpkin shine. It’s only a few months out of the year that pumpkin makes an appearance on our tables, so let it do its thing!

Most amber ales are wheaty, mild, and rather refined. They usually have balanced malt tones that take all that pumpkin down to just the right level. With the sweet richness of the pumpkin pie, you don’t really want something too sharp cutting through it, you want it to be something warm and complementary, and an amber ale does the job perfectly. We tried The Duck Rabbit Amber Ale and it gets a big, happy thumbs up from us!

If you like something that has a bit more caramel and toffee character to go with your pumpkin pie, a nice brown ale could be a good way to go as well. The choice is yours, but I bet either way you will be happy!

Is your sweet tooth salivating by now like mine was? I’m tellin’ ya, it all started out innocently enough. ONE slice of carrot cake and ONE sip of beer. It was all over after that. As if we needed more excuses to drink and eat dessert!

I hope you enjoy these beer and dessert pairings and don’t be afraid to experiment and create something totally new! You never know what might taste amazing together!