Amorous ales 

Say “I love you” with beer.

Love — or at least the scent of lust — is in the air. Just the mention of Valentine’s Day evokes images of hearts, candy, and flowers. Or for some, feelings of loneliness or cynicism toward an increasingly commercialized Hallmark holiday. Either way, ditch the wine and Champagne to go with your romantic chocolate desert and grab a beer!

Wait … chocolate and beer? Together? Now I know it may sound like a conspiracy on my part to take back Valentine’s Day for the beer-lovers faction, but stay with me: chocolate and beer can be the perfect match.

I am not suggesting an IPA with your mousse-filled truffles; the more hop-centric brews do not tend to work well with sweeter desserts. But when you reach for the chocolate soufflé you are sharing with your significant other, skip the classic red wine pairing. Ask for a rich imperial stout or a fruit-centered Belgian. Beer is designed to complement food, from the appetizer to the finishing bite of dessert, bringing out the best flavors in each. And isn’t bringing out the best in each other what romance is all about?

Kona Brewing Koko Brown, a nut-brown ale made with toasted coconut, is the third in Kona’s “Aloha Series,” which also includes the Wailua Wheat and Pipeline Porter. The Koko Brown is malty and sweet, with the coconut present but not overpowering. The rich mahogany color hints at the roastiness of the brew, and the 5.5 percent ABV is well-hidden. This is an enjoyable beer that will pair well with chocolate and coconut, or simply after a day of stand-up paddle-boarding (as depicted on the label).

Long before hops were common in beer, brewers used various fruits and vegetables to season and flavor their beers. Lambic beers have a level of acidity to them that blends perfectly with raspberries and other fruits. Lindeman’s raspberry is the classic example of this style, with an incredible aroma and a light but flavorful palate of raspberries with undertones of fruity acidity. This is an elegant beer, perfect for pairing with decadent chocolate desserts, caramels, and fresh berries. One of Pinellas County’s newest breweries, Rapp Brewing, is already turning heads with its beers. While mostly known for European traditional styles, Rapp have the perfect choice for true chocolate lovers. The Schoklate chocolate Imperial milk stout comes in at 8.5 percent, and drinks like it is flowing through Willy Wonka’s river. It’s available at the brewery.

Dunedin Brewing Apricot peach ale, a flagship brew from Dunedin, pours a cloudy, deep golden color with a small, frothy, white head. The aroma is sweet and luscious, with an underlying foundation of malt. It is light-to-medium-bodied with gentle carbonation. It is not as sweet as the aroma suggests, which makes it a perfect pairing with fruit-filled chocolates or cheesecake. It’s available on draft at the brewery and other beer bars.

Not everyone loves chocolate desserts; some prefer the lighter, fresher taste of sweet fruits. Few things match better with nature’s bounty than a delicious Belgian tripel. Allagash Tripel is a strong golden ale highlighted by hints of passion fruit and herbal notes in the nose, and flavors of banana and honey on the tongue. This gold medal-winning beer from New York is smooth, but strong at 9 percent ABV.

Be warned, Southern Tier’s Crème Brulee can be a dessert in and of itself. With a smooth, sweet, and utterly decadent richness, it is an Imperial Stout that will lure you in with its seductive aroma and gorgeous color, then wallop you over the head with a well-disguised 9.5 percent ABV. And you will thank it and ask for more. Whether you drink it by itself, pair it with rich dark chocolate, or even pour it over ice cream, you will want to enjoy this one slowly and let it linger.

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