Regular ICIP readers will already know that my love of beer is matched by my love of chocolate. I actually have a chocolate cupboard at home (I’m not even joking). Being the chocoholic that I am, I am on the mailing list for Montezuma’s, the Sussex-based chocolatiers, and you can find several of their products in my Special Chocolate Cupboard. So when an email pinged through advertising a collaborative beer with Hogs Back Brewery – a Chocolate Lager – I could barely believe my luck.
Hogs Back Brewery, who you may know for their bitter, T.E.A (Traditional English Ale, 4.2%), have spent 6 months working with Montezuma’s to create this new beer. “For ages I thought there were too many mainstream, unimaginative chocolate/alcohol combinations,” says David Pattinson, Head of Sales at Hogs Back. “Simon and Helen Patterson at Montezuma’s felt the same, so we decided we would create something new and hopefully innovative to take chocolate and alcohol in a different direction. I didn’t have to push them too hard…”
What immediately surprised us about the beer was the choice of style. We’re used to chocolatey notes in stouts and porters, but not in a lager. “We haven’t ended up quite where we expected – you would intuitively think a dark chocolate beer would be dark – this isn’t, and that makes it quite intriguing,” says Rupert Thompson, owner of the brewery. So what made them decide to go with this flavouring in a lighter beer? “We sat around a table with the Montezuma’s team, and the old beer guys amongst us were wondering which of our dark beers would it be,” says David. “Then they asked why we couldn’t try the lager. We did, were staggered by how well the hop lifts the chocolate. After that, the decision was made and we cracked on with production.”
Apparently chocolate can cause problems when brewing – you can’t add it directly to the beer when you brew because of the fat content. So the brewery infused the beer with Montezuma’s Lordy Lord chocolate – 70% dark choccy with cacao nibs – by maceration and gentle extraction. “Our base beer is our Hogstar Lager, which is infused with the nibs and chocolate from Lordy Lord,” says David. “Exactly when Miles (Chesterman, Head Brewer at Hogs Back) adds the infusion is something he would need to tell you, but I suspect he’d have to kill you first.”
Hogstar is itself a relatively new addition to Hogs Back’s repertoire. Well-known for their traditional range, the 4.5% lager was a bit of a departure from their usual style, and was launched late last year. It is brewed with five different hops to bring out both bitterness and aroma, as well as lager malts, a hint of crystal malt and botanical extracts. It is then matured for over a month, during which time the lager’s flavours deepen and develop. It is unusual for modern commercial lagers to be matured like this, although of course, this is the traditional way that this style was made. It is unpasteurised and the carbonation develops naturally.
The beer pours clear and golden, perhaps a shade darker than you would expect, and the quality of the lager shines through when you taste it. The brewery describes it as ‘a light, fresh, refreshing beer carrying a rich but well balanced chocolate and hop flavour, evident both on the nose and on the palette’. We got huge hits of cocoa on the nose, a sweetness that was reminiscent of soft fruits and berries. Mr Pip likened it to cherry hot chocolate. But underneath that sweetness was that distinctive pilsner hoppy sourness that promised more than a gimicky flavoured beer.
Our previous experiences with chocolate-flavoured beers have been pretty bad (Hotel Chocolat, we are looking at you), but Chocolate Lager finally soothed my chocolatey beer nightmares. It tastes nothing like you’d expect after such a rich and sweet nose. The beer has light carbonation and has the crisp, fresh feel that you’d hope for from a lager, with a clean mouthfeel. There is a decent hit of bitterness across the back of the tongue but also a delicate and subtle sweet cocoa aftertaste which complements the bitterness rather than making you feel like you’re swilling a syrupy soft drink. It really is delicious.
“As projects go, beer and chocolate is probably about as good as it gets!” says Simon Pattinson, co-founder of Montezuma’s. “This is one of the few chocolate lagers in the world and definitely a challenge to perceived wisdom, but give it a go and be prepared to open your mind to a lager that flies in the face of convention!” The interesting pairing could also lend itself to food and beer matching, as Rupert suggests: “Chocolate puddings are notoriously difficult to complement with wines but could work very well if this lager were added to dessert menus”.
Has the success of this collaboration whetted the brewery’s appetite for further chocolatey brews? “I hope we can do something else; reactions to this beer have been so good even at this early stage,” says David. “Personally I fancy having a crack at our Barley Wine (A Over T or Aromas Over Tongham, 9%) to see if we can marry a very complex rich beer with a chocolate and look at tackling something almost like a liqueur.”
The beer is available from the Hogs Back webshop and their brewery shop in Tongham, Surrey. Making the most of the Father’s Day present-buying rush, Montezuma’s is selling the beer on their website as part of nifty gift sets which include the Lordy Lord chocolate. Frankly, the “Happy Father’s Day” labels emblazoned all over these is not deterring us from buying them all for ourselves. Not in the slightest.
Want more beer and chocolate? Check out our coverage of the Dea Latis beer and chocolate matching event, which includes Montezuma’s Peeling Amorous chocolate.