The Barley-Confection Synthesis: Tips for Pairing Beer and Halloween Candy

All Hallows’ Eve is fast approaching. An exorbitant trove of candy has been procured; the front yard is decorated with fiendish skeletons, gravestones and zombies. Perhaps you will be chasing around a few moppets veiled as Minions as they traverse the neighborhood streets in diligent search of sugar-coated treats. Alternatively, your evening responsibilities may include staying at home and doling out confectionary delights to ghoulish passersby. In either case, and with all of these painstaking Halloween preparations, it may have been easy to overlook one inexorable fact: you are destined to possess a large candy cache come All Saints Day. The confection inundation dilemma: what to do with it all? Fear not; there is still time to plan appropriately.

Children’s candy is best enjoyed with adult beverages. One problem: candy is sweet. Exorbitantly and artificially sweet. This is a vexing combination. The old wisdom of pairing sweet desserts with a sweeter wine can, in this case, leave you with limited vinous options. When life is just too sweet, it might be best to break out the barley pop.

This week our expert beer panel hits the sweet spot with ten spooky beers that will pair brilliantly with your leftover Halloween candy. So dig through that candy bowl, extract the preeminent confections, and let’s get to work.

The Beer and Candy Pairing Summation

I commence with some basic tips for pairing beer and candy before we explore specific recommendations.

First, balance. In any culinary endeavor, the taste senses (e.g., sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami) must be balanced appropriately. For Halloween candy, any potential pairing will hinge on the artificial sweetness of the candy. When pairing with beer, we can balance the palate with bitterness from the hops, sourness, or malted and roasted flavor profiles. Unlike wine, beer pairings are not merely a task of fighting sweet with sweeter; there are many parity arrows in the quiver. Consider them all in your pairing selections.

Second, texture. Texture of the candy and beer on the palate should be complementary. Silky and smooth beers, such as a stout, pair well with creamy textures, such as milk chocolate and peanut butter. On the opposite end of the spectrum, thin beers with high carbonation liven the palate and can help cut sour or tart candies.

Third, intensity. The level of intensity in both beer and candy must be harmonious. The more intense the flavors of a candy, the more intense the corresponding beer must be. Intensity, however, has its limitations. For example, India Pale Ales (IPAs) are characteristically strong and hoppy with pronounced citrus aromas and flavors. With such intensity and bitterness, a strong IPA can quickly overwhelm most candies. It is probably a wise strategy to leave the Hopsicle and Hop Mess Monster IPAs in the fridge for this pairing.

A beer’s alcohol by volume can be a useful guidepost for intensity: the higher the alcohol, the stronger the flavors must be to achieve balance. High alcohol = high intensity.

Finally, flavors. Matching flavors and aromas is a straightforward strategy for any culinary pairing. Darker ales typically harbor flavors of espresso, chocolate, caramel and molasses, making them prime candidates for chocolate candy bars. Alternatively, citrus flavors in skittles or gummy bears pair with beers containing heavier citrus notes, such as pale ales, white ales or even an IPA (provided that you carefully assess its intensity).

Ten Recommended Spooky Beer and Halloween Candy Pairings

Let’s explore some bona fide barley-confection combinations.

1. Left Coast Voo Doo American Stout and Reese’s Peanut  Butter Cups

Stout is a style of ale that utilizes fully-roasted, unmalted barley (roasted in similar fashion to espresso beans). This results in an intensely dark beer with strong roasted flavors and a rich, full body that can be silky and creamy. The typical flavor profile expresses grain, coffee, chocolate, licorice, and molasses. Hops are generally not welcome to the party.

The stout’s creamy, silky texture and flavor profile matches brilliantly with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. The texture of the peanut butter melts on the palate, and flavors of espresso and chocolate accentuate the Reese’s flavors. Best overall pairing.

2. Ballast Point Victory at Sea Imperial Porter and Snickers

Porter originated in England and its name is derived from the nineteenth-century railroad porters who laboriously loaded and unloaded cargo trains. The work made a man thirsty, but the pay didn’t leave much cash flow for happy hour libations. To accommodate their thirsty patrons, pub owners crafted a brew comprised of recycled old stale beer mixed with dark ales that could be more attractively priced. Porter happy; pub happy. Win-Win.

Porters (the beer, not the people) are brewed with specialty dark-kilned malts, producing a medium body with slightly-roasted flavors of bitter chocolate, coffee and toffee. The bitterness is usually subtle, with small amounts of hops used for balance.

Porters are a solid pairing candidate for most chocolate bars. If you are looking for a beer to rule them all, this is a dependable companion (a stout, such as Left Coast Voo Doo American Stout, would be a worthy substitution). Snickers in particular, however, is a wonderfully harmonious match. The porter's roasted, malty notes pair perfectly with the caramel, chocolate and peanuts of the snickers bar. Sweet and salty, creamy texture and balanced intensity. Eat, drink and be delighted.

3. Heretic Torment Dark Belgian Ale and Milky Way Dark

Belgian Dark Ales offer a broad diversity of characteristics. Colors range from amber to light brown to deep burgundy. Aromas are equally diverse, containing spices, grains, malt, floral and fruits. Most Belgian Dark Ales possess a low level of bitterness, moderate maltiness and relatively strong alcohol by volume. Due the variety of characteristics, it is imperative to know the brewer and style of the Belgian Dark Ale when pairing with food and candies. One Dark Belgian Ale is not equal to another in terms of pairing prerogatives.

This beer was brilliant on its own, with baked fruit flavors of apple and pear, spice and molasses. It paired excellently with Milky Way Dark that brought its own bitterness from the dark chocolate. Snickers made a strong challenge. The peanuts and caramel of the Snickers combined with the fruitiness of the beer that made one reminisce of baked apple pie with a caramel sauce. Dig around the pumpkin candy bowl for both and decide for yourself which one is victorious!

4. Coconut Imperial Porter and Almond Joy

Almond Joy is the perfect marriage of chocolate, coconut, and almonds. The Ballast Point Coconut Victory at Sea Imperial Porter perfectly complements these flavors. The porter carries a common profile of chocolate, coffee, and roasted flavors, but adds coconut accents that enliven the candy pairing.

If you have extra money to splurge, Maui Brewing Company’s Barrel-Aged Coconut Imperial Porter elevates the experience to a new level. Aged in local rum casks, this beer highlights those same flavors previously mentioned, while adding barrel-aged notes of oak, vanilla, and spice. Toasted coconut chips bring a toasty, nutty sweetness that pairs exceptionally well with the almonds. For Almond Joy, porters are great; barrel-aged porters even better.

5. Honolulu Beerworks Cocoweizen and Twix Bar

Hefeweizen is an unfiltered wheat beer originating in southern Germany. The aromas and flavors of a Hefeweizen are derived primarily from the wild yeast that carries a phenolic profile of banana and clove. Hefeweizen is characteristically low in alcohol and light carbonation that is balanced by the unfiltered wheat.

The cookie wafer is at the heart of the Twix Bar, and sets it apart from most other candies. This pairs well with the unfiltered wheat from the Hefeweizen, and the slightly toasted coconut elements act to balance the overall sweetness.

6. Voodoo Ranger 8 Hops Pale Ale and Skittles

Pale ale, aptly named for its light, pale color, is a popular style of beer that is medium bodied and refreshingly dry. The original British version emphasizes rich, malty sweetness. The American pale ale, on the other hand, is characterized by floral, fruit and citrus with medium hops, flavor and aroma.

The Voodoo Ranger 8 Hops Pale Ale was an instant favorite amongst the panel. With Skittles, it was absolutely brilliant. The ale contained the right amount of bitterness to balance the sweetness of the candy, while citrus notes complemented the flavor profile of the Skittles. A round body with some carbonation and bitterness, the ale cut the tart components and spread flavors across the palate. The carbonation also helped to cleanse the palate and remove tart or sour notes that may have been undesirably lingering.

7. Sam Adams White Water India Pale Ale and Sour Patch Kids

During the English occupation of India, thousands of English soldiers and citizens stationed far from home craved their native inebriating beverage. India, however, was too hot to grow quality barley or hops, so consequently beer had to be shipped from England. The long, arduous transatlantic voyages were unkind to the beer barrels continuously being pitched back and forth in the hot and humid hulls of merchant ships. Spoilage was inevitable. To prevent this, brewers in England concocted a new style of beer that increased the ingredients containing natural preservatives (i.e., hops and alcohol). Higher alcohol required more intense flavors. Hops was up to the challenge, contributing extra (if not aggressive) bitterness and pronounced citrus aromatics. Expats rejoice! Your barleyed beverage of choice is once again on the menu.

This is a “proceed with caution” pairing recommendation. As mentioned above, IPAs can contain intense, aggressive hops and bitterness, which can quickly clash with food and result in horrifying pairings. The right balance, however, works wonders. For this pairing, Know Thy IPA. The combination of sour and fruity candies with balanced IPAs characterized by fruity aromas and non-aggressive hops cut the sourness of the candy and balances the citrus and fruit flavors. We chose Sam Adam’s White Water IPA, produced with wheat that affords a sweeter, less aggressively bitter outcome.

8. Unibroue Megadeth ‘A Tout Le Monde’ Belgian-Style Saison and Gummy Bears

Saison is a pale ale with less sweetness, greater carbonation, medium bitterness and plentiful fruit and spices. The higher carbonation is gained from secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Chewy, fruity gummy bears require a slightly tart, semi-dry beer with subtle sweetness and complementing fruit flavors. Saison fits the profile perfectly. Alternatively, Gigantic’s Axis of Evil Pale Ale worked well with the gummy bears, in particular Mister Yellow and his lemony notes.

As a brief but necessary tangent, upon the discovery that the classic heavy metal bands Iron Maiden and Megadeth both joined the beer marketing world, we were [obviously] compelled to conduct a side-by-side comparison to determine which iconic rock group produced the best beer. The result was a landslide. Regardless of the panel’s cacophonous inclinations, it was unanimous that Trooper’s Iron Maiden was an absolutely abhorrent beer - what Megadeth might eloquently describe as a Symphony of Destruction. While Unibroue’s Saison may not keep company with the best of the Belgian trappist traditions, it is a fine beverage that easily championed this head-to-head match. Megadeth, we salute you.

9. Honolulu Beerworks Kewalo Cream Ale and M&Ms

The indigenous American Cream Ale, a cross between German lagers and English ales, has a really fascinating history. Despite its bewildering name, cream ales are not made with cream, nor do they have a silky or creamy texture. An ale that drinks like a lager, American cream ale is a mild, pale, light-bodied ale with high carbonation and brewed using pilsner malts, a warm fermentation process and cold lagering. Despite being called an ale, brewers often use lager yeast.

The thin candy shell and milk chocolate interior means that M&Ms require a crisp, less intense beer with ample carbonation to cut through the sugar and refresh the palate. The Kewalo Cream Ale by Honolulu Beerworks is a solid selection. Alternatively, a Pilsner could do the trick, such as the always-dependable Ayinger Bavarian Pils.

10. Saint Archer White Ale and Candy Corn

Let’s be candid. Candy corn is awful. Don’t buy it. Don’t eat it. Don’t waste good beer with it. This is your public service announcement. If you still must go through with a beer and candy corn pairing, here we go.

Belgian white ale (or “witbier”) is an unfiltered wheat beer, similar to Hefeweizen, but made with Belgian yeasts that are not as flavorful as their German counterparts. To boost the flavor profile, white ales are characteristically flavored with orange peel and coriander, giving them a spicy, citrus flavor. The pleasant crispness and slight sourness is a product of the unfiltered wheat and lively level of carbonation.

The unfiltered wheat of the white ale helps to texturally balance flavor across the palate. The intense, sweet, caramel flavors of the candy mesh well with the orange peel and contrasting spices.

Another potential pairing partner would be Elysian’s Punkuccino (which, for the record, was a horrendous pairing with everything else). Annually I procure a pumpkin ale (or two) intently believing that this round will deliver satisfying results. Every year, I am resolutely disappointed. It is somewhat disturbing that I suffer from a similar amnesic disposition with candy corn. This year, however, I have surprisingly discovered that two wrongs indeed can make a right. The ale’s pumpkin and coffee notes pair nicely with the caramel flavors of the candy corn and balance the sweetness on the palate. The worst of both worlds find solace together.

What beer and candy pairings have you tried? Let me know in the comments what you have found to be a great (or horrifying) combination!


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