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Easter Basket Brews: The Hunt is On!

Chocolate bunnies, marshmallow Peeps, Reese’s eggs … All classic Easter basket candies that we enjoyed as kids, and even now, we still love them. The beauty of being all grown up is that we can also enjoy a great beer as well. So why not combine the two this April? Craft brews reminiscent of the sweets we love are easy to find and will make for an egg-cellent experience this Easter season!

Brewing beer to take on different flavors and aromas depends on many factors including the different malts and hops used, but also the addition of elements added in the many steps of the brewing process. Where these extra elements, such as chocolate, are added within each step also makes a difference.

Mashing is one of the first steps in the brewing process where hot water is mixed with malted barley to literally make a ‘mash.’ The enzymes in the malt break down the starches in the grain, creating sugars, such as maltose. If chocolate is added in this step, you won’t taste chocolate in your beer at the end, but it will instead give it an earthy base. The resulting liquid from the mashing process is called “wort.”

The next step is to separate any solids from the liquid wort and then boil the wort. Hops are added during the boiling, as are other elements – like chocolate. The later the chocolate is added in the boiling process, the more of the chocolate you’ll taste in the final product. After boiling, which can take 1-2 hours, the liquid wort is cooled, yeast is added, and thenww transferred into tanks for fermenting.

Fermenting takes place in conditioning tanks. The yeast converts the sugars in the wort into ethyl alcohol and carbon dioxide, which gives the beer it’s alcohol content and carbonation. During the fermentation process, that can last weeks to months depending on what beer you’re brewing, chocolate can be added as well. If so, the brew will take on rich and significant chocolate aromas and flavors.

Hippety-hop down the bunny trail takes us to craft brew number one in our basket: Sweet Baby Jesus! By DuClaw Brewing Company, Baltimore, MD. (6.2% ABV) This is a fantastical chocolate peanut butter porter that boasts lovely notes of chocolate and peanut butter along with coffee and espresso too. Smooth and roasty, it makes for a lovely pour and an even better taste, sure to rival any Reese’s candy. In addition, locally, I also recommend Willow Rock Brewing Company’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Milkshake (or PBCMS for short) (10% ABV) and Full Boar Craft Brewery’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Milk Stout (6.6% ABV). The local brews are not
available all year round, but when they do arrive again, grab your growler and get yourself over to their tap rooms. Both beers are rich, decadent and flavorful, and you won’t be disappointed! Best way to find out what’s currently on tap is to follow both breweries on their social media pages.

Among the daffodils and tulips we’ll find craft brew number two to add to our basket: Campfire Stout by High Water Brewing, Stockton, CA. (6.5% ABV) It’s all about the marshmallows when it comes to this craft beer! Reminiscent of s’mores, the beer is brewed with graham crackers, chocolate malt and natural toasted marshmallow flavor. You’ll also find this brew to have slightly smoky notes to top it off. A great second choice is Coffee Dino S’mores by Off Color Brewing, Chicago, IL. (10.5% ABV) This Russian Imperial stout is brewed with 9 different types of malts along with Nugget hops, cocoa nibs, marshmallows, vanilla bean, molasses, graham flour, and Gikirima AA coffee from Kenya. Complex, rich, dark, deep. Pouring this into a snifter and allowing it to warm slightly and breathe a bit helps bring out the flavors as you drink it.

Hidden in the budding leaves of a lilac bush you’ll find our next craft beer on this hunt: Mexican Cake by Westbrook Brewing Co., Mt. Pleasant, SC. (10.5% ABV) This Imperial stout is full of spice and chocolate; brewed with cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, cinnamon and habanero peppers, it’s a welcome kick to your taste buds, but still remains smooth and very balanced. A spectacular second choice would be Stone Brewing’s Stone Xocoveza,Escondido, CA. (8.1% ABV) I have mentioned this brew before in previous articles but I would be remiss to mention it again. If you’re looking for a chocolate beer with a little bit of a bite, this is it. A self-described “take on Mexican hot chocolate,” the beer is brewed with cocoa, coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It’s pretty much perfection.

Look above and you’ll see our 4th beer nestled in the branches of a tree near the beautiful bright blue eggs of a robin’s nest: Eric More Cowbell! Milk Stout by SingleCut Beersmiths, Astoria, NY. (6.6% ABV) I liken this to an adult version of chocolate milk. With a creamy mouthfeel and slight sweetness, this makes for a great beer to open up and accompany your Easter Sunday brunch. You’ll also find notes of espresso and flavors of roasted malts throughout. Another milk stout to try is Left Hand Brewing Company’s Milk Stout Nitro, Longmont, CO. (6% ABV) Most anything brewed with nitrogen is going to be super smooth, and this beer is no different. In addition, you’ll find lovely notes of mocha, brown sugar, vanilla, & milk chocolate.

Keep searching and you’ll find our Easter beer bunny has hidden another decadent chocolate brew for you to find: Genesee Brewing Company’s Pilot Batch: Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter,
Rochester, NY. (6.5% ABV) This English-style porter is beautifully sweet and salty at the same time. Brewed with 80% cacao, it lends a bittersweet undertone that mixes with loads of caramel notes. It truly is satisfying for your sweet tooth. A second brew for all you sweet-loving folks out there is Saranac Brewing Co.’s Varick St. Breakfast Stout, Utica, NY (8% ABV). Butterscotch, butterscotch, & more butterscotch! – it’s in the aroma, and intensely flavored throughout. Others describe this as “boozy” and with “dark chocolate notes” and “toffee” flavors. Just remember, if tastes and flavors vary from person to person, nobody is wrong, we all just have different palates!

Our last (but not least) and sixth brew to add to our Easter beer basket and complete our hunt is the epitome of a chocolate beer: Choklat by Southern Tier Brewing Company, Lakewood, NY. (10% ABV) This Blackwater Series Imperial Stout is created using 2-row barley, caramel 60 malt, barley flakes, chocolate malt, bittersweet Belgian chocolate, Chinook and Willamette hops. Indulgent is the word that comes to mind when tasting this craft beer. It’s dark and intense, and it’s a chocolate beer that you can cellar because it ages very well. Purchase two, drink one now, stow away the other for a year or two and open when your chocolate-craving comes a-calling. If you’re truly a through and through chocolate fan, another wonderful choice is The Chocolate Manifesto by Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery in Barrie, Ontario, Canada. (10% ABV) This Imperial Milk Stout is brewed with THREE different types of chocolate – Cacao nibs, roasted whole cacao powder, and chocolate malt. And it’s so luxurious, each bottle even comes packaged in its own individual box!

Many of these brews can be found at your local supermarkets that have a large craft brew section – think Wegmans and Green Hills Farms. Other places are going to be your specialty beer shops like Branching Out Bottle Shop and Now & Later. And yet more places, will be your specialty beer bars with rotating taps and a large selection of cans and bottles to choose from, such as The Evergreen and World of Beer. Don’t forget to also check out your local breweries for newly released brews; you never know what kind of hidden gems you might turn up this April on your very own Easter brew hunt! Cheers!

Kristin Merritt
Just a brief introduction that I’ve joined the Table Hopping crew as your new craft-brew-loving gal who will be bringing you your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope that I can give a few recommendations for your grocery lists, event suggestions and local hotspots for an afternoon out with friends or planning a date, and if not for nothing, perhaps enlighten you with some random knowledge that you can amaze your teammates with at trivia night – or at least give you and your pals a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! I have some mighty large shoes to fill that my friend and fellow Syracuse Women of Craft Beer member (& founder), Gloria Rakowsky, left for me, but I hope that my style (and shenanigans) will keep all y’all coming back for more each month. Cheers!