2 Can't-Miss Events in February 2014: Beer and Wine & Chocolate Festivals

The Big Brew NY Beer Festival takes over the Westchester County Center in White Plains on February 8, while Mahopac hosts the Hudson Valley Wine & Chocolate Festival the next day



craft beer cookbookBook cover courtesy of Storey Publishing

It’s February, that time of year when a beer drinker’s thoughts turn to... chocolate? “I’ll usually get a surprised reaction when I talk about pairing beer with chocolate,” says Mary Ann Reis. “People look at you a bit suspiciously and say, ‘I thought you paired wine with chocolate.’ ”

It’s a whole new frontier out there, folks. That’s why Reis’s New Jersey-based company, 2 Chicks with Chocolate, will be presenting a special Chocolate and Beer Pairing at the Big Brew NY Beer Festival on February 8 at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. “People traditionally wanted to think about having beer with bratwurst, but things have changed.”

Reis notes that people who have not previously been beer drinkers can often be eased into appreciating a good ale with the help of chocolate. The pairings can be of several variations — including using chocolate beer. “There are different ways of doing a chocolate stout,” she says. “Some actually have chocolate in them, and some just create a chocolate flavor with hops. One of my favorite things to pair with a chocolate beer is a raspberry ganache. At a Christmas party this year, I took Lambic cherry beer and mixed it with a chocolate stout and served it to some friends of mine. Some of the people who were not beer drinkers really liked it.”

Of course, chocolate is just one part of this new festival, a spin-off of the Big Brew Beer events that have been held in New Jersey for several years. More than 100 craft breweries from around the globe — including local favorites Peekskill and Defiant brewing companies — will be serving up samples, and VIP ticket holders can indulge in a beer-infused buffet with a menu designed by award-winning craft beer writer John Holl, the author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook. Holl will be on hand to discuss food and beer pairings with VIP guests. “Take, for example, a steak on the grill,” says Holl. “It gets a really nice char on it, then you have the caramelization of the fat and a litle bit of the carbon black along with it. I would say that a porter or a brown ale would go really well with this; the sweetness in the beer would really contrast nicely with some of the savory juices that come off of the meat. But if you add a Gorgonzola sauce on top — then you need a beer that is a little more assertive, like an IPA that can really cut through the flavors of the cheese. It’s really all about ways to either complement or contrast.”

Holl believes that events like these are a natural extension of the craft beer craze. “People are really starting to notice that there are more than the beers they grew up with on the shelves these days. People are interested in the stories behind the beer, interested in finding out about the process, and just interested in trying out all these different types of beer.”

Tickets are available online at www.bigbrewny.com through Feb. 8: VIP $80; general admission $50; designated driver $10. At the door: VIP $90; general admission $60; DD $15.

blackened shrimp and corn chowderPhotograph by Lara Ferroni. Used with permission of Storey Publishing

Click here for Holl’s recipe for Blackened Shrimp and Corn Chowder (which uses a few ounces of a red or amber ale) and should be paired with an amber ale.

The Hudson Valley Wine & Chocolate Festival rolls into town on February 9, just in time to stock up on supplies for Valentine’s Day. Hosted by the Brewster-based organization Partners with PARC, the festival features regional wineries, craft beer and liquors, holiday craft vendors, and of course a bevy of chocolate items and confections. And all proceeds support area residents with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.

Putnam County Golf Course, Mahopac; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance, $40 at the door. Attendees must be 21 or older. For more information, visit www.hvwineandchocolate.com.

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Welcome to The First Draft — a column devoted exclusively to all things beer. Yes, that’s right, from taste-tests to profiles of brewers (and homebrewers) to expert advice (hello, Craft Beer 101), we’re going county to county, city to small town to uncover all the sudsy stuff you need to know. Heck, we’ll even let you know which brewery has the coolest looking T-shirt in town. You can expect reviews, food and beer pairings, roundups, trends, expert advice, homebrewing, profiles, big beer events, best nights out.

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