Box of Chocolates Beer Collaboration | Four Chicago-Area Breweries Celebrate Valentine’s Day
Move over Cupid. Oswego Brewing, Riverlands Brewing, Skeleton Key Brewing and Wolfden Brewing have concocted the perfect method for which to achieve romantic bliss: the Box of Chocolates Beer Collaboration. The multi-brewery Valentine’s Day beer package is more than just a treat, though, because the beers also serve as beautiful demonstrations of the versatility of stouts (or stout-like ales), which is fitting for February (a.k.a. Stout Month).
Unlike the mystery candies one often finds in a typical box of chocolates, we are here to provide you insight into every beer. Rest assured, whether you are in a relationship, single or “it’s complicated,” the beer collection will not disappoint.
The one common characteristic, besides all enjoying the “imperial” label (ABVs north of 10%), involves the sublime balance between adjuncts and the base stouts. From brewers toasting nuts with family members to brewing together at each other’s brewery, there’s care that went into each beer, and it shows. Also, to call the beers in the 4-pack pastry stouts would be a bit of a misnomer. The adjuncts marry superbly well with the base stouts, leaving one with a flavorful beer that in no way shape or form resembles some of the syrupy-sweet sugar bombs found on the shelves these days.
The release will occur at each participating brewery on Valentine’s Day. Each brewery will offer the 4-pack (12oz bottles) ensconced in artful packaging. As well, each location will have the entire collection available on draft (but don’t wait too long to get your tastes). Some breweries also have various events planned (see each brewery’s social media for details).
Coconut Creme Imperial Milk Stout with Vanilla
Led by Marc Wilson, a brewer with a bit of GABF and World Cup hardware to his name, Oswego Brewing serves the far reaches of Chicago’s southwestern suburbs, possessing a clientele that’s part suburban, part rural, but also 100% passionate about beer, be it Vienna Lagers, Bourbon Barrel Aged, fruit beers and hazy beers of all kinds, from Hefeweizen to NEIPA.
Marc and assistant brewer Carolyn Stephens guided this writer on the journey from the collaboration idea to the final product.
“A collaboration project like this is mostly a great way for me to get out and meet with other breweries in the community,” explained Wilson. “Sometimes that can be tough, but it was a lot of fun to talk and brew with others. And I’m thrilled with the final product.”
Speaking of tough, “We hand-toasted a lot of coconut,” Marc commented with a chuckle.
The chocolate in the beer comes from the malt used, not from any type of adjunct. However, the chocolate notes (perceived or otherwise) balanced remarkably well with the hand-toasted coconut. There’s nothing fake or forced about the coconut — it tastes absolutely pure & clean. Like skillful mixology, the flavors meld together superbly.
Hazelnut Praline Imperial Milk Stout with Cocoa Nibs and Vanilla
Skeleton Key represents a bit of the old guard of craft breweries, tucked away in a business/warehouse complex. Breweries similar to Skeleton Key build beer communities through social media, word of mouth, craft-beer festivals, and any other manner one can name.
In short: if you make excellent beer, they will come — and they do.
For those that arrive on Valentine’s Day to try its version, they’ll be privy to a beer that first offers a gentle waft of hazelnut on the nose, followed by the rich chocolate flavor and a hint of vanilla. The more one tastes the beer, the more the hazelnut flavor grows — a beautiful touch.
“It is a Milk Stout, so there is lactose in the beer. We wanted to make sure the mouthfeel was towards the medium-side, and we were pleased with that,” said Emily Slayton, co-owner of Skeleton Key. And creamy it is, but somehow remains downright gulpable! (It’s okay to invent words sometimes.) “John [Szopa, head brewer,] really did a great job.”
She added, with a smile, “Whether it was the Pink Boots event or any of the others, the one great thing about collaborations like this is that we get to hang with our brewing friends, and that’s always a good thing.”
White Chocolate Covered Strawberry Imperial Ale
Wolfden operates in a unique, historic home that has modified to serve as a brewpub (complete with a backyard/beer garden). Wolfden offers plenty of beers you recognize plus beers such as its Zombie Kolaczki Golden Pastry Ale with lactose, fermented over apricots and vanilla beans. It “will make you feel like you just walked into a Polish bakery!”
And so it is no suprise that Wolfden had no problem putting a different spin on its beer for the 4-pack with a White Chocolate Stout. Now, before you say, “Hey, that’s not a stout.” Ask yourself: “Is white chocolate actually chocolate?” (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)
“I wanted to do a little something different. When I went over to Oswego, Marc and I had some ideas. I wanted it to be a little on the sweet side, which makes sense. We’ve done sweet beers and pastry ales. For this project, ours is a little like white chocolate candy, but also reminds you of dipping strawberries in white chocolate, too, which is great for Valentine’s Day,” said Krys Wolf, head brewer and co-founder of Wolfden.
You can call it an albino stout, a milkshake IPA or maybe a fruited ale. Whatever it’s named, the beer possesses plenty of strawberry and vanilla and tastes a bit like candy, yet the maltiness hangs in there, notably on the finish. It’s the sweetest one of the four, but like the rest, it does not beat you over the head with sugar. When consuming all four varieties, the Wolfden version acts much like a super-tasty palate cleanser.
Raspberry Creme Imperial Milk Stout with Cocoa Nibs
Not far from the Fox River in what is becoming a new hotbed of brewing, St. Charles, Illinois, Riverlands is a little more than a month shy of celebrating its first anniversary. Yet, its beer presents like a brewery that’s been in business for a decade. Though one will find a few NEIPAs, there’s also lagers and barleywines and Berliner’s, oh my — it’s an impressive beer menu.
“When I first heard about this idea for the collab, I was really excited to try it,” said, Eric Bramwell, head brewer at Riverlands. “Marc and I bounced ideas off each other, and then he suggested raspberry. I always wanted to do something like that, so it was a perfect opportunity to try it.” He added, “Fruited stouts can be tough to execute. They can get medicinal if they aren’t done correctly…but raspberry, of all the fruit purees I work with, comes through very well. It doesn’t rely as much on the fruit sugar so when the fruit sugar ferments out, you still get great raspberry flavor.”
In this case, it’s mainly concentrate that Bramwell relied upon as to not dilute the 12% imperial stout with gobs of puree, and it shows in the mouthfeel; nothing thin about this one. Indeed, there’s an elegant, decadent character to the Riverlands version. The chocolate is rich, but not sugary. The raspberry is tart and naturally sweet, but not “syrupy.” And, the malt backbone is ever-present. Simply, it’s a well-composed fruited stout.
And, that’s the essence of the 4-pack Box of Chocolates Beer Collaboration. For those looking for an over-the-top dessert beer that tastes like liquid cake, maybe this may not be the beer for them. But, for those not limited to that one genre, they’ll be afforded an opportunity to fall in love with a collection of stouts that celebrate the use of adjuncts without masking the flavor of the base beer.