I have fond memories as a kid waking up each Easter Sunday morning to go on an egg hunt, collecting little colourful eggs and other treats hidden all over my house and sometimes yard. I’ve since grown up and had a family of my own, so I have enjoyed passing on the tradition to the next generation of little ones. While it’s certainly fun to recreate those fond memories in the younger generation, I sometimes long for those magical moments as a kid where something special happened that you didn’t quite understand how it worked, but it was so cool you didn’t care to find out. That being said, what if I told you it was possible to recreate a little bit of that Easter magic for yourself by hunting for new craft beers and pairing them with some classic Easter Treats to give a new perspective on some old favourites for us grown-ups.
Pairing #1 – Cadbury Cream Eggs and Milk Stout
Cadbury Cream Eggs were always the highlight of my Easter Egg hunt when I was young, as finding one of those was like finding a pure golden egg. There’s something special about that creamy custard like center surrounded by decent quality chocolate all perfectly proportioned in an egg shape that tastes amazing and unique. Usually limited to 3-5 per egg hunt, these suckers were cat’s meow and are still one of my favourite treats to this day. I could barely contain my excitement when it was about time to pair them with a craft beer and I was up for the challenge since it’s a tough one to find a good beer for.
High sugar candies like cream eggs aren’t always the best companions for beer pairings, where richer foods tend to do better, so I had to think hard to find something that would work here. Low and behold, I eventually chose an Espresso Milk Stout made by British Columbia brewers Fuggles & Warlock. This particular beer has quite a few coffee notes in it, with a bit cherry wood, a smooth creamy texture and a chocolate milk flavour that comes from the intentional addition of lactose in the brewing process. When combined, the custardy middle of the cream egg got insanely buttery, creamy and generally richer while the chocolate outside was even more pronounced. It was kind of like the beer deconstructed the cream egg into parts and then at the end reconstructed them all back together as a sum of all the good parts. This was heavenly, like really, really good! Milk stouts are hard to find, you should track one down and give this a shot or as an alternate you could try a Cream Ale to get a similar effect.
Pairing #2 – Carrot Cake and a Fruity Wheat Beer
Simply by association, carrot cake makes a great Easter themed cake or cupcake to be served after a meal or as a mid day treat on Easter Weekend. Typically topped with a dollop of cream cheese icing, this fairly moist cake is often filled with nuts, raisins, pineapple and tastes a little grainy with a good spice, tart and sweet combination. This can be a tough dessert to pair with since it has a lot of things going on a once so you’ll want something that plays along with the cake without overpowering any of the flavours.
To match up with carrot cake, I chose a St. Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale which is made by McAuslan Brewing from Montreal, Quebec. This beer has a nice fruity apricot tart character to it, a wheat texture, some cereal grain malts and a fairly clean finish as it is a filtered wheat beer. I found that when served together, the beer brought out more of the tartness in the cream cheese icing of my carrot cake cupcake, highlighted some of the carrot sweetness and cut into the creamy frosting while increasing the apricot in the beer and the grainy texture on both of them. This worked pretty well, as both foods were enjoyable together and helped each other out quite nicely, allowing an appreciation for each of their unique flavours and enhancing some of the more prominent ones. Other beer styles to try include a spicy Saison, or a Winter Ale that has some winter spices in it.
Pairing #3 – Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and a Chocolate Beer
Second only to cream eggs, peanut butter filled eggs were also a big favourite of mine as kid and still to this day I am anle to scarf them down with ease. Reese’s peanut butter cups are easily available year round and peanut butter and chocolate go together so ridiculously well, but what makes these special is that they have a much better chocolate to peanut butter ratio in Easter Egg form than they do as peanut butter cups. They have just enough chocolate to round out the sweet salty peanut butter and are a good candidate for a beer pairing because of that.
Here I went with an Organic Triple Chocolate Stout made by Nelson Brewery in British Columbia, which is a beer that has a chocolate base, a bit smoke, some roasted coffee notes and bits of tar throughout. Paired with the peanut butter egg, this beer changed a lot and hid the chocolate notes while enhancing the coffee, the smoke, and it brought out some hidden cocoa nibs. For the treat, the peanut butter got richer, saltier, a little bit creamier and the chocolate shell played a bigger role in the overall chocolate and peanut butter mix. Another decent pairing, I find that pairing chocolate beers with other chocolate treats is an interesting way to explore the other malts in a beer of this style while enhancing the chocolate treat. It would also be interesting with a Porter or even an Amber ale if you aren’t sure about using a Chocolate Stout or simply can’t find one.
Pairing #4 – Hot Cross Buns and a Dunkel
Traditionally these religious buns were marked with a cross and eaten on Good Friday, however they are now available weeks or months before Easter at every bakery around the start of spring. They are so famous that they even have their own nursery rhyme song, which if you have ever played the recorder in grade school, well you know the exact song I am talking about. Admittedly, I hated these as a kid, however as I have gotten older and acquired a taste for malty fruity flavours I find myself liking them more and more. Since they still tend to be a bit festive, I thought they would be interesting to try with a malty fruity beer style like a Dunkel.
Mill Street Brewery in Ontario makes a Munich Dunkel beer called Dammerung (“twilight” in German), which is a dark lager style beer that is malt forward with raisin and toffee malts accompanied by over ripened fruit, chocolate and leathery overtones. When paired with a hot cross bun, the toffee and raisin notes complement the raisins and fruits in the bun quite well and work to enrich each other by bringing their flavours to the forefront. The wheat and grains in the bread come through nicely, highlighting some nutty grains and a sweet finish to both the bread and the beer. For alternate styles, any sort of fruit beer could work well or a crazy malt forward style like an Eisbock would be a big hit too.
Pairing #5 – White Chocolate Bunny and a White IPA
Typically white chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids and doesn’t contain any actual cocoa solids, thus not making it an actual chocolate – but that doesn’t matter because when made right it is quite delicious. Because of its make up though, this is one of the zanier pairings of the bunch, where it’s a bit risky to try and find something that will be a rewarding duo. I decided to try this with an Imperial White IPA and it was quite a unique experience!
Parallel 49 in British Columbia makes a winter White IPA called Toques of Hazzard that features two toque wearing, hockey stick toting dudes riding a Zamboni that resembles the General Lee car. The beer features some nice floral hop notes, some passion fruit, pine, lemon flavours with doughy bread malts to round it out which had a nice contrast effect on the buttery, cheesy white chocolate bunny. I found that the hop bitterness intensified pretty quickly into a pleasurable mix of bitter pine, grapefruit, lemon citrus and tangerine flavours while the white chocolate tasted more like malty cheese with a buttery aftertaste. As a pairing, this was one of those odd cases where it just kind of works on a different level and would make for a good way to impress party goers with your beer and food pairing skills. A Belgian blonde style ale might work well here, but you’d need to experiment a lot to get another one to work I think.
What about Easter Dinner?
There are many different styles of beers that would pair up nicely with the different courses of a typical Easter dinner, yet one of the challenges with drinking certain styles like IPA’s or strong Belgian Ale’s is that you are likely to overpower one or more parts of the meal. A solid go to style that I prefer is a Saison, which is usually a bit spicy and very effervescent so it will cleanse your palate between bites and won’t fill you up or knock you down depending on your choice in beer. A simple Nut Brown is another good choice as it won’t clash with much, or even a Craft Lager is ok for a dinner drink since again this style of beer will not over power any one dish. At the end of the day though, I’d still lean towards a Saison as a safe, yet very flavourful bet to go with your meal.