Fine chocolate, craft beer pairing — the next big thing

By Carol Viau | Oct 15, 2015
Photo by: Carol Viau GET YOUR TASTE BUDS READY — Pairing fine chocolate with craft beer is taking hold in Asheville — and French Broad Chocolates and Catawba Brewing Company know how to do it well.

Ahh, chocolate. The very thought of it gets chocolate lovers smiling in sensory heaven. Many people think pairing chocolate with wine is a natural. And, of course, chocolate always goes with champagne.

But, chocolate with beer? Get your taste buds ready. Pairing fine chocolate with craft beer may be the next big thing.

The pairings are taking hold in Asheville — and French Broad Chocolates and Catawba Brewing Company know how to do it well.

What started as an event organized by Catawba and its Asheville operations manager Shelton Steele during 2014 Asheville Beer Week, has become a regular educational and sensory experience at Catawba Brewing’s Tasting Room at 32 Banks Ave., on Asheville’s South Slope.

French Broad Chocolates executive chocolate maker Crawford Rizor pairs four delectable French Broad Chocolates with four flavorful craft beers from Catawba Brewing.

The pairings are presented the first Tuesday of each month, with expert commentary by Rizor and Catawba’s creative director, Mary Mayo, in a limited-seating chocolate and beer event.

The tasting is held in Catawba’s Rickhouse, a back room complete with ceiling chandeliers and barrel after barrel of aging brews, arranged on racks. During the pairing talks, Rizor and Mayo guide event goers into the world of fine chocolate and craft beer.

“People learn about how beer and chocolate are made, since both go through the fermentation process,” Mayo said.

The selections change each month, depending on what is seasonal. The mouth-watering October pairing featured Catawba’s United Way ESB with a French Broad pumpkin truffle, followed by Catawba’s popular King Don’s Pumpkin Ale and French Broad dark chocolate, then Pyranha Brown IPA and a milk chocolate bar. The last pairing featured Catawba’s Black Dome stout, aged in bourbon barrels, with an inventive French Broad ginger and beet truffle.

The October pairings got rave reviews and a round of applause from the happy event goers.

“The evening brought together flavors from my two favorite food groups — chocolate and beer,” said Emily Unger.

While most of the attendees hadn’t been to the monthly pairings before, they said they intend to come back for more.

“You can’t go wrong with good beer and good chocolate,” said Amanda McKenzie of Asheville.

Mayo calls the event a ‘date night,’ since chocolate and love go hand in hand, but it works well as a ‘ladies night out’ or a fun ‘continuing education’ night for anyone interested in beer and chocolate.

It’s evident that both Rizor and Mayo know their products expertly. The tasting event progresses with interesting and educational comments.

“I work to identify the transition points — where the new flavors come out during the tastings,” Rizor said.

Rizor said he is happy to pair with Catawba Brewing because the brews are so good and the Catawba philosophy is to collaborate with and support area businesses. The French Broad Chocolate Factory is located on Buxton Avenue, behind Catawba’s South Slope tasting room.

“The aroma is awesome the days they (French Broad) are roasting,” Mayo said.

The October group enjoyed all the pairings, but the most comments centered on the Catawba’s Black Dome stout, aged in bourbon barrels, paired with a French Broad ginger and beet truffle. Rizor said this is the first time he has tried the ginger/beet combination.

Victoria Noffke, the self-professed ‘mayoress of the South Slope,’ proclaimed the barrel-aged stout and ginger/beet truffle pairing as “amazing.”

The pumpkin beer and chocolate seasonal offerings also sparked positive comments.

“I love everything pumpkin,” one attendee said enthusiastically.

Whether event attendees agreed on their favorite beer or chocolate, they applauded the quality of the offerings. Both Catawba Brewing and French Broad Chocolates enjoy a good following in Western North Carolina.

“It’s important to have good standards,” said event attendee Becca Chambers of Asheville.

The pairings will continue through the winter, the first Tuesday of the month, at Catawba’s South Slope location. Tickets are $17, and advanced reservations are recommended by emailing Mayo at

There will be a special holiday dinner in place of the chocolate/beer pairing Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Catawba’s South Slope tasting room.

Chef John Fleer of Rhubarb Restaurant is preparing the meal, French Broad Chocolates is doing dessert and Catawba Brewing is pairing five craft beers with five food servings. Fleer worked with Catawba Brewing on this year’s farm-to-table Hickory Nut Gap dinner, which was a big hit with attendees.

Tickets for the holiday dinner are $100 per person. Proceeds will benefit the Haywood Street Congregation welcome program. For tickets, visit

Rizor said that the pairing program is available for private events. For information, visit or contact Mayo at

Visit the NC Ale Trail at for information about Catawba’s upcoming beer and chocolate pairings or “Like” the Catawba Brewing South Slope Tasting Room on Facebook to keep up-to-date with future events. Call Catawba’s South Slope location at (828) 552-3934.