Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love popularised by the catholic church, thought to be in Pagan origin. Pagan, Christian or otherwise, millions of Brits flock to the shops each year in search of cards, chocolates and flowers for their loved ones. Although ale is omitted from this trio, there are many ways in which these themes can be manifested into gifts of beer.
Welcome to the Beer Lover’s Guide to Valentine’s day. Let’s start with the sweet stuff, quite literally..
Cocoa is the fruit of the Theobroma Cacao tree. To extract this mass, cocoa beans are fermented and roasted, before their shells are removed to reveal the nibs. These nibs are then ground and liquefied, before cooling to separate the cocoa solids from the fatty butter.
For centuries, these powdered solids have been used to create drinking chocolate, cocoa’s most popular form up until the invention of the chocolate bar, by British chocolatier Joseph Fry. Why not embrace in the heritage of drinking chocolate with one these delicious, chocolatey brews..
CLUB HAMMER – POPE’S YARD BREWERY, HERTFORDSHIRE
Chocolatey London Stout.. Based on old style Stout Porters. Brewed with black malt, chocolate malt and roasted barley. Its sweetness and roast richness are balanced by bitterness and aroma from select British hops.
Looking to buy local? You can’t go wrong with Pope’s Yard, brewing out of the picturesque Frogmore Mill in Apsley, Hemel Hempstead. Whilst Club Hammer does not contain any actual chocolate, it’s delicious notes of cocoa and caramel have earned Pope’s Yard many an award over the years (CAMRA’s ‘Hertfordshire Beer of the Year 2016’).
Cocoa Wonderland – Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell
Cocoa Wonderland is a full-bodied, robust porter with natural mocha malt flavours from the complex malt grist, complementing the decadent additions of real chocolate to the maturation process.
If the chocolate notes of malt alone aren’t giving you a sugar rush, try Cocoa Wonderland from the revered Thornbridge Brewery, brewed with real chocolate.
Hoodwink White Stout – Mad Squirrel Brewery, Hertfordshire
Hoodwink, this is one trick you will enjoy being played on you.
This one is a wildcard – and another vote for local! Made with lactose, vanilla and white chocolate, this luscious dessert beer hides behind the disguise of a clear golden hue. Touted as a ‘white stout’, Mad Squirrel (Potten End, Hemel Hempstead) have distilled the experience of a full-bodied stout into an beer that boasts a complexion as pale as straw. Truly a wonderful experience!
Back to the story..
Having discovered a way to blend sugar with cocoa butter and powder into a paste, Joseph Fry moulded his first solid bar in 1847 – Fry’s Chocolate Bar. Fry’s invention was a hit and in 1849, fellow Quaker and chocolate entrepreneur John Cadbury released his brand of bar to the world. Ever an industry pioneer, Cadbury showcased the world’s first heart-shaped chocolate box on Valentine’s Day in 1861
Cadbury’s rose-adorned tins met an outstanding reception from prudish Victorians who, having emptied them of chocolates, used the tins to store their ever-so-saucy valentine’s cards. In 1919 Cadbury’s and Fry’s merged, securing a legacy of romantic chocolate merchandising that is celebrated each and every Valentine’s!
The blank canvas for all literary Casanovas, valentine’s cards are also believed to be a British institution. Sending cards on Valentine’s Day was first popularised by Charles Duke of Orléans, who wrote to his wife whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London, having been captured in the Battle of Agincourt. Addressed to Bonne of Armagnac, Charles sent his ‘Valentine Poem‘ across the channel in 1415.
God forgives him who has estranged
Me from you for the whole year.
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine.
Enraptured with their prisoner’s gesture, British romantics wrote poems of their own to loved ones on the Feast of Saint Valentine. Though popular amongst the upper-classes, it was not until four hundred later that the sending of sweet nothings became widespread, with the introduction of Penny Mail..
The Royal Mail takes its name from the service it offered when launched by Henry III in 1516; carrying letters to officials of government and crown. Although this service was made public by Charles I in 1635, it continued to be prohibitively expensive until 1837.
In 1837 Rowland Hill proposed a set of reforms to the expensive Royal Mail system, these new measures, including Penny Mail Postage, received parliamentary approval in 1840. The newly established Penny Post cost just one penny to send and made the delivery of love letters accessible to all, with 70 million stamps purchased in the first year alone.
As the Duke’s sentiments are now echoed the nation over (stashed in heart-shaped chocolate boxes), Rowland Hill’s memory survives beyond his passing in 1879. Hill is buried among Britain’s most influential figures at Westminster Abbey, an apt resting place for a postal angel – cupid if you will.
If you’re looking for a sweet sentiment wrapped conveniently around a bottle or can, keep an eye out for the following:
I Love You Will U Marry Me? – Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell
Belgian style Blonde ale matured with strawberries. Refreshing and balanced with subtle sweet and fruity flavours.
Successful proposal ratio = 1:1 (officially).
I Love You With My Stout – Evil Twin Brewing, New York
Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, Brewer and founder of Evil Twin Brewing
Why am I doing this? I didn’t honestly know. It was just an instinct about beer as pure form… in a sense, this stout is like a metaphor for freedom – the sum of all the beauty that surrounds me and my perfect contemporary existence.
A hefty 12% imperial stout brewed by Brooklyn based Evil Twin Brewing. If one is in search of the world’s beauty, enjoy a sip or two of this brew – just as its’ founder did.
Kiss – Harveys Brewery, Lewes, East Sussex
Light in colour, with prominent floral and ginger notes that mellow into a gentle sweet bitterness. The perfect Valentine celebration beer.
Produced by one of the old guards of British brewing, Harvey’s Brewery of Lewes (East Sussex) releases this seasonal ale on draught and in the bottle throughout the month of February.
The giving of flowers on Valentine’s Day dates back to the 1700s, when Charles II of Sweden introduced Europeans to the Persian custom of gifting botanicals.
As the favourite flower of Venus, the goddess of love, roses have become synonymous with Valentine’s day. This red-petalled plant is purchased by millions from florists, street vendors and petrol stations as a sign of affection on the feast of Saint Valentines.
Since flowers are an international influence on our celebrations, I’ve expanded our guise to include the following worldwide brews:
Lilac – Brekeriet, Sweden
Sour Ale brewed with Lilac Flowers picked fresh in Skåne, Southern Sweden.
What could be more romantic than a bunch of flowers? How about a beer brewed with actual botannicals!
Kriek Boon – Brouwerij Boon
For this speciality, we use old and young lambic beer that has aged in our oak casks. When the lambic is 6 months old, we add 25% black cherries. This provokes the second fermentation. We then clarify, filter and bottle it. The cherries and young lambic create a red beer that is both natural and fresh, with an absolutely unforgettable sweet and sour taste.
Kriek beer is coloured red (the colour of love!) through the process of cherry maceration that takes place in the cask, as this style of Belgian sour ale ages over many months. Top tip: kriek pairs astoundingly well with decadent chocolate desserts, a champion choice on any valentine’s menu!
Carlsberg – Denmark (kidding, but you’ll see why)
Although macro-lager doesn’t hold many romantic connotations, one eccentricity of Carl Jacobsen (Danish brewer and son of Carlsberg founder JC Jacobsen) did.
Every morning Jacobsen’s gardener would deliver a single red rose to him, which he would carry between his teeth for the rest of the day. “(Carl) believed the fragrance of the rose would add to the beauty of his life.”
If this guide has worked, and you find yourself duly-wed, you needn’t worry that beer does stops here.
It is well noted that the world famous Oktoberfest dates back to the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, in Munich on October 12th 1810. The Royals invited Munich’s masses to join in with festivities and annual celebrations have been held ever since.
If our guide has failed, and you are without a flame, why not fall in love with beer all over again?
It was of the most beautiful colour that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant, yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset; free from streakiness of taste; but, finally, rather heady.The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy (1880)