Nachos and beer? That’s a no-brainer. But beer and chocolate? It may sound like an unusual pairing at first, but, much like the odd-sounding bacon and chocolate combo before it, the two get along together much better than most people realize.
“Beer and chocolate is something people are starting to realize work more now for several reasons,” says Tara Nurin, a craft beer writer and the founder of Beer for Babes, a social group that brings female craft beer fans together for brewery tours and other events. “One, craft beer is more popular than ever. Two, the kind of beers we used to drink tended to be from the big macro breweries … what we think of pairing with nachos and pretzels, not chocolate.”
Nurin will host a series of seminars on craft beer and chocolate pairings at the ninth annual Atlantic City Beer & Music Festival, taking place Friday, April 4, and Saturday, April 5, at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The aptly named “Celebration of the Suds” taking place over three separate sessions brings together more than 150 craft breweries from across the country to showcase their beers.
For 2014, the live entertainment includes well-known headliners Saves the Day, Dirty Heads and Less than Jake to anchor a weekend lineup of bands in addition to an acoustic side stage. The goal, organizers say, is for the music to serve as a soundtrack for the festival.
“We’re really excited,” says Jon Henderson, founder and producer of the festival. “It’s our ninth year, and it’s become the largest beer fest on the East Coast.”
The festival gives beer aficionados and casual beer drinkers the chance to speak to company representatives and brewers responsible for some of their favorite brews, all while discovering new ones. Dogfish Head, Flying Fish, Evil Genius, Brooklyn Brewing Company, Cape May Brewing Company, Victory Brewing Company and Magic Hat are just a few of the breweries participating this year.
The festival also offers the range of usual — and unusual — beer accessories such as funny T-shirts and beer pong, plus seminars such as Nurin’s and other topics like how to pair beer with a cigar. Love2Brew Home Brew Supply will offer on-site brewing demonstrations throughout the festival, and the Garden State Brew and Mustache Society will be returning with their popular Mustache Lounge (where a mustache is required to enter).
When participants such as Love2Brew’s Ron Witkowski set up his 20-gallon, portable electric brewery at the festival, people can’t help but stop to see what it is he’s doing, he says. Witkowski says his goal is to show attendees how easy it can be to brew your own beer, wine and even hard cider at home.
“All these craft brewers, they all start out home brewing,” says Witkowski, who is participating in his second Atlantic City Beer Fest. “You don’t just make the leap from no one to home brewer.”
Witkowski says he and his brewing partner, Mark Spezio, often end up doing a lot of individual lectures at the festival, rather than one long seminar, as people come to his booth with questions and looking for home brew samples.
“Some people don’t know that you can brew your own beer,” Witkowski says. “We explain how easy it is and how fun it is. If you like craft beer, brewing your own beer is right up your alley.”
Nurin, who also writes a national beer column, will partner with the Middlesex County-based 2 Chicks with Chocolate, paring several different craft beers with various gourmet chocolates for her seminar.
“What I always find interesting is that chocolate and beer are like yin and yang, but coming from opposite places,” Nurin says. “The chocolate starts bitter and gets sweeter … while the beer goes the opposite direction, needing to add hops to make it bitter. So those two things to play off each other.”
Mike Kivowitz, founder of NewJerseyCraftBeer.com, will offer a surprise collaboration brew that is so secret it will only be available for tastings at his seminar about craft beer in New Jersey.
“This year we decided to go crazy and brew up a collaboration beer with about seven or eight other breweries and businesses as a celebration of beer in New Jersey,” Kivowitz says. “We’re launching it at the beer festival. We’re not letting anyone have it until the seminar.”
Kivowitz says the passion and effort behind a great microbrew is always evident — and that is what makes it special.
“What makes a good beer? It’s really passion,” Kivowitz says. “You know, everybody has a different palette. It’s not just the beer. It’s who’s brewing it, who’s selling it. When you sit and drink the beer with the guy that’s making it, you get a sense of the process. The beer becomes the conversation starter, but then you realize, there’s more to it.”
2014 Beer Fest Music Lineup
7 to 11 p.m. Friday, April 4
Saves the Day (headliner)
Acoustic stage featuring David Earl, Nicole Sbaffoni, Anthony Nastasi Jr.
Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 5
Jay D Clark
Dirty Heads (headliner)
Acoustic stage featuring Chris Brown, Joel Correa, Jas Nature, Jeff Murray
6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 5
Less than Jake (headliner)
Acoustic stage featuring Gary Bender, Brian Richman, Sean Faust, Jas Nature