Nearly every year since the founding of the magazine, we’ve assembled a list of suggested beer-and-Halloween candy pairings… And every year, it’s been one of our more popular posts.
Must we block out an afternoon to do it again—to try a bunch of different beers with whatever Halloween candy we have lying around? Twist our arms. Okay. We’re on it.
This time, we first turn to a few experts in beer flavors and pairings to get some specific suggestions. Then, I’ll share the findings from a firsthand tasting experience where the family and I personally tested out several different candies with different beers, looking for winning pairings, and absolutely giving ourselves bellyaches in the process.
“As with most things in life, balance is key when it comes to candy pairings,” Cole says. “Sure, it’s a bit of silly fun, but it allows you to apply some of the key ideas behind good pairings to an audience that is, quite literally, learning through fun.
“And besides, in my opinion, you can pile up the most expensive chocolate in the world into one giant mountain and put half a pound of kid’s candy—pick ‘n’ mix—next to it, and I can guarantee I’ll dive right into that cheap stuff and eat it until I’m green around gills.”
Cheap white chocolate + dunkelweizen
In Britain, the popular brand is Milkybar. In the United States, the most common product might be Hershey’s Cookies & Cream. “Pop a piece of the white chocolate in your mouth,” Cole says, “let it dissolve a little, and then take a sip of a dunkelweizen and, voilà, you get bannoffee pie.” That would be an English pie made from bananas, toffee, and cream. “Seriously, I’m not kidding; this has worked with about 75 percent of the people I’ve tried it with.”
Twizzlers/Red Vines + Flanders red ale
“I am not sure if it’s the mental association of the two reds, but the sweet fake fruits of the vines—with their almost waxy texture—and the tart, dry tobacco, and cherry notes of the Flanders red seem to come to a meeting in the middle to round each other out,” Cole says. “The vines become less sickly and the beer becomes less dry and more rounded.”
Peanut Butter M&Ms or Reece’s Pieces + bourbon barrel–aged imperial stout
“The cocktail I created containing a lot of these elements for The Little Book of Craft Beer prompted my husband to call me a ‘monster,’ just in case you were interested in how my marriage is going,” Cole says. “But I love the pairing of the slightly hot boozy notes, the roasty bitterness of the stout, and the ridiculously sweet and slightly salty candy. It’s very indulgent. (I also notice he didn’t complain when I incorporated all these elements into a cake for his 40th birthday!)”
Candy corn + IPA
“Bitterness cuts sweetness,” Mosher says, while “malty/caramel adds depth to sugary candy tastes.”
Smarties + Gose
This also works for other sour candies, he says. The tangy flavors are coherent and compatible, while the lactic fermentation adds complexity. This should work whether or not the gose is a fruited version.
M&Ms + Belgian dark strong ale
“The intense caramel/cookie of the beer is harmonious with chocolate,” Mosher says, while the beer is “strong enough to hold its own.” This also works with other forms of milk chocolate, he says.
Julia Herz & Gwen Conley
In the book Beer Pairing, Herz and Conley go deep on pairing beer with chocolate and even with Girl Scout cookies. When it comes to Halloween candy, they hone in on differently flavored candy corns:
Caramel-apple-flavored candy corn + Belgian dubbel
This “plays up the fruit along with the sweet, nutty notes of the caramel.”
Chocolate-flavored candy corn + imperial stout
These “combine to make a Tootsie Roll–like flavor.”
Pumpkin-spice-flavored candy corn + German-style Märzen/Oktoberfest
These “give the impression of pumpkin pie.”
Apple-cider-flavored candy corn + saison
This combo “results in a fruity, fizzy, and tart mouthful of flavor.”
My Own Findings
Confession: I don’t eat many sweets, especially garbage candy. When I do, I tend to favor the sweet-salty combos, such as Payday and Take 5 bars. For this tasting session, I threw all advice—beery or medical—out the window to test a variety of beers with a variety of cheap-ass Halloween candies. It was… educational. My stomach hurts.
Here’s the most important thing I learned: The intensities of flavors need to be relatively similar. A lighter beer gets very bland and dry against a rich or strongly flavored candy. Likewise, intense beers will trample all over plainer candies. Notably, a lot of typical Halloween candies are not all that strongly flavored—sweet, yes, but not necessarily intense or rich.
With some help from the fam, here are the top four pairings I could come up with:
Skittles + fruited sour
(Funkwerks Raspberry Provincial, Fort Collins, Colorado)
Light and tart and full of real, fat, juicy raspberry flavor, I thought this beer would work with a variety of sweets… and it does. Pairing it with some 85 percent dark chocolate was pleasant, but also really austere. The revelation was pairing the fruit sour with fruit candy, when the real raspberry and acidity oscillated with fake fruit and sugary sweetness, swinging back and forth and brightening each other with contrast. (I liked the red Skittle best here, but the yellow and purple were fun, too.)
KitKat + dark lager
(Burial Hellstar, Asheville, North Carolina)
I really wanted a dark lager pairing to work, and for a while the nearest I could get was salty Payday—and it was fine, but it didn’t quite sing. It was my father-in-law who stumbled on the KitKat pairing. The milk chocolate and cookie layers found analogues in the beer’s layered malt, then the combo finishes in this dry, softly bitter way that makes you want to try it again.
Almond Joy + bourbon barrel–aged imperial stout
(2nd Shift Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Liquid Spiritual Delight, St. Louis)
A coconut-chocolate bar with a barrel-aged stout is one of the more obvious pairings out there, and it’s one we’ve mentioned in previous years. I include it here simply to confirm that it really works. It’s fun how the coconut draws out the barrel character, and vice versa, while the chocolate finds plenty to play with in the beer. The intensities are similar enough that you can keep sipping and discovering new flavor alchemies. If you only have the time or inclination to try one beer-candy pairing, you could do a lot worse than this one.
Extra-Hot Pulparindo + double milkshake IPA _
_(Hop Butcher for the World Peel Carefully, Chicago)
I love this candy, if you can call it that—it’s got every flavor but umami. It’s sweet, tart, salty, and very spicy… very intense, and I wasn’t sure I would find a beer that could handle it. I did. Peel Carefully is a milkshake IPA with redolent vanilla plus acidity from passionfruit, guava, and oranges. It’s a vanilla-forward sweet-tart smoothie with enough richness and bitterness to manage that chili heat and tamarind tartness in the candy.
I doubt anyone in your neighborhood will be throwing Pulparindo into your kids’ trick-or-treat bags, even if you’re trick-or-treating this year… But if they do, now you know what to do with it.