Matt Stock has the kind of beard one associates with brewers these days: ZZ Top long but silky smooth and manicured. Stock, 35, is manager for Brass Tap. He trains new staff on craft beer and oversees the inventory, including an average of 125 new craft beers cycled throughout the system each week.
In wine sales early in his career, he has been with the upscale craft beer brand since 2009. But here's what you really need to know about him: His favorite Halloween candy is candy corn. Make of that what you will. But his encyclopedic craft beer knowledge gives him a unique skill set: He can help you pair craft beer and candy. Let's call him a sommelier of Snickers.
"There are a couple ways to go about it," he said recently at the Brass Tap location in Ybor City. "One is complementary flavors. So, a Night Swim Porter with its chocolate and roasted malt and underpinnings of caramel would be a great complement to Snickers."
The other way, he says, is to contrast flavors. Like a straight milk chocolate candy bar with a sour or a gose, with its lemony sourness and strong saltiness (salted chocolate, capiche?).
"That cuts through the decadence and umami flavors of the chocolate," he said. "But what really matters is how you enjoy it."
The best thing about beer, he says, is the abundance of flavors available. With wine you're relying on grapes, the barrel and the terroir for flavors; with beer you can make a chocolate porter and brew it with actual chocolate.
"Anything that is USDA approved for human consumption you can brew with beer," he said.
There are beers already brewed with Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Skittles, so, a natural pairing. As an aside, what's the weirdest thing Stock has seen brewed in a beer? Fried chicken. Ew.
"Brewers are continuously pushing the boundaries," he says, before telling us of a bearded brewer at Rogue Ales in Oregon who harvested brewers' yeast from his own beard for a batch. Truly Halloween appropriate, but let's move on.
What would you pair with black licorice? "An imperial stout, which has some of those anise flavors."
How about something really nightmarish like Circus Peanuts or Peeps? "Drink the strongest beer you can find to forget about those Circus Peanuts."
Reese's Cups? "There are tons of peanut porters. DuClaw Brewing's Sweet Baby Jesus is a chocolate peanut butter porter and a 1-to-1 pairing." (Pro tip: What goes with peanut butter? Banana, so try a hefeweizen, maybe something like Cigar City Florida Cracker.)
Jolly Ranchers, with flavors that in no way resemble actual "sour apple" or "watermelon"? "With these kind of strong fruit flavors, go with something light. In my day, we would drink a Zima with a Jolly Rancher dropped in the bottom."
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Tough one: Red Hots? "With spicy, the traditional pairing is an IPA with its bitterness. An IPA and pad Thai is a classic, with the bitter/spicy contrast quintessential."
We were going to have to work harder to stump him. Lemonheads? "A Berliner weisse or gose, with its little bit of salinity."
He brought up the next one: ROLO chewy milk chocolate and caramel candies? "A milk stout, and there are a ton of them produced locally. J Dub's Bell Cow is a good one. They are brewed with lactose sugar, with a creamy texture and a residual milky sweetness."
It kept going like that. (Bazooka bubble gum? A hefeweizen with its bubblegummy Bavarian yeast strain.) Okay, so how about his beloved candy corn?
"It's got pronounced sugar with an underlying flavor of caramel and vanilla. A cream ale will do really well, one with vanilla and breadiness. I think an amber accentuates the caramel. I've paired them here with Big Storm Wavemaker Amber Ale."
Touche, Mr. Stock. But I still don't like candy corn.
Contact Laura Reiley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley.