Love meets suds for Valentine's Day

MICHAEL AGNEW | Updated 2/6/2014

Consider the oyster (and the asparagus, fig and more) and pair it with a brew for the holiday of romance.

Bent Paddle's Black Ale
Kyndell Harkness

Food writer M.F.K. Fisher once said, “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.” What could be more intimate than sharing foods that have an aphrodisiac effect? And while wine is generally considered the beverage of romance, I would make the case that beer is equally amorous in the proper setting.

With Valentine’s Day just a week away, it seems appropriate to explore some more scintillating pairings.

Oysters: Since the time of the Roman Empire, people have eaten raw oysters to increase libido. Eighteenth-century lover Casanova reportedly breakfasted on 50 of the slippery mollusks daily. In 2005, Italian and American scientists found that oysters are rich in rare amino acids that increase sex hormones in both men and women.

Oysters and dry Irish stout happen to be one of the beer world’s classic pairings. The dry, roasted maltiness creates a contrast that brightens the bivalves’ briny tang. They work so well together that some brewers make oyster stouts that actually incorporate oyster shells and meat in the brew. There are many Irish stouts to choose from and any of them will work just fine. My favorite is O’Hara’s Irish Stout from the Carlow Brewing Co. in Ireland. Guinness and Murphy’s are authentic Irish brands that are available almost everywhere. For something domestically brewed, try North Coast Old #38.

Asparagus: Asparagus is first mentioned as an aphrodisiac in a 15th-century Arabic sex manual, “The Perfumed Garden.” It appears again in a 16th-century manual from India, “Ananga Ranga.” In 19th-century France, bridegrooms were reportedly served three courses of the stuff at their prenuptial dinners.

Asparagus has a special affinity for the golden ales of Belgium. The vegetal flavors of the sexy spears are amplified and enhanced by the cotton-candy sugar, spice and fruit combination brought about by Belgian yeast strains. A Belgian blonde ale such as Grimbergen or Leffe will do quite nicely. To further reduce your inhibitions, try a higher-alcohol Belgian Tripel. Good choices include Westmalle Tripel, Maredsu 10 or the Minnesota-brewed Brimstone Tripel from Boom Island. Wrap blanched asparagus with prosciutto and puff pastry and bake for a can’t-miss romantic treat.

Arugula: When you think of aphrodisiacs, this peppery green is probably not the first to come to mind. But arugula has been used to spice up romance since the first century A.D. The Greek philosopher Pliny identified it as a libido booster, and the Romans offered it to Priapus, a god of fertility. Who knew?

Arugula’s spicy flavor and slight bitterness call for a beer with similar qualities. The spicy hops and moderate bitterness of pilsner is a perfect match. Similar flavors in beer and food are lessened when they are paired together. In this case, the bitter beer helps smooth the bitter leaf. This lets the peppery zing of each intertwine without interference. Try Venture Pils from Bent Paddle Brewing in Duluth or my favorite, Schell’s Pils.

Figs: Food doesn’t get much more sensual than figs. From its rich, chewy texture to its appearance that is said by some to resemble certain female parts, the fig is perhaps the ultimate food of love.

Figs need a beer that is as smooth and sensual as they are. Malty sweetness is called for rather than bitter hops. Some warming alcohol is welcome, too. A doppelbock lager will do quite nicely. These potent brews feature luscious caramel-like maltiness that is underscored by tantalizing notes of dried, dark fruits such as figs and raisins. Paulaner’s Salvator Doppelbock emphasizes caramel. The darker Celebrator Doppelbock has more dark fruit and subtle hints of chocolate.