As a kid growing up in suburban New Jersey, most of my Halloween costumes had to be conspicuously adapted to accommodate the chilly temperatures of a late-fall evening in the Northeast. My Elvis get-up one year included slicked-back hair, a toy guitar, and a decidedly un-King-like flannel-lined jean jacket. Superhero capes routinely had to be tucked beneath Lands' End parkas. The indignities, man.
We don’t have the same problem here in Charleston, and though I don’t trick-or-treat anymore (I’m 31 with no children, after all; whatever would the neighbors say?) I appreciate the milder autumn air because it makes for perfect outdoor beer-drinking weather.
Or at least it did last year, when I found myself pleasantly tipsy in Wagener Terrace, slinging candy to well-costumed kiddos while tossing back an adult beverage on my front stoop.
At Halloween 2018, the beers, like the sweets, were mass-produced by large corporations. (I'd just moved in and didn't plan well, what can I say?) But this year, as the paper’s beverage reporter, that simply won’t do. We’ve got so many local breweries in these parts that I’d be remiss if I didn’t grab a growler of local stuff to swig while spreading All Hallows cheer.
Which got me to thinking: We really need a pairing guide for local beers and popular Halloween candy.
(“Need” is doing a lot of work in that sentence, but you get the idea.)
To assist me, and hopefully you, in the pursuit of well-balanced spooky stomach aches, I asked Brandon Plyler, Edmund’s Oast’s director of beer education, to pair Charleston-area beers with some of America’s best-selling candies.
As South Carolina’s first and only Advanced Cicerone (the second-highest accreditation level for serving beer), he’s arguably overqualified to perform this task. But Plyler has actually done this dance before, leading a beer-and-candy pairing class at Kudu Coffee and Craft Beer way back at Halloween 2012.
A lot has changed since then, particularly with regards to the Lowcountry beer scene. In 2012, Charleston Beer Exchange was still open at 14 Exchange St., the transformative “pint law” allowing now-de rigueur taproom sales was still a year away, and breweries weren’t even allowed to sell food.
Halloween candy, on the other hand, has not changed a whole lot in the past seven years. According to CandyStore.com, America’s top-selling saccharine handouts are are a bevy of usual suspects. The top 10, in order: Skittles, Reese’s Cups, M&Ms, Snickers, Starburst, candy corn, hot tamales, Tootsie pops, Sour Patch Kids, and Hershey’s bars.
I culled this list down a bit to avoid redundancy, then presented it to Plyler, who promptly put his highly trained beer brain to work pairing local brews with these popular sweets.
If you’re looking for something well-made here in the Lowcountry to sip while slinging Skittles, or enjoy after inhaling yet another bag of M&Ms, these are your beers. Nary a single one of these choices is a pumpkin beer — good news seeing as how pumpkin beers tend to be revolting. (Just to preempt any cries of candy conspiracy, a disclosure: Order of Magnitude is made by Plyler's employer, EOBC, in collaboration with Alabama's Ferus Artisan Ales. I told him he could pick one of his own, but no more. We'll all survive.)
As Plyler himself helpfully pointed out, all of these beers are (or at least, recently were) available in cans. “You know, for when you're not walking around your neighborhood with an open container,” he said. Totally.
Candy: Skittles or Starburst
Beer pairing: Order of Magnitude, Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co.
Plyler says: “Something tropical or sour is needed to really make those flavors pop. EOBC just released Order of Magnitude, a sour wheat beer with 3 fruit additions and salt. That salt will really come out to enhance flavors and mouthfeel when encountering the residual stickiness of these candies. Acidity will help refresh the palate as well.”
Candy: Reese’s Cups
Beer pairing: Spinal Evisceration, Revelry Brewing
Plyler says: The beer “not only has a terrifying and seasonally appropriate name and label. It's also a Black IPA that has the combination of citrusy hop bitterness along with light roasty element. Hops keep this beer drinkable and crisp while the dark malt elements play well with chocolate and peanut butter."
Candy: M&Ms or Hershey’s
Beer pairing: Brugge City Brune, Munkle Brewing Co.
Plyler says: These candies can both come with nuts in them (peanut M&Ms, almond Hershey’s) and CandyStore.com doesn’t specify, but “either way, I want something lightly toasted with touches of caramel on the fringes. Munkle Brune has all of this going on with soft fruit aromas from Belgian yeast.”
Candy: Candy corn
Beer pairing: HopArt, COAST Brewing Co.
Plyler says: “Ah, one of the more reviled candies. You'll want something that has a hop bitterness that can counter the intense sweetness as well as a balanced malt backbone. COAST HopArt IPA is probably going to be your best bet.”
Candy: Hot Tamales or Sour Patch Kids
Beer pairing: Welder's Wheat, Tradesman Brewing Co.
Plyler says: "Something with a velvety mouthfeel that has the ability to cool the palate off as well as handle intense sourness is required here. Tradesman Welder's Wheat utilizes agave nectar for fermentation and texture, and fits the bill as a beer that can refresh and serve as a platform for these flavors. Also, you can totally add a shot of tequila once you drink the can down about 25 percent."
Candy: Tootsie pops (the ones with chocolate in the middle)
Beer pairing: Pivo Pils, Westbrook Brewing
Plyler says: “Probably the toughest pairing here. There's sweet fruit-flavored candy shell with the unholiest expressions of chocolate in the center. I would shoot for something that is clean and easy drinking. Westbrook's Low and Slow series has been putting out some delicious lager-style beers. Their Pivo is a Bohemian-style (Czech) pale lager that has the refreshing drinkability you're probably shopping for on a balmy 85-degree Halloween in the Lowcountry.”