in honor of cleveland beer week, q&a with amanda montague (aka lilly)

The first annual Cleveland Beer Week, which aims to promote the craft/imported beer industry and patronage at local establishments, will take place October 16 – 24th. Throughout the week, participate in special beer tastings and pairings, events, demos and other beer-related activates at local restaurants, taverns, grocers and specialty stores through Cleveland. Participating locations include Beer Engine Heinen’s, Barleyhouse, The Colony, Euclid Tavern, Beachland Ballroom and the Winking Lizard. For a complete list of events and locations, click here.

 When I first learned about Cleveland Beer Week, the one tasting that immediately caught my eye was the chocolate and beer pairing at Lilly Handmade Chocolatesin Tremont. This tasting will feature Amanda Montague, aka Lilly, favorite picks for beer and chocolate, including hard-to-find beers with Kwak, Hitachino, Unibroue, Dogfish Head, Stone, Piraat, Gulden Draak, Troegs and more.

 What makes this a perfect pairing? Who better to explain (and share other fun tidbits with us) than Amanda herself. Amanda, whose favorite flowers are tiger lilies, was inspired after her engagement in NYC where she and her then fiancée explored and were wowed by the numerous chocolate boutiques. She knew she wanted to create that experience locally for Clevelanders. Lucky us!

 1. What’s your favorite thing about Cleveland and what drives you nuts? I love the sense of loyalty we have. We love our Browns, our Cavs our Indians, no matter what. We support our city. We believe in ourselves as a community and I love it! It drives me nuts when it snows enough to fill my driveway and I don’t have a shovel.

 2. What’s your favorite restaurant and which restaurant do you miss? It’s a three way tie. Parallax, The Flying Fig & Momocho. I could eat at any of those places everyday and never get bored. I miss Park City Diner. I was part of the opening staff back in the day and worked there off and on until its closing. The breakfast was great – killer pancakes and the best omelets!

 3. If you weren’t making chocolates, what would you be doing? I could be a Lush Cosmetics corporate trainer or working the front of house in a local restaurant or maybe have my own catering operation. I love putting menus together and creating fun spaces – so maybe a restaurant consultant? I’d definitely be in the service industry; I’m a total people person!

 4. Where did you grow up and what’s your favorite meal from your childhood?I grew up here in Cleveland, mostly Parma, with my mom, grandmother and little sister. I remember having my grandma’s fried rice. It was the most delicious thing and I can never make it right. Not the way she did, anyway. What I wouldn’t give for a big bowl of that fried rice right now. It was so simple. There were no veggies involved or proteins – just rice and soy sauce and God knows what else. Who knew an old school Polish lady knew how to rock out fried rice so well.

 5. What shows do you never miss? I never realized until now that I never really watched a whole season of anything because of the hours you keep in the restaurant business. So now I think I’m making up for lost time. I love Project Runway, Top Chef, Triple D, Gary Unmarried, New Christine and Warehouse 13.

 6. What’s on your playlist when you’re making chocolate? Gotta love the iPod, for sure! I absolutely love country music (seriously!), so there’s a lot of Sara Evans, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum and the like; but there’s also Fiona Apple, Save Ferris, John Mayer, KT Tunstall, Green Day, Phish and The Dead (courtesy of my hubby), Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday. I’m all over the board when it comes to music.

 7. How did you learn your craft? I’m a classically trained chef (I studied at JWU) but chocolates were something I started making at home for friends and family. My husband (Joshua Montague, CIA grad) gets the cookie bug at Christmas so instead of jumping on that bandwagon I started making truffles. There was a lot of trial and error and research, too.

 8. What’s the most requested item from your shop?Lately, it’s my white chocolate. Wasabi pea, Hawaiian black lava sea salt barq. Sweet, salty, spicy, addicting! Oh, and Southern Tier Pumking. I’ve got 8 bottles left I think.

 9. What makes your chocolates and store so different? What’s your approach?Our chocolates are all handmade in-house with fresh ingredients, no preservatives and no fake stuff. It’s all small batch, so you get the best flavor. We also pair craft beer and wine with our truffles for the ultimate in indulgence. We don’t pour anything in the shop – it’s more an encouragement to go home, get into you favorite PJs and relax with some fabulous chocolate and great beer or wine. Our service, the experience when you’re in the shop, is what sets us apart from other shops. It’s a give and take relationship with my customers; I treat everyone who walks through my door like my BFF. I care what they think, what they like. I’m here to put a smile on their face through my creativity. It’s very satisfying.

 My approach to chocolate is coming up with inventive fresh flavors paired with uncompromising quality and a touch of unexpected whimsy. We’re here to help you find your favorite beer and wine that goes best with your chocolate and make your day even better than before you stepped through my front door.

 10.  What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a small business owner? Underestimating the draw of my product during the holiday season. I knew we would be busy, but the amount of people that ordered from us and came down to see us what was more than I could have asked for last season. I now know what to expect…morethan I expect. Haha!

 11. Tell us an interesting fact about chocolate? White chocolate gets a bad wrap. It’s not really chocolate at all though. It’s cocoa butter, vanilla amd milk powder. There’s no chocolate liquor. But it can make a mean confection! Paired with just the right ingredients, it can be more than amazing!

 12. What’s your favorite treat from the store and what pairs best with it? I go through phases, so these are the current addictions. “Rocco” (dark chocolate. black tartufo truffles. clover honey) with Cesari Il Bosco Amarone, absolutely killer.

“Shweetie Pie” (white chocolate. vanilla bean butter caramel. salted almonds) with Lindeman’s Apple Lambic. Awesome.

 13.  Top three movies of all time? Hmmm…South Pacific (1958), Johnny Dangerously, and Milo and Otis. (Josh feels the need to chime in here as well. he says The Hunt for Red October, LA Confidential and Top Gun.) We were obviously made for each other – lol.

 14.  What book are you currently reading? Currently, I am between books right now. Laurell K. Hamilton is one of my current favorites. I’ve read all of her Anita Blake series, so I’m working on her Merry Gentry novels now… so many metaphysical vampire books, so little time.

 15.  For someone making candy at home, what’s one tip or trick you’ve discovered that makes your life easier?When you’re making ganache, make sure your chocolate is all relatively the same size. It will combine more evenly and you’ll spend less time trying to get everything melted together. Also, don’t use chocolate chips. They were made to NOT melt in cookies, so there’s a lot of extra stabilizers in them. Find a good quality chocolate, in block form, and chop it. Your hard work and patience will be rewarded.

 16.  Tell us about pairing beer and chocolate – how did you get involved with Cleveland Beer Week, why does beer pair well with chocolate and what chocolates and specific beer go so well together?

Cleveland Beer Week is a great event that encompasses all that is fabulous about craft beer! I got involved because I carry so many of the craft beers and limited edition beers already – over 140 different ones at this moment in time. I just love introducing people who haven’t heard of beer and chocolate to what they’ve been missing. We’re doing a bunch of events with other places like a chocolate and lambic tasting at Buckeye Beer Engine and a five course chocolate and beer dinner with Bistro on Lincoln Park.

 With beer you have so many choices to pick from. Should I have a Lambic? A Stout? Maybe I feel like a Porter or an Ale today? But it doesn’t stop there! There are breweries like Dogfishhead that add fun stuff to their brews. They make a beer called Midas Touch that is brewed with honey, saffron and muscat grapes. It’s fabulous and works great with chocolate. You can get blueberry ales, pumpkin ales, vanilla stouts, chocolate stouts; I could go on and on. With so many choices it makes it fun to try and find the best possible match with each truffle.

 For generality’s sake, Porters, Stouts and Belgian Ales go best with chocolate. The higher the alcohol, usually the higher the sweetness, so it works well. But IPA’s have their place, too. For example, our “Lilly” truffle (white chocolate, rose and marigold petals, white tea) goes great with Southern Tier Unearthly IPA because of the floral component of the hops in the beer. It mellows out the bitterness in the beer and enhances the floral sweetness in the truffle. It’s amazing! I even make a truffle with beer in it – it’s called “After Midnight” (dark chocolate, intense stout). Currently, I’m using the Nils Oscar Coffee Stout in them, but I’ve used Jolly Pumpkin’s Dark Dawn Stout, Founder’s Breakfast Stout and I think next I’m going to try Stone’s Smoked Porter. Obviously, this would pair best with the beer I use to create it, but you could also do a rich brown ale with it, like Shmaltz Brewing Company’s Messiah Bold, a kosher beer that is so rich and amazing you’ll wanna curl up on the couch under the blankets and watch the leaves fall as you indulge in the beer and box of “After Midnights”.

 Beer isn’t the only thing to pair with chocolate. Of course, red wine is a great compliment to chocolate. Think jammy, spicy, bold reds. Anything too acidic is just going to kill your palate and the flavors in the chocolate. Port, Banyuls, Moscato and some Sake’s are great pairings with chocolate as well.  

 I could go on and on and on and on and on about all of this, and I’d love to, but I think you’ll just have to come and visit to hear more!

  17.  What’s next for you? There’s a lot of ideas swimming around in my head but wherever I’m headed, I’m sure it’ll be chocolate covered and exactly where I want to be.


  1. Posted September 28, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I’m so excited for beer week! And now I want some beer and chocolate!

  2. Traci
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I stumbled across Lilly Handmade Chocolates website awhile back and made a note to stop by the next time I’m in town. It was cool to find out more about Amanda and her creations (and she also grew up in Parma, my home town :) Great post…..Thanks!

  3. Ryan
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    All I can say is Cleveland Beer Week can’t come soon enough!