“Chocolate releases the same dopamine chemicals in the brain as romantic love does, and beer tends to reduce social inhibitions. If that doesn’t sound like the makings of an interesting evening, I don’t know what does…”
– Russ Menegat, Rogue Ales Public House manager
No one can deny that the combination of beer and chocolate is pretty genius. But in fact, according to National Geographic, “chocolate was discovered by accident—when Central American Indians making beer from the pulp of cacao seedpods found a new use for a byproduct of that process.”
Yes, chocolate and beer have been hopelessly entangled in an inextricable relationship for over 3,000 years! New Scientist bears witness to this story, saying that “Chocolate’s unique flavour develops only when the watery pulp of raw cacao fruit and seeds are fermented together … Grinding the [fermented] seeds yields the chocolate.”
Not everyone is familiar with the anatomy of a cocoa fruit (I mean, I sure wasn’t until this week), so all this talk of cocoa fruit pulp might not make any sense. Allow me to provide a visual aide:
Cocoa fruits are typically the size of a miniature football, or that of a large, oblong grapefruit.
But how is chocolate flavor achieved in beer? Brewers use a few ways:
Chocolate Malt: Almost all the beers tasted had chocolate malt called out on the label as a key ingredient. This is malt that has been kilned and roasted to the point where the husk turns a dark brown or chocolate color. Chocolate malt’s main purpose is to add dark color to beer, however, this type of malt does impart chocolate-like flavors to beer without being acrid or bitter. It naturally melds well with cocoa or coffee when used in commercial and home-brewing. (Malt: A Practical Guide from Field to Brewhouse, p.122)
Unsweetened Chocolate Bars or Baker’s Chocolate: Chocolate is the combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, so when brewing with this ingredient you may have to skim some fats off of the top of your boil kettle. Using pure, unsweetened chocolate is key because an excessive amount of additives (fats, oils, sugars) could mess with a beer’s gravity or head retention. The higher the percentage of cocoa and the fewest amount of additives, the better!
Cocoa Nibs: Cocoa nibs are the crushed and roasted bits of peeled and fermented cocoa beans. Typically added during fermentation, cocoa nibs can tend towards an undesirable bitterness if left in the beer for too long (beyond one week), but I’ve had personal success using this method in combination with chocolate malt to create a chocolaty brew.
Cocoa Powder: According to Food.com, cocoa powder is the result of crushing cocoa nibs into a paste-like liquid called chocolate liquor. The liquor is then dried out and re-ground into powder, resulting in cocoa powder. I’ve read on brewing forums of people attempting to put cocoa powder into the boil without much result, and in powdered form this is sure to cause a mess in your fermenter. It might be best used in the form of an extract.
Chocolate Extract: Extracts are typically used most successfully in brewing to supplement an existing flavor profile that you want to amplify in your beer. For example, I wouldn’t just rely on an extract for all the chocolate flavor–use it in combination with chocolate malt in the recipe and cocoa nibs soaking in the fermentation vessel for best results. You can make your own chocolate extract at home with 5 parts vodka (or other neutral spirit) and 1 part lightly crushed cocoa nibs or cocoa powder, or a mixture of both. If you’re not sure how much extract to add to your beer, just take a small sample of wort out of the fermenter and experiment with different ratios of 1 ounce beer and drops of extract. Once you discover the appropriate ratio, multiply it up to match your brew size and add the extract. (Credit: Randy Mosher, author of Mastering Homebrew and other homebrew “bibles.”)
I tasted the following chocolate beers, and have ordered them from least chocolaty to most chocolaty (please note the Chocolaty-ness Scale):
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout,
Wells & Young’s Ltd. (5.20% ABV)
Chocolatized with: Chocolate malt + real dark chocolate
Overall impression: Brown with reddish highlights and a slight haze, this beer was incredibly light and very dry. Cocoa-forward aromas with a slight vanilla hint proceeded flavors of bitter cocoa; the label’s claims of “never overly sweet” were absolutely true. For claiming to be a “double chocolate” stout it was actually the least chocolatey beer that I sampled.
Smokestack Series Chocolate Ale,
Boulevard Brewing Company (9.1% ABV)
Chocolate Method: Cocoa + “natural flavors”
Overall impression: I was surprised to see it pour a light, golden orange color (like an IPA). Slight green pepper scent and a hint of roasted malt dominated the aroma. The beer itself was very effervescent, very thin and slightly sweet like a blonde ale, with a banana-like sweetness. I personally had a lot of trouble detecting the chocolate in this Chocolate Ale, but I wonder what my impression would have been if the beer had been dark in color.
5 Rabbit Cervecería (7.1% ABV)
Chocolatized with: Chocolate malt
Overall impression: This beer was unique in the group for being brewed with absolutely no chocolate whatsoever. All of its rather remarkable chocolate flavor came from the use of chocolate malts. Very black with a few highlights, it smelled of freshly chopped pineapple, and roasted malts. A medium-full mouthfeel of semi-sweet, juicy pineapple flavor hits you first, followed by a satisfyingly roasty, bitter finish. According to 5 Rabbit creative partner and homebrew guru Randy Mosher, this beer is meant to resemble dried fruit dipped in chocolate, a popular treat in Latin America especially during the holidays.
Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout,
Samuel Smith (5% ABV)
Chocolatized with: Organic chocolate malt + real organic cocoa
Overall impression: A crazy-tan, persistent head lingered on top of this dark brown bev. It smelled like a chocolate milkshake with strawberries on top, and tasted like a light and creamy milkshake or chocolate malt ball with a hint of strawberries.
Founders Breakfast Stout,
Founders Brewing (8.1% ABV)
Chocolatized with: Bitter + imported chocolates
Overall impression: This beer’s powerful coffee aromas and flavors are the only factor that made this beer less chocolaty than the others. One of my go-to favorites in the cold winter months, this rich brew is dominated with cocoa, bitter chocolate, and cherry flavors. Finishing with coffee and a chewy raisin taste, it was overall pretty dry, like cocoa powder.
12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout,
Stone Brewing (9.2% ABV)
Chocolatized with: Roasted malt + unsweetened cocoa
Overall impression: Yeah, I would bathe in the stuff–I don’t care how sticky that is. A fan-favorite recipe brought back in honor of Stone’s 20th anniversary, this beer was like drinking a bar of dark chocolate. Pours a little gooey, with a very tan, persistent head of dense bubbles and an almost reddish, dark dark brown color. It smelled of sweet cherry vanilla, chocolate, and a strange hint of musty roastiness. The beer tasted like liquid dark chocolate, with a bitter, roasty, decadent cherry-like finish. I’m in love!
Blackwater Series Choklat Imperial Stout,
Southern Tier (10% ABV)
Chocolatized with: Chocolate malt + bittersweet Belgian chocolate
Overall impression: This very dark, slightly hazy beer smelled like chocolate frosting on top of a chocolate cupcake. Full and creamy, this was like drinking chocolate cake, or a rich chocolate milkshake. It created a pleasant warming sensation in the throat, and was even slightly smoky on the end, from dark roasted malt. Delicious!
Off Color Brewing (10.5% ABV)
Chocolatized with: Dark chocolate malt + cocoa nibs
This Russian Imperial Stout had almost no head to speak of, little carbonation, and was a dark black-brown. A sweet aroma of alcohol, chocolate, and vanilla beans preceded a slick and full flavor of roasted vanilla beans and chocolate. While you can taste every bit of the 10.5% alcohol in this beer, especially as it warms, this beer is pretty much like diving into a 10.5 foot pool of liquid chocolate with your mouth wide open.
If you’re reading this on Valentine’s Day, or if you have someone special in your life, GET OFF THE COMPUTER and go get your loved one one of these delicious beers. Or if it’s just you this year, TREAT yo’self to a bomber or two, and bask in chocolate beer’s dopamine-inducing glory.
Love and Cheers!