Nix the Nibs: How to Brew the Best Chocolate Beer

Experimenting with different flavors in the brewing process can be fun and creative, and the market for flavored beers is on the rise. One of our favorite flavors is chocolate. Because who doesn’t love chocolate? In fact, there is science behind why these flavors belong together: wrote: “One of the reasons beer and chocolate work so well together is because they are both a marriage of bitter and sweet. Cacao beans are very bitter on their own but when tempered with sugar and fat we get chocolate. In beer, malt is sweet and hops are bitter and when combined in the brewing process we get a pint of liquid gold.”

That chocolate flavor, when derived from pure cacao, is particularly delicious in Porters, Stouts, and other heavier styles. Perfecting those flavor balances can be tricky though, and you have to be careful to use the right type of cacao, at the right point in your brewing process. You don’t want the chocolate to clog your equipment, and require extra cleaning. Or worse, add it to the kettle and cause issues with your piping. If you’ve been there, you know that’s no fun. So let’s dive into some tips on the best way to brew a yummy, chocolate-y beer.

  • l Choose the right form of cacao: Cacao comes in nibs, solids, powders and liquid. We like the liquid form. It’s cleaner and easier in the brewing process. You don’t have to lift solids, or put nibs in bags.
  • l Look for a high-quality cacao: A premium, pure, liquid cacao — just cacao and water — is critical to getting great flavor.
  • l Add cacao post fermentation: Adding liquid cacao after the fermentation creates a consistent quality and flavor, makes for easier clean up, and won’t mess with the ABV range.
  • l Dial in the dosing: When using liquid cacao you can dial the chocolate flavor up or down. Dosing rates between .5 and 1 gallon per barrel is enough to balance the bitterness of a baseline stout.

These tips cover the basics. Once you try it, you’ll see how easy it can be to elevate the flavor of your beer, whether you’re brewing five barrels or 500 barrels. So how do you find the best liquid cacao?

Great Divide Brewing Company uses Cholaca pure liquid cacao in their Yeti Stout and additional Stouts they’re releasing for the fall. They have been brewing with Cholaca’s pure liquid cacao for almost four years because it’s easy to work with. The aseptic packaging makes it shelf-stable without refrigeration, and it takes just a little bit to add amazing flavor because it’s pure cacao emulsified in water.

Jon Marquez, a brewer at Great Divide says, “We have a 300-barrel fermenter and it’s easy to dump it right in the top.”

Marquez goes on to say he likes using cacao because, “It adds to and enhances the flavor of the beer. Baseline Stouts can be bitter, chocolate helps make it more of a special tasting beer. Nothing wrong with a big barrel-aged Stout having notes of Snickers or Reese’s — a lot of people love chocolate.”

Working with chocolate flavors is incredibly flexible. You can start with a light flavor and build from there. Each level produces just the right balance of bitter and sweet, it just depends how intense of a chocolate flavor you’re aiming for. Pure, high quality, liquid cacao is convenient to work with and invites the brewer to go for creamy and malty, rich and smooth, delicious and desirable — with just a hint of that drool-worthy chocolate flavor.

If you haven’t tried brewing with chocolate, give it a try. It can be pretty easy to do and it’s a fun flavor to explore as we head into fall and winter. We hope this gets your creative juices flowing and you brew up something chocolate-y delicious this season. Cheers!

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