Brewing with Chocolate Malt: Tips from the Pros

Chocolate malt is a roasted brewing malt, popular with homebrewers. It is dark in color, ranging from light brown to near-black. Its color rating generally ranges from 325–375° Lovibond, though European malts are sometimes higher. Chocolate malt is used to add color and flavor to beer. When added in small quantities, it causes miniscule color adjustments in lighter beers. In larger quantities, it causes significant darkening of the beer. Chocolate malt can be used in any beer style. Generally, though, it is mostly used for color and flavor in darker beers.

Brewer: Bill Riffle Vino’s Brewpub in Little Rock, AR.

Over the course of the past year I made six different beers containing chocolate malt. These ranged from an Oktoberfest, to which we only added 0.3% chocolate malt for color, to our Razor Bock with two percent, to our Big House Brown with 6.25%.

The Big House Brown is the beer I would make if I could only make one beer with chocolate malt. Using 6.25% chocolate malt, with plenty of crystal and Munich malts for sweetness, this brew gets as close as you can to a real chocolate tone without using real chocolate. (If you want real chocolate, search out a good extract. This allows you to avoid unwanted oils).

For my at-home brewing I make even more robust beers. My stout has 7.5% chocolate malt and my porter has nine percent.

At Vino’s I mainly use DeWolf Cosyns chocolate, but as a homebrewer I prefer Briess because it has a slightly more chocolate tone. I think chocolate malt varies more by company than by continent. I prefer it in the 350° Lovibond range rather than using darker choices because the lighter malt seems less bitter. When using chocolate for coloring, the de-husked line from Weyermann works great. It is definitely less bitter.

Brewer: Scott Zetterstrom Old Dominion Brewing Company in Ashburn, VA

Chocolate malt can be used in just about any kind of beer except low-color beers like a pilsener or helles. It can be used in small portions to change the color of your brew without adding a significant flavor impact. It is also a great secret ingredient to add subtle character to a darker beer or to smooth out the bitter coffee flavors associated with black malt.

The color associated with different chocolate malts depends on the malt type and maltster. At 325–375° Lovibond (L), chocolate malt is lighter than black malt, which comes in at approximately 475° L. The color impact on beer, however, is not just 175 color points lighter if you use the chocolate malt. The shade of color is different, too. Chocolate malt tends to add brown tones to a beer. Black malt, by contrast, adds black tones. Chocolate malt changes beer color by browning rather than by blackening, which is good if you are trying to create deep golds or dark reds.

Typical chocolate malt additions, if you’re looking to add color, range up to about 0.7% of your total malt load. At this percentage you get subtle flavor changes, increased malt richness and a slight rounding of caramel malt sweetness. Above this and you begin to get more major flavor impacts.

By itself, chocolate malt adds a dark, roasty sweetness. It is a great substitute for a portion of the black malt in recipes because it rounds off the biting coffee flavors. Sweet stouts and porters benefit from up to ten percent additions. And, as a stand-alone complement to caramel malts, chocolate malt balances the cloying sweetness with as little as a 1.5% addition.

In general, I use chocolate malt as a spice. I usually do not try to accentuate its presence. It is more of a complementary addition to my recipes. I do not think it can be added in high enough proportions to achieve a “Tootsie Roll” flavor. I imagine other ingredients in the beer, like crystal malt, and yeast interactions play a big role in achieving that. One word of caution: High roasted malts are very brittle. Large concentrations of them tend to cause lautering problems.

Brewer: Steve Indrehus Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs, CO

At Tommyknocker, our flagship product that uses a good amount of chocolate malt is the Maplenut Brown Ale. Our Rye Porter also has a nice amount of chocolate malt, as does our oatmeal stout. Chocolate malt has applications across many different beer styles.

Chocolate malt adds a character to beer best described as subtle chocolate flavors or coffee notes. Because it also adds color, it isn’t a malt for light-colored beer styles.

As a general rule, you can add chocolate malt at a rate of two to four percent of the total grist in porters, brown ales and oatmeal stout. This gives both color and flavor to the finished brew. Chocolate malt’s flavor, in fact, helps offset some of the bite from the black and roasted malts.

If too much chocolate malt is used, a murky color can occur. You might also get a strong coffee-like aroma and flavor, or end up with a beer that suffers from a pronounced astringency.

If too little is used, you might not have a color that is dark enough for the style (depending on the other malts used). Worse, the flavor from the chocolate malt will be too subtle to notice in the finished beer.

If you’re looking to get a Tootsie Roll flavor in your beer, we think that using caramel malt in conjunction with chocolate malt will help to achieve that flavor. The caramel malt gives you sweetness while the chocolate malt adds a complex, chocolate-like flavor. Finding the right mix is really a matter of practice and experimentation and will depend greatly on the actual beer style being made. Coffee is the other flavor you can extract from chocolate malt. This happens when you use a larger percentage of the malt in your grist. All the grain’s subtlety disappears in this instance.

No special milling techniques are required when you use chocolate malt. We prefer a coarse grist for single-step infusion mashes.

Issue: March-April 2002