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Brewing With Chocolate: Tips From the Pros

When it comes to chocolate flavored beers, adding cocoa products may not be necessary but certainly can greatly enhance the final beer. But the intricacies of what, when, and how you should add the cocoa is often a debated topic in the brewing world. We decided to delve into the nitty-gritty with three professionals highly versed in what it takes to get the best when combining cocoa and beer.

Brewer: Wayne Wambles from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida

My personal preference is always single origin cacao nibs that have been winnowed and lightly roasted. I have been enamoured with the uniqueness of some of these single origin chocolate varieties and have designed recipes around them. I have blended multiple single origin varieties in order to create more complexity too. In other cases, I have an idea for a beer that incorporates chocolate and have picked the right nibs based on the existing recipe, keeping in mind the contribution of the single origin variety or blend of varieties.

I prefer to add cacao nibs to secondary, using recirculating infusion to hit my target aroma/flavor. We use a separate vessel that keeps the nibs out of the fermenter or bright tank. The nibs are added to the infusion vessel and the beer is recirculated through that vessel and back into the fermenter/bright tank until we feel we have achieved the desired impact. Once we hit our target, we push the remaining beer out of the infusion vessel and back into the fermenter/bright tank with CO2. This process creates a homogeneous mixture of beer and chocolate, allowing us to understand where we are in the infusion process. It also expedites the infusion process vs static infusion. Static infusion can also stratify, making the level of infused chocolate less apparent.

If you can design a recirculating infusion device, you will not only save time infusing the chocolate but you will usually be able to use less with better aroma/flavor results. Be careful with infusion contact time and usage rate. If you go too far, you will end up with some undesirable astringency. When it comes to quantity, it all depends on the desired impact. Targeting a range of 0.5–1.25 lbs. (230–570 g) of cacao nibs per barrel of beer is a good range. If it’s a darker, higher gravity beer, it’s best to lean towards more volume per barrel.

Make sure that there are ample crystal malt additions and/or residual sweetness (higher terminal gravity) in beers that you plan on using higher volumes of chocolate to combat astringency. This can be partially controlled by implementing higher mash temperatures too.

Be careful with cocoa powder usage versus cacao nibs. High levels of cocoa powder usage can create a chalky character in beer that leaves an unpleasant mouthfeel in the finish. Cacao nibs can increase mouthfeel of beer. If you are light in body prior to the addition, this can help. If you are targeting a lighter body, you might have to slightly adjust mash temperatures in order to account for the slight increase in body from the cacao nib usage rate.

I primarily focus on porters and stouts for chocolate infusion but brown ales and dark mild ales could benefit from the use of chocolate as well. Depending on intent and desired aroma/flavor impact, chocolate could be used in lighter styles too.

Brewer: Chris Mayne from Northshire Brewery in Bennington, Vermont

Brewing with chocolate can be a rewarding adventure or a terrible disappointment. At Northshire Brewery we brew a year-round chocolate stout. This is a firm 6% ABV stout brewed with English chocolate malt and a small addition of dark chocolate added in the boil. This beer has a very slight chocolate finish. For those fans that want a chocolate beer through and through, we brew our Chocolate Apocalypse. This beer is big and bold with cocoa and chocolate start to finish.

To get the chocolate intensity you want, start with dark crystal malts then add healthy amounts of chocolate malt and/or dark chocolate malt. Use up to 10% chocolate malt of total grain bill. Higher mashing temps help with sweetness but can also strip some undesirables from dark malts. Adding roasted barley and black malts later in the mash can help reduce these astringent gremlins. You can add cocoa nibs in the mash it will give subtle cocoa flavors. The boil is when you want to add solid chocolates. I like using high percentage cocoa chocolates, 92-94%. Grating the chocolate will help it dissolve into the solution. After active fermentation we add cocoa nibs. I run the nibs through the autoclave before adding to the fermenter but a pressure cooker will also work. Keeping lots of notes, especially sensory panels, will help you fine tune your recipe.

Cocoa and chocolate are very rich flavors, too much of either could over power your beer. Session chocolate stouts can be enjoyed cold or at room temperature, the chocolate will come through and compliment the malty sweetness. Adding lots of chocolate or cocoa also adds lots of oils and bitterness. These are side effects of big chocolate flavors. Imperial stouts can handle bigger chocolate additions better than a session beer. Colder serving temps will also help solve the “side of the tongue assault” that can come from big chocolate bombs.

Finally, when brewing with chocolate, sample all of the different chocolate products before brewing. Imagine how those flavors will go with your base beer. Chocolate beers are complex with flavors and aromas. So put your heart and soul along with some chocolaty goodness in to your next brew.

John Nanci from the Chocolate Alchemy www.chocolatealchemy.com

I like using cocoa in what has become the classics: Porters, stouts and barelywines. That is no short measure due to the fact that those are also my favorite styles of beers anyway. Even in the heat of summer that is where I go so that is what I like cocoa in. That said, I love to see people getting outside the box. Dopplebock would be semi-obvious style not that far out. A cocoa ESB would be cool and brown ales of course. Some cocoa extract with only a very light flavor could pare well with certain Belgian ales and if you really want to get more crazy, some wits or Brett beer. Off the top of my head about the only one I don’t see working well would be a crisp beer like Pilsner, Helles, or Kölsch, as the flavor profiles are so specific and it is really hard to not overshadow it.

I will often get asked about roasting cocoa beans for brewing. Keeping in mind I am a brewer as well as a chocolate maker and my first inclination is to suggest you not roast your own. It is for the same reason I would suggest someone not roast their own coffee beans for brewing unless they are already a coffee roaster. It isn’t like baking bread. It isn’t 30–40 minutes @ 350 °F (177 °C) (and even that is too simplified). Roasting coffee isn’t just about turning beans brown but if you do turn them brown, it might be ok for brewing. Unfortunately cocoa, when roasted traditionally, doesn’t even give you the luxury of turning brown. Roasted cocoa looks very similar to raw cocoa.

The concept of “done” and the assumption roasting takes cocoa beans from one state to a different state is a fallacy. It isn’t any more than coffee or steak can be “done”. All three, including cocoa, have a wide range depending upon your tastes and desires. Do you want to highlight acidity? How about astringency or bitterness? That is not often the case in roasting for chocolate making but beer is a different animal. Hops are often added for their bitterness and you can use cocoa the same way. Further, with cocoa you have the option of roasting to a higher-end temperature and adding roast characteristic if that is your desire. That could be completely applicable for darker beers but maybe not for lighter-bodied beers.

With that in mind, there is no one way to roast for beer, or even for chocolate. For those that do want to try roasting their own beans, you can try this in your home oven. It is taken right from my site https://chocolatealchemy.com/how-to-make-chocolate-the-complete-text-guide/#cocoa-bean-roasting

In general, if you try oven roasting, you will start hot (350–400 °F/177–205 °C) for a short amount of time and slowly lower it to your target temperature (275-300 °F/135–150 °C). This is for about 2 lbs. (1 kg) of beans. The more you are roasting, the higher your initial temperature should be and the time will probably be a little longer.

Remember, you want to roast the cocoa beans, not bake them. This is how that looks:

 Whole cocoa beans

  • 375–400 °F (190–205 °C) for 5 minutes
  • 350 °F (177 °C) for 5 minutes
  • 325 °F (163 °C) for 5 minutes
  • 300 °F (150 °C) for 10-15 minutes or until done*. Look for the aroma of baking brownies and/or pops. Both are good indicators you are there.*For an even better indicator of a complete roast, use an infrared thermometer and roast until the beans show 250-260 °F (121–127 °C). Make sure you stir the beans before taking your reading so you don’t have a high bias.

 If you have nibs, you need to roast them a more gentle.

  • 350 °F (177 °C) for 10 minutes
  • 325 °F (163 °C) for 5 minutes
  • 300 °F (150 °C) for 5 minutes
  • 275 °F (135 °C) for 5-10 minutes or until done.

That is really it. Of course, there are LOTS of other ways you can do this. I know some people roast at 250 °F (121 °C) (or even 220 °F/104 °C) for 45 minutes to an hour or even two. I am personally not a fan of this style, but you may be.

I can’t stress enough the importance of taking a measurement of the beans with an IR thermometer. It really tells you where you are in the roast. And if you are roasting for brewing, that 250–260 °F (121–127 °C) window can be radically expanded. 300 °F (150 °C) will add some deeper nutty notes, 330 °F (166 °C) will begin to add some darker roasted notes, and 360 °F (178 °C) will really accentuate a deep roast.

On the chance you are a coffee roaster and can roast in a drum I highly recommend it. The Behmor 1600 Plus does a great job roasting 2 lbs. (1 kg) at the press of a couple buttons. And that is not a typo. The Behmor 1600 roasts up to 1 lb. (0.45 kg) of coffee but can roast up to 2 lbs. (1 kg) of cocoa beans since it roasts so much cooler. Any of the standard pre-programmmed profiles work great.

Once the beans have been roasted, making nibs is pretty straight forward. The beans need to be cracked and winnowed. If you can get the gap large enough on some grain mills, but many are too small. For a small amount (and I cringe writing this) a rolling pin with the beans in a bag will do the trick. Winnowing is no more than blowing the husk (the outer covering) away and that is easily accomplished in a bowl, outside, and with the judicious use of a blow dryer. If you happen to have a Champion Juicer, with the lower screen removed, it will crack the beans easily.

Alternatively, if you take whole roasted cocoa beans and grind them up with a blender or blade grinder what you end up with is what I term “brewing cocoa”. It is specifically meant for water extractions so is perfectly suited for beer brewing. The husk has additional color and flavor that may (or may not) be suitable for your style. Do it this way saves you the hassle of making nibs.

Brewing cocoa and nibs go well in both the mash and the boil. I am not a fan of either in the primary fermentation. Even roasted cocoa can have a bacterial count and risk of infection in the primary is a concern. Once alcohol is present nibs work fine in the secondary. I personally find I don’t like the flavor the husk contributes in the secondary so would steer clear of brewing cocoa there.

Finally, don’t think of cocoa as a classic adjunct. Too many people want to add 1–2 oz. (30–60 g) to 5 gallons (19 L) of beer like they would for chocolate malt. Cocoa is very low in water extractables. They go up the more you roast the cocoa but 1–2 oz. (30–60 g) never going to be enough for you to taste the contribution, even if you roast to 360 °F (178 °C). Use at least 8 oz. (230 g) per 5 gallons (19 L) if in the mash, boil or secondary if used is a beer that is <6-7%. Beers >10% ABV can work with lesser amounts of nibs since the alcohol will further extract flavors as will the longer contact time.