Homebrewing with Chocolate

I believe it was Fred Eckhardt who first put the idea into my mind that chocolate could go well with beer. My reaction was that this was nonsense and that adding chocolate to any beer would simply spoil both the beer and the chocolate! I have loved chocolate all my life, and beer for almost all my life but I just did not see how the two could ever go together. Then along came Young’s of London, with their Double Chocolate Stout. I lived just half a mile from Young’s brewery in my early years, and have often reckoned I got my love of beer from breathing in the air around the brewery on my way to the local swimming bath. Therefore I had to try the Double Chocolate Stout, despite my misgivings about the combination. I changed my opinion on the first luscious, tongue-coating sip or two and decided that I needed to brew a chocolate stout. Since that time many craft and homebrewers have come to the same conclusion and experimented with this combination.

You could use chocolate in any beer if you wish, but like all ingredients of beer, you should think about what result you want, and even whether a new additive will work at all with a particular beer. For example, I do not believe chocolate will go well with Pilsner lagers or highly hopped IPAs (however there are a few commercial examples of chocolate IPAs on the lower end of the hop scale). In general, lighter gravity beers do not have the body to stand up to the full, rich flavor of chocolate, although I do wonder whether it might work in a dark English mild ale or a brown ale, if the chocolate were to be added in very small amounts. I do not think chocolate would work well with any of the various forms of sour beers that are now popular (however, Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales in Ann Arbor, Michigan does a sour brown ale with a light touch of chocolate, so anything is possible). Chocolate can, however, work well in fruit beers, especially those using raspberries.

If you do not feel comfortable in trying to “visualize” the effect of chocolate in selecting a brew as a vehicle for it, then a good way to look at it is how craft brewers use it. The most common brew for this is stout — not porter, nor dry stout, milk stout, or American stout, but imperial stout. The theory seems to be that these high alcohol (8% ABV and up) beers can not only carry the full chocolate flavor, but they are also meant to be complex with a range of malt flavors. Further, they are often intended for laying down, so that all these flavors can develop and meld into a smooth, tasty and rewarding “sipping” beer. But this is not gospel by any means, for the early commercial example I quoted, Young’s Double Chocolate Stout, is not high in alcohol. At 5.2% ABV it is just about low enough to be called a session beer in modern US parlance! Also, there seems to be a trend of sorts in using milk chocolate (so far I have been talking only about dark chocolate) as a variation on the usual lactose-based cream (milk) stout style. So, as always in homebrewing, just choose the beer you want flavored and go with it.

Types of chocolate

As I have indicated, dark chocolate is the kind most used by craft and homebrewers. This, of course, comes in different forms, not all of which might be suitable for brewing. That is because some of these forms contain significant amounts of cocoa butter. This is a fat, and it is generally held that it can inhibit head retention of beer, and is therefore undesirable in beer. This becomes important when the chocolate is added to a high-alcohol beer, such as an imperial stout, since the alcohol itself inhibits head retention. However, I have seen a comment from one brewer that cocoa butter serves as a nutrient for yeast growth, the fat presumably being regarded as a source of sterol production in the yeast growth phase. How do you know how much cocoa butter is present in any given sample of chocolate? Let me give you a brief description of the production process in order to help you with your choice.

The seeds and pulp contained in the pods of the cacao tree are extracted and fermented for a short period. After drying, the separated seeds (cocoa beans) are roasted at about 250 °F (121 °C) for an hour or so, causing some darkening through Maillard reactions (as occurs in roasting malts). The kernels are removed from their shell and are known as chocolate nibs. These nibs are ground to a paste called chocolate liquor containing just over 50% cocoa butter. Further processing to remove cocoa butter creates cocoa and so-called baker’s chocolate. Cocoa powder is best described as the solids left after pressing out the cocoa butter; it can contain up to 30% cocoa butter, but as an example, the cocoa drink powder I use contains only 4% cocoa butter.

Baker’s chocolate can contain less than 50% cocoa butter depending on how the cocoa butter is pressed out, but is usually towards the high end since the cocoa butter allows the chocolate to melt readily, which is generally desirable in making cakes, etc. Cocoa can come with no further treatment, or may be processed with a mild alkali, such as potassium carbonate, which results in a reduction of the intensity of the cocoa flavor, and a reduction in bitterness. “Eating” chocolate is made from chocolate liquor by adding a hefty charge of cocoa butter and contains upwards of 70% of this fat, and may also contain various other ingredients, notably sugar as well as flavoring and emulsifying agents.

The above indicates that for brewing, cocoa is the preferred form of chocolate, closely followed by baker’s chocolate, although you should check the label on the latter and make sure it is reasonably low in cocoa butter content. Both of these are often used by homebrewers, but craft brewers generally prefer chocolate nibs seemingly on the basis that nibs are less processed and provide a “truer” chocolate character to the beer. It may also be the case that, depending upon how much is used and when the nibs are added in the brewing process, that little of the cocoa butter fat survives through to the finished beer.

One other form of chocolate flavoring is that of alcohol-based extracts, which would appear to be desirable in that they would be much easier to use. In practice, brewers seem to find that such extracts give inferior results to those obtained with real chocolate. I have tasted a couple of commercially-brewed chocolate stouts that have used an extract as flavoring, one of which was indeed disappointing. The other one was pretty good, but in that case the brewer had used real chocolate as a base and the extract simply to adjust the level of chocolate flavor. You might want to bear this approach in mind in your own brews.

How and where to use chocolate

The first rule is to limit the amount of chocolate you use — 3 to 5 oz. (85 to 140 g) in 5 gallons (19 L) generally being as much as you want of either cocoa or baker’s chocolate, depending upon the cocoa butter content. Craft brewers usually prefer a goodly amount of chocolate malt (up to as much as 10% of the grist), in order to give a base chocolate character, although the flavor of this malt doesn’t exactly match that of real chocolate. That is probably why stouts are the preferred vehicle of chocolate-flavored beers. But if you want to work with other beer styles you might want to use considerably less, at least on the first go-round, and then adjust the amount in subsequent brews, or limit the amount used in the brewing process and adjust to taste with chocolate extract in the finished beer. Just don’t take the approach that because a little is good a lot must be better or you will finish up with a chocolate drink bearing little resemblance to beer.

You do not necessarily need much preparation of the chocolate, depending upon which type you elect to use and on when you want to add it. The chocolate can go in at the start or end of the boil, in the fermenter, or even at kegging. There does not seem to be any consensus among brewers as to which is the best stage to add it. My view is that it is best to add it during the boil or at least right at the end while the wort is still very hot. That way it is likely that a good deal of the cocoa butter fat will go out with the trub and not affect the beer’s head retention. As I mentioned, views differ and “Advanced Brewing” columnist Michael Tonsmeire states, “My preference is to rehydrate the cocoa powder with hot water to form a paste that can be added to the fermented beer. This accomplishes a few things, it produces a rounder chocolate flavor and makes the hydrophobic powder easier to incorporate with a cold liquid. I also like to add vanilla to reinforce the chocolate, as the two are so often used together in desserts.”

If you want to add it to the fermenter, I think the best approach is to add it either towards the end of primary or in the secondary fermentation. That way the alcohol should help extract the chocolate flavor and much of the cocoa butter should remain undissolved. Similarly, according to Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery, addition at kegging will avoid extraction of the fat and may give a truer chocolate flavor with no loss of any volatile flavor components. But Oliver suggests that if you are using nibs during storage of the beer you might also extract tannins from the nibs and these will give the beer a bitter, astringent flavor, which is hardly what you want with this style!

Do you get different results with these methods, using the same chocolate with the same ingredients and brewing processes? The short answer is that I don’t know, for I don’t know of any studies that have been carried out to try and answer this question. So, for now, you have to pick the method you think will work and is most convenient for you. Or, go ahead and do an experiment yourself!

There is another method of addition, which is post-fermentation flavor adjustment. As I have already mentioned that can be done with an alcohol-based extract after using a “true” chocolate earlier in the brewing process that did not result in a flavor that was quite intense enough for you. You should do any such adjustment with care, by taking a measured sample of the beer and adding the extract dropwise and tasting each time. The trick is to count the number of drops, so that when you reach your desired flavor you know how much extract you have added to your given volume of beer and multiply up to tell you how much to add to the bulk of the beer. You could also do this with straight cocoa by simply infusing the cocoa in hot water for 15–20 minutes, cooling it and adding it to the beer. Again, this can be done by incremental additions, adding known amounts of the chocolate until you get that taste you want, and then scaling up to the bulk of the beer. Also, if you are not at all sure about whether chocolate will go well with a particular beer, you could try taking a sample of the beer at kegging or bottling, adding extract or cocoa infusion, and seeing whether that combination works well or not. Especially for the beginner this is a good way to avoid spoiling a fine beer and finishing up with 5 gallons (19 L) of a beer you don’t really like.

Final musings

I love chocolate and it does go very well with beer, especially a dark beer, and makes a nice change from our ubiquitous hoppy and bitter IPAs. It is a strong, luscious flavor and for that reason is better in a strong, full-flavored beer that is going to be drunk slowly and savored at every sip, which is why the recipes I have provided on page 84 are for chocolate stouts, although like the Young’s version one of these is at a relatively low original gravity. But, that’s my opinion, and yours may be different, so experiment away and remember the old scientific laboratory dictum, “If we knew the answer we wouldn’t have to do the research.”


Chocolate Empirical Stout

(5 gallons/19 L, all-grain)
OG = 1.060 FG = 1.016
IBU = 30 SRM = 45 ABV = 6%


9 lbs. (4.1 kg) 2-row pale malt
1.25 lbs. (0.6 kg) Briess caramel malt (80 °L)
1.25 lbs. (0.6 kg) Crisp amber malt
1.25 lbs. (0.6 kg) Simpson chocolate malt
4 oz. (113 g) cocoa nibs (15 min.)
7 AAU Northern Brewer hop pellets (90 min.)
(1 oz./28 g at 7% alpha acids)
Wyeast 1084 (Irish Ale) or White Labs WLP004 (Irish Ale) yeast
2⁄3 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by step

Mash the grains at 154 °F (68 °C) with 16 qts. (15 L) hot water for 90 minutes. Run off and sparge with hot water to collect 6 gallons (23 L) of wort. Boil for 90 minutes, adding the hops and cocoa nibs at times indicated. Separate the wort from the trub, cool to 65–70 °F (18–21 °C) and pitch the yeast; it is preferable to prepare a 2 qt. (2 L) starter beforehand. Ferment 5–7 days, then rack to a secondary fermenter for 7–10 days. Rack and keg or bottle in the usual manner.

Sweet Delight Stout

(5 gallons/19 L, extract with grains)
OG = 1.052 FG = 1.014
IBU = 25 SRM = 34 ABV = 5.1%


6 lbs. (2.7 kg) amber liquid malt extract
0.6 lb. (0.27 kg) extra light dried malt extract
1 lb. (0.45 kg) Crisp chocolate malt
6 AAU UK Fuggles hop pellets (60 min.)
(1.5 oz./43 g at 4% alpha acids)
3 oz. (85 g) cocoa nibs (0 min.)
Wyeast 1028 (London Ale) or White Labs WLP013 (London Ale) yeast
2⁄3 cup corn sugar (if priming)

Step by Step

Steep the chocolate malt in a mesh bag for 20–30 minutes with 0.5 gallon (1.9 L) hot water. Drain the wort into the kettle and rinse the grains with hot water. Add hot water to make 4 gallons (15 L) and stir in the extracts. Make to a little over 5 gallons (19 L) and bring to a boil for 60 minutes, adding the hops and crushed nibs at times indicated. Follow the remainder of the directions from the Chocolate Empirical Stout recipe.

Issue: October 2015