What do you think about chocolate IN beer?

label for Chocolate Bunny stout brewed with cocoa posder from Rhinelander Brewing Co.

There are a lot of chocolate beer recipes these days, and I don’t just mean chocolate malt.  I asked our panel of experts what they thought.

I have to talk for just a moment about chocolate malt, to make sure we’re all clear on the difference between it and honest-to-goodness chocolate.  Malt is barley that’s been soaked in water just ’till it germinates, is dried, and usually at least lightly roasted in a kiln.  Barley malt at this point is like coffee in that the degree of roast makes a huge difference in the flavor and characteristics the grain has to offer.  Chocolate malt is kilned at a higher temperature than, say pale ale malt, but (a lot) less than carbonized black malt.  Yes, chocolate malt is so named because its flavor can remind one of dark chocolate, but also because its characteristic color is between dark milk chocolate and dark chocolate.  It is not the same as chocolate, though, so if a brewer really wants cocoa flavor, they are going to include cacao nibs in their beer.

If your homebrewing friend tells you they’ve used chocolate syrup, chocolate bars, or cocoa powder, prepare your game face before tasting ’cause it might not be that great (baker’s chocolate can be ok).  All of those include sugar and fat.   Fats and oils interfere with head retention. Oil slick in your beer…ugh.  Sometimes they process out and sometimes they don’t.  The fats can also include vanilla, peanuts, and milk powder.  You’re not going to get a very clean flavor with those present.

Homebrewers who are bottling their beer often make a sugar syrup to re-start fermentation so you get carbonation in the bottle (that’s what “bottle conditioning” is),  but that’s usually corn or beet sugar and is applied only at bottling. Personally, if you want real chocolate flavor, I vote for aging your beer on cacao nibs, which gets you flavor and aroma without fat extraction.  Just watch how long you leave your beer in contact with the nibs, as cacao has a lot of bitter tannins, too.

I confess I’m intrigued by the idea of a chocolate chili beer.  Chocolate and chili pepper go together well and the fire and fat are perfectly quenched/cut by a golden beer.  But would putting them together negate the wonderful contrast?

Our expert panel:

Dave Schoon – really, really cares about matching food with the perfect beer and spends a lot of time paying attention to attaining that perfection at www.beerchow.com

 Jay Ducote – big ol’ Southern boy who loves food and hugs, and happens to be really articulate at least about the food (and beer).  Oh, and he’s also a  radio host, TV personality, blogger, and more. He’ll tell you about it all  at biteandbooze.com

Melissa Cole – international woman of mystery and discernment.  Her secret identity is hidden behind her public persona as an international beer judge, beer expert, roving guest brewer, author of Let Me Tell You About Beer, and blogger at letmetellyouaboutbeer.com.

Randy Clemens – is not your average blogger, for he will tell you exactly what he believes in, with passion and great clarity.  He’s an author, a blogger, an editor at Los Angeles Magazine.  His books include  The Sriracha Cookbook, The Veggie Lover’s Sriracha Cookbook, and The Craft of Stone Brewing Co.; you can find him at randyclemens.com.

Aaaaand the question of the day:

What do you think about chocolate IN beer? Not just chocolate malt, but actual chocolate.

Dave Schoon

Beerchow's Dave Schoon
Beerchow’s Dave Schoon

I’m pretty sure all of those examples use actual chocolate or chocolate based ingredients in the beers I listed in the first question. I think the idea is great, and usually the end result is too. Expanding beer past the 4 basic ingredients is something every US craft brewer is working on in some capacity I’m sure, if not they should be. (Dave’s first response included Dogfish Head’s Theobroma, Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock and Rogue’s Chocolate Stout.)

Biteandbooze's Jay Ducote
Biteandbooze’s Jay Ducote

Jay Ducote
I think it’s worth a try, though that’s completely different that trying to pair with chocolate.  Chocolate in beer would probably make me want to pair that beer with a chocolate-less dish.

Melissa Cole

Letmetellyouaboutbeer's Melissa Cole
Letmetellyouaboutbeer’s Melissa Cole

Again it’s horses for courses, I’ve seen big stouts immeasurably improved by the introduction of cocoa nibs but other beers made gritty & sickly sweet by the use of actual chocolate; as with all beers I think there needs to be harmony of flavour, not a single note.

Randy Clemens holding a beer
RandyClemens.com’s own Randy Clemens (who else?)

Randy Clemens

I’m all for it, though I’ve tasted a few examples where I get a metallic taste. It might just be my palate as some people look at me like I’m crazy when I say it. I really like the Chocolate Stout from Rogue Ales, as well as Boulevard Chocolate Ale and Young’s Double Chocolate Stout.
At Stone, we actually ended up using some of Chocovivo‘s cacao nibs in an upcoming collaboration beer called Ken Schmidt / Iron Fist / Stone Mint Chocolate Imperial Stout. It should be out in September, and having tasted Ken’s delicious homebrew version of it, I can’t wait to try this version brewed on the big system! [Elspeth’s note: it did indeed come out last fall.  You can read about this amazing Stout on Stone’s website.]

Well, it’s clear we’re on to something here, and we’re not the only ones.  Check out this upcoming party in San Francisco (in case your sweetie likes beer, you both like travel and you don’t know what to do for the big V-D):

advert for Chocolate and Beer fest in San Francisco Feb. 16 2013
San Francisco in February!

 

 

 

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