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
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.
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):