Adding chocolate flavour to beer is a very clever thing to do and can give you great results when you master it but if you get it wrong (depending on your method) it can have serious consequences for your beer.
There are a lot of ways to get chocolate flavour into your beer so I’m going to talk you through the various methods and how to get the best out of each method.
1. Cocoa powder
This is different from hot chocolate powder, which you shouldn’t use as they typically contain a lot of fats, salt and emulsifiers. Cocoa powder generally contains the lowest amount of cocoa butter of available forms of chocolate. Cocoa butter can have a negative effect on your head retention in your final beer so the lower the better and because cocoa powder has a low proportion of butter, you can use more of it in your beer, meaning a better final chocolate flavour.
Adding cocoa powder during the boil is the easiest way to ensure it is sanitary, remembering that the later in the boil you add the powder the more chocolate flavour you should get through in your finished beer. One of the issues with this technique is that it is hard to judge how much of your ingredient to use without some experimentation.
2. Chocolate tincture
A tincture is an infusion of your chosen ingredient in alcohol. They are really useful when it comes to adding flavour to your beer. As it’s often a neutral spirit used to create a tincture you don’t have to worry about sterilising your ingredient. Also, once you have created your tincture you can draw off a small amount of your beer and add a small amount of tincture until you get the flavour you want. Then just scale up for your full batch making it easy to control the level of flavour you add. Another great advantage is that you don’t have to put your ingredient directly into the fermenter meaning there will be less wastage and hassling when it comes to bottling.
To create a tincture pour enough spirit into a mason jar to cover your chosen ingredient (whether that’s actual chocolate or cacao nibs) and soak for several days, shaking the mason jar occasionally. As a general rule, the longer you leave your chocolate soaking, the more intense a chocolate flavour you will get. You can filter your tincture to separate the liquid from the solids and then it is ready to use.
3. Real chocolate in the boil
Real chocolate seems to make brewers quite nervous. The high levels of fat that are typically present in chocolate can cause all kinds of problems for mouthfeel and head retention and I’ve had one beer that used real chocolate which had bits floating in it. As it wasn’t a hoppy beer I assumed something in the chocolate hadn’t fully dissolved in the beer?
If you decide to try this out, look for high quality, low-fat chocolate. I would recommend boiling the chocolate in the last 15 minutes of the boil, long enough to melt it into your wort. Again, it’s difficult to estimate how much you will need and you might have to be wary of the shelf life of any beers you try this in.
4. Cacao nibs
Cacao nibs are actually the kernels of the cacao bean. If you are using them, you can add them towards the end of boil or you can add them to primary or secondary fermentation. If you are adding them to the fermenter it is probably best to add them as a tincture (see above) as this is the easiest way to ensure everything is sanitary.
Similar to most adjunct ingredients, adding nibs in the boil imparts less chocolate aroma and flavour then adding them in the fermenter so make sure you know what effect you are trying to achieve when you decide what stage to add these. Many brewers though agree that cacao nibs are one of the most effective ways to get chocolate flavouring into your beers.
5. Chocolate extract/Chocolate spirit essences
Chocolate extract is useful because, similar to a tincture, it gives you a lot of control over how much flavour you are adding to your beer. There are a couple of things to be careful of though. Firstly is sanitising the flavouring. If you are using an extract you could try and add a very small amount of water to enable you to boil the extract prior to adding it to your beer. If you are using spirit essences, these often have an alcohol content that means you can add them directly to your beer.
The second consideration is whether or not the extract/essence that you choose to use has a sugar content. If you are adding the flavour at bottling you need to be careful that you are not adding fermentables that will over carbonate your beer and potentially cause bottle bombs.
6. Malt/brewing choices
Finally, you could forego adjuncts altogether and try and get a chocolate flavour in your beer from more traditional brewing ingredients. A good mixture of dark malts can give you a great chocolate character and it’s a very satisfying thing to be able to taste chocolate in your beer know you got it through malt choice and your brewing technique.
So those are the most common methods of adding chocolate to your beer as well as their pro’s and con’s. If this is something that you decide to try be aware that chocolate can also add some bitterness to your finished beer so factor this in to your recipe design. You can also make some tweaks to your recipe to enhance the overall chocolate character, things like having a higher final gravity to leave some sweetness in the beer or using vanilla (a common flavour in chocolate) to enhance the overall taste.
Here’s a great chocolate porter recipe that makes use of several of the techniques listed above to create a really tasty treat beer, perfect to brew on the upcoming Easter weekend.