We’ve written about using bold flavors to make great beer, like with kettle or smoothie sours or pastry stouts. While those flavors in beers are pretty predictable, one flavor could lead you down multiple paths and requires a more sensitive touch to achieve a great beer: chocolate.
Unsweetened. Sweetened. Powder. Nibs. Liquid form. Dark. White. Milk. Chocolate malt. The possibilities aren’t endless, but there are many types of chocolate you can use to make a chocolate beer.
Which chocolate is best to use? When in the process do you add it? How much is ideal? Which style of beer accentuates the flavors?
What We’ll Cover in This Piece:
Better Production and Enable More Sales With Ollie
Discover how breweries all over are making operations a breeze and enabling more sales with Ollie!
Ready to learn more? Drop us a line and our team will be in touch with more information on how to check out a demo of Ollie.
What the Experts Hope to Achieve by Adding Chocolate to Beer
Odell Brewing Technical Director Eli Kolodny says chocolate has different reactions depending on the malt’s use.
“Mouthfeel is a big thing,” Kolodny says. “There is extra sugar, which brings extra depth.”
He adds, “Because of oil content, it brings something different. But you’ve gotta be careful of going overboard—because of the oils, you can damage your equipment. It’s its own art form.”
Oskar Blues Brewer Juice Drapeau says you must be aware of achieving flavor, sweetness, body, and more when using chocolate in beer. All that is altered depending on the chocolate product you use.
“There are many different ways to approach chocolate beer,” Drapeau says. “We use sweetened chocolate discs to add post-fermentation. We do a temperature drop and drop yeast, then [we] add discs to the top of the tank and get the last bit of active yeast to feed on chocolate, but not with added fermentation.”
He adds, “We also use an unsweetened liquid cacao and residual sugar to provide sweetness. Chocolate also provides bitterness, so you gotta be aware of bitterness and be conscious of what you are looking for in the final beer.”
Drapeau pointedly notes that achieving the best version of a chocolate beer depends on what type of chocolate you use and what style of beer you make.
What Types of Chocolate Can You Use in the Brewing Process?
Kolodny says that Odell’s old method of infusing chocolate included using chocolate coins, but they would clog up a part of their equipment that pushed wort into the kettle. Now, they use powder.
“It’s a blend of dark and milk chocolate,” Kolodny says. “It works well for us, but it depends on the equipment you have and what you need.”
Kolodny adds that their powder dissolves well, which is an added benefit.
“The last thing you want to do is find a great thing that forms a raft of chocolate at the bottom of the kettle that doesn’t dissolve,” Kolodny says.
When adding chocolate to beer, Oskar Blues says the choice comes down to which chocolate is the most production-friendly.
“We add unsweetened liquid Cholaca into post-fermentation, post centrifuge,” Drapeau says. “We add it then to get chocolate aromatics.”
Drapeau says that for consistency and a better final product, he recirculates it to avoid relying on breaking up the chocolate and using syrups.
He adds, “Chocolate pops in combination with light, medium, [and] dark crystal malts to add crystalized sugars to balance out roasted, black barley. Chocolate malt helps, but you need Carafa malt or roasted barley to get darker notes. But they add bitterness, so you have to be conscious about it. You’ll have residual sugars that reside in the beer to balance out bitterness from roasted malts.”
Outside of the liquid chocolate used by Oskar Blues, or the powder by Odell, there are multiple other implementations you can consider. Kolodny noted coins, or essentially chocolate melting wafers as one option—those come in milk, dark, and white options. Cocoa nibs are another alternative, as are chocolate malts to incorporate in your grain bill.
When Do You Add Chocolate in the Brewing Process?
Odell adds their chocolate on the hot side for multiple reasons.
“It’s effective with mixing and sanitation,” Kolodny says. “It’s not harmful for you to eat, but it’s not sanitary. So we try to add hot side as a brief sanitation step, and it melts nicely.”
He adds, “If you have a flowable chocolate, you could back-sweeten the beer on the cold side.”
Drapeau opts for the latter towards the end of the process, mainly for the stability of the beer.
“I do think it’s best at the end because you want to avoid playing with active yeast or additional fermentation and other stuff you get from actual chocolate,” Drapeau says. “Without the ability to pasteurize, you want a stable product that tastes the same and doesn’t have any off flavors or post-fermentation.”
How Much Chocolate Is Enough in Beer?
Kolodny says a lot, especially with Odell’s chocolate milk stout, Lugene.
“It’s not quite a chocolate bar in every pint, but it’s close,” says Kolodny, who adds they did quite a bit of R&D to get the recipe where it is. “We have a powder we use currently, and it’s a substantial amount. It’s enough that you could make hot chocolate with how much we have.”
Drapeau says Oskar Blues went big when they first started putting chocolate in their beer. But eventually, they had to switch things up.
“We started aggressively but cut back for cost valuation, trying to get the most flavor without breaking the bank,” he says. “We are not currently making Death By Coconut, but [in our most recent recipe] we used sixty gallons of [liquid] Unsweetened Cholaca per two hundred barrels of Brite beer.”
Aside from the cost, both Kolodny and Drapeau say there is a fine line when it comes to adding chocolate. You can undoubtedly overdo it, but you can undershoot it as well.
“If you’re going to put the word chocolate in your beer, that has to come in first and foremost,” Kolodny says, who admits he is hesitant to give a range of how much because every system works differently. “But if you do too much, it could be chalky and bitter. You have to find the flavor profile that works for you. Mock up your recipe, scale, and build up.”
Drapeau echoes Kolodny in saying that, if you put chocolate in the name or description, it has to be prominent in the flavor and aroma. But you can overdo and underdo it if you aren’t paying attention to detail.
“If you use a liquid cacao, it adds bitterness that can be unappealing if you take it too far; or when using raw cacao, it can be too roasty with the base beer, you could enhance that in a negative way,” Drapeau says. “Use your sensory to your advantage.”
Drapeau advises aiming low because you can adjust from there.
“If you underdo it, you can add to it. But if you add too much, you can’t take it out,” he says. “Less would be more.”
Which Beer Style Best Showcases Chocolate?
Drapeau says any of the porter or stout variations work well with chocolate, noting the differences mainly being alcohol content and mouthfeel.
“I do think it’s great in stouts, especially if there’s another adjunct like vanilla or cherry,” Drapeau adds. “When you think of chocolate, you think it’s sweet, but it’s raw and bitter. The sweetness of the stout makes the customer think it pops more.”
Kolodny points out that he really wouldn’t use it in a hoppy beer. The bitterness plus acidity is not great, he says. He feels a stout works best but says you can take it a step further.
“It also works well with whisky beers or barrel beers in combination with other fruits,” Kolodny says. “I typically find them better with darker beers, but I’ve seen folks use them in white stouts for flavor and aroma.”
Two Examples of Great Beers with Chocolate
Drapeau recalls Oskar Blues Death By Coconut, a 6.5% ABV porter with twenty-five IBUs. The brewery did not brew this beer over the past year but people remember it fondly.
“It was a great base beer with malt chocolate depth and nice attenuation, so it wasn’t cloying, but also not dry,” Drapeau says. “It’s about finding that balance. Dial in that base beer; you want the chocolate to be an enhancement but also not overpowering.”
For Kolodny, he cites the Lugene Chocolate Milk Stout from Odell. The imperial stout is 8.5% ABV with eighteen IBUs and is named after dairy farmer Lugene, who has been hauling off the Odell grains for ages.
“That beer is really special to us,” Kolodny says. “We wanted to do something special for him because he’s provided that service for us. We wanted to integrate what he does in a beer. That’s where we came to chocolate milk.”