By Chris Jennings
For the Oregon Beer Growler
In the month defined by love, passion and presidents’ birthdays, one of the most commonly purchased gifts is chocolate. The sweet treat can be found in many forms, including the ever-popular heart-shaped box filled with an assortment of varieties. That’s all well and good, but the best gift for the beer lovers is, of course, a silky chocolate stout.
Chocolate comes in numerous forms, including liquid, powder and solid. There are also different types, from extra-bitter dark chocolate to white — each along the spectrum providing different aromatics and tasting sensations. For the purposes of brewing, the best rule is to always avoid ingredients with high fat content. Milk chocolate has a high percentage of the cocoa butter back into it along with sugar to give the finished produce a less-bitter finish. This cocoa butter can go rancid in a brew and does not ferment out. That’s not to say to avoid chocolate with any percentage of cocoa butter -- just be sure to not go overboard and end up with an oil slick on top of your brew.
Nibs and Powder
The most commonly used forms of chocolate for brewing are cocoa nibs and cocoa powder. Cocoa nibs are the rawest state of chocolate before anything else is added. The beans are dried and fermented, similar to coffee in order to unleash the natural oils and flavors. Cocoa powder is then just the nibs ground up. Nibs tend to be easiest to work with because they can easily be filtered out of the brew. While they still have a small amount of natural cocoa butter in them, it shouldn’t have any adverse effects on your finished product.
Malt and Milk Sugar
When building your stout recipe, keep in mind that you aren’t limited to achieving that chocolate flavor and aroma from the actual chocolate. Malting companies do a very good job of simulating the taste in their product without the added cost of using pure nibs. Your chocolate beer does not have to be bitter either. Avoiding malt with a very high SRM will prevent the brew from being too acerbic. Another way to enhance both sweetness and mouthfeel is by incorporating milk sugar. Powdered lactose is a non-fermentable sugar that you can add for a silky-smooth finish. Like every ingredient, take care not to use too much since overdoing it can result in a beer that’s overly sweet.
When to Add
Once you’ve decided what kind of chocolate to use and how much, the next step is determining when to add it to the brew. Since chocolate has some very delicate oils that can evaporate, it’s best to not add it early in the boil. But putting in some of the chocolate — about a third of the total amount — at the end of that process can boost the flavor of the beer. The remainder should go in the secondary or even placed inside a bag that’s kept in the keg. If you’re using lactose as well, add that during the last five minutes of the boil since it’s a sugar and can caramelize. Stir well to avoid burning.
Whether you are planning a romantic evening this Valentine’s Day or just happen to be celebrating a three-day weekend because of Presidents Day, enjoying a tasty homebrewed chocolate stout will be more satisfying than eating a box of chocolates.
Chocolate Milk Stout [Extract]
Chocolate Milk Stout [All Grain]
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.