Cuckoo for Cocoa

BYOB by | Feb 2009 | Issue #25

Illustration by Scott Murry

The price of roses is climbing like last summer’s gas prices. Heart-shaped boxes litter every drugstore shelf. Now you’re fretting what to get your significant other. Well, this year, you’re screwed. Next time, think chocolate beer, not sickeningly sweet chocolate cherries.

Notice the abundance of chocolate-infused Stouts and Porters? Beyond the color connection, chocolate intertwines naturally with roasted malt’s coffee bite. Mocha, anyone? Others chunk cocoa into dark, malty Bocks. Generally, if you can picture dark roast, chocolate plays well.

Adding the magic Mesoamerican elixir is straightforward, but you have two pitfalls to contend with: fat and astringency. You could add broken up chocolate bars to the boiler, but I distrust this method. I think you’re asking for scorched solids and head-killing oil slicks. And yes, I know a lot of folks make winning beers this way—I still don’t trust it!

Three Beechum-approved methods for getting down with cacao:

Cocoa Powder
Unsweetened cocoa powder (not hot chocolate mix) is powdered chocolate solids minus most of the cocoa butter. You’ll find two varieties: natural and Dutch processed. Lighter in color, the processed powder is milder with less harshness. The more astringent, darker, natural powders burn with richer chocolate flavors.

To use, add 4–8 ounces of cocoa powder to the boil for approximately 15 minutes to dissolve. Some folks have reported success adding cocoa to the secondary, but my only attempt yielded a carboy coated with sticky residue and a lack of discernable chocolate in the glass.

Cacao Nibs
After harvesting, fermenting and drying, the whole beans of the cacao plant get cracked into rough chunks for roasting and grinding into chocolate. These “nibs” taste earthier than the more refined cocoa powders. Touting their health benefits (large antioxidant levels), gourmet chocolatiers recently flooded the markets with the once hard-to-find roasted and raw nibs.

Roasted nibs are my favorite way to chocolatize a batch. The raw nibs taste less developed and complex. Just 6 ounces dropped into the secondary for two to four weeks infuses the beer with a deeply satisfying, yet more subtle, experience. This isn’t the heavy Hershey’s sort of chocolate; this is flavor that builds with each sip.

Whatever you do, though, don’t leave the beer on the nibs for a long time! After a few weeks, harsh astringent characters begin to leech their way into your brew. If this happens to you, consider adding a whole bottle of sweet raspberry liqueur and claiming that you needed the astringency to offset the extra sugar.

Chocolate Extract Syrup / Chocolate Liqueur
Since there are times when you want that chocolate candy bar taste, embrace the awesome flavor-conjuring powers of the food industry by wielding the now ubiquitous Italian soda / coffee syrups. They come in a wide array of flavors with a stunning impact when added to the beer prior to packaging. You can add a shot at serving time to twist a beer to a new heading.

The syrups’ lack of color and roasted astringency make it possible to dose unexpected styles with a chocolate bump. A friend created a weird beer experience by adding a ton of white chocolate syrup to an otherwise prosaic American wheat beer. You’ll want to add the syrup slowly to the finished beer until you figure out the right proportion for your taste.

The crème de cacao liqueurs perform in a similar fashion.

A Final Note
A major player in the chocolate “experience” is vanillin. Small doses of fresh vanilla bean or extract increases complexity. Odd that society considers the two flavors opposites!

For 5.5 gallons at 1.075 OG (75% efficiency), 49 SRM, 30 IBU

Malt / Grain / Sugar
12.00 lb. Marris Otter malt
1.50 lb. Crystal 120L
1.00 lb. flaked oats
1.00 lb. roasted barley
0.25 lb. Black Patent malt

Strike with 4.75 gallons of water and rest for 60 minutes at 153˚F.

1.0 oz. Perle (pellets) | 8.25% AA | 60 minutes

Wyeast 1084 / WLP004 Irish Ale

Extra Ingredients
6 oz. roasted cacao nibs (added in secondary for 2–4 weeks)
1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped (added in secondary for 2–4 weeks) 

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