Chocolate Brew Day

Chocolate Brew Day

By Steven Brewster


There are many ways to utilize cacao or chocolate in the process of brewing beer. There are also no wrong ways to use cacao or chocolate in beer, you just need to know what to expect from each technique used. It is also very important to understand how cacao is produced, what it is composed of and how it is processed to ensure an understanding on what impacts it may have on your brew.

Cacao beans come from pods that grow on the trunks of cacao trees. The beans are composed of cocoa fats (cocoa butter) and cocoa solids (cocoa powder). Cacao pods are harvested twice a year. After they are harvested, the workers break open the pods to expose and separate the beans. The beans are then fermented by either heap fermentation or box fermentation methods. Fruit flies and microorganisms inoculate the bean’s pulp with yeast and bacteria. While fermenting, the yeast turns proteins into amino acids. Temperatures of fermentation range between 80-125+ degrees Fahrenheit. The bacteria help convert the alcohol produced by the yeast into acids such as lactic acid or acetic acid. This process usually takes about 3-7 days. After desired pH, usually around 5-6 pH, and other parameters are met, the workers then dry the beans from 60% moisture content to around 1-4% moisture content. Drying the beans must be done at a slower rate to guarantee fermentation is complete and does not develop off flavors.

Cocoa nibs are nature’s chocolate chips, and which is the base of all chocolate products. Nibs are what is left after separating the shell from the bean in one of the many processes cacao undertakes before becoming chocolate. Nibs should always be roasted to bring out the flavor profile a brewer is looking for. Roasting gives the nibs a better mouthfeel, fuller body, and possibly a slight increase in SRM. Roasting helps remove acetic acid to reduce bitterness. Roasting also sterilizes the nibs to ensure your brew will not become contaminated with outside microbes, unless that is what you are aiming for. Nibs can best be utilized by adding them to the boil or fermentation. It is best to hang the nibs in a bag for both methods to help with disposal of spent nibs.

Since cocoa nibs contain fat, it may negatively influence head retention due to displaced surface tension. To help with this issue, a nib tincture or extract can be made prior to your brew day. You can make nib extract or tincture by soaking nibs in alcohol like vodka or rum for a few days then straining out the nibs. You can add the desired amount of tincture or extract to either your boil, during fermentation, or before bottling or kegging. Start with less (a few milliliters) and add more to taste.

Another way around a possible head retention issue is using cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is made from pressing cacao beans with a hydraulic press. The pressure expels the cocoa fats (cocoa butter) and leaves only the cocoa solids (cocoa powder). You can then add cocoa powder to your boils or fermentation. Adding prior to kegging or bottling will hydrate the cocoa powder and create an unwanted cocoa mass in your beer. If added during fermentation, be sure to autoclave or pressure cook your cocoa powder to eliminate any possible microbes present. Be warned: Not all cocoa powder is created equal, Alkali cocoa powder, also known as Dutch processed is cocoa powder treated with potassium carbonate to neutralize the pH of the cocoa. This can potentially increase the pH of your beer. Again, Start with less and more cocoa powder. I usually use 2 oz of cocoa powder for a 5-gallon batch.

Other methods of adding chocolate to your beer includes bulk chocolate pieces or chocolate syrup. Chocolate in bulk would need to be added to the boil at any point. If added during fermentation, grating the chocolate would be required to increase the surface area. Increasing the surface area helps to maximize the extraction of the chocolate’s compounds into your beer. The potential issue with adding bulk chocolate into beer is mostly with consistency of flavor and mouthfeel. Bulk chocolate can vary greatly with different percentages of chocolate, strains of cacao, and what other additives are used to make the chocolate. You may be able to get around this by using chocolate syrup. Chocolate syrup is very consistent in flavor due to the volume it is produced at. Syrup might also have unwanted ingredients. Chocolate syrup can be used during boil, during fermentation, and can also be used before bottling or kegging. Start with 2 oz of either bulk chocolate or chocolate syrup and add to taste.

Again, there are many ways to utilize cacao or chocolate in the process of brewing beer. There are also no wrong ways to use cacao or chocolate in beer, just experiment and have fun.

Brew on!