There aren’t many things that are as evocative as chocolate.

It has been attributed with everything from giving us strength, intelligence and health to imbuing us with aphrodisiac powers  atrue elixir from the indies. Now, much of this may just be legend, that’s for you to decide, but its this very power of suggestion that has elevated chocolate to this lofty status throughout history and no one can deny the mood-altering ability that chocolate possesses.

If we look back to Mesoamerican history, chocolate was a gift from the gods, offering to gods and something reserved only for the military and ruling classes. This is similar to the role that beer played throughout Europe during the Middle Ages.

While chocolate and beer may seem to be in different camps, they do have complementary flavours.

Beer takes its flavour from three things: grain, hops and yeast and when kilned malted grain can have notes of honey bread caramel toffee raisin and many others. Chocolate has up to 1500 aromas some of which are described as grassy, floral, yeast, nuts, caramel, woody, spicy and fruity, so it shouldn’t be so surprising that they pair well. Chocolate begins with the cacao tree, which grows in the tropics of (for example São Tomé), the beans of this small tree are fermented, roasted, husked and ground into cocoa nibs. The nibs are then pressed to separate the natural fat, which is called cocoa butter and cocoa mass.

Beer is an alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of grain and, for the vast majority of the world’s beers, the grain base is barley. The brewing process begins with malted barley, or ‘malt’, which is then milled. Next, the brewer steeps it in hot water to extract their flavours; the malt is heated with water in a large kettle called a ‘mash tun’. At the end of mashing, the starches in the malt have been broken down into simple sugars, resulting in a sweet liquid ‘wort’.

The malt is rinsed (‘sparging’) and strained to get the last of the sugars into solution. The used malt is now considered to be ‘spent grain’, but still great for baking. The wort is then piped into the next large tank, the brew kettle. Here, hops are added and boiled with the liquid, providing bitterness and aroma. After boiling, the wort is quickly cooled 24C to add yeast. The yeast is pitched in to the sweet wort, where it feeds on the sugar, releasing alcohol and carbon dioxide.

After a while, the food runs low, and the increasingly alcoholic atmosphere becomes unfriendly: the yeast slows down. Fermentation is complete. The young beer is transferred to conditioning tanks to age, a process that can go from a few days to several weeks (or, occasionally, years) depending on the style.

Not surprisingly, adventurous chocolatiers and brewers are finding ways to include cocoa in some of their more inspired recipes.

There are a couple of things to bear in mind when using cocoa in brewing:

One, cocoa is not shy, so be careful.
Two, not all ales are man enough to cope with the intense flavours that cocoa brings.

Back off on the dark malts at the same rate at which you add the cocoa and the results should be good.

Cocoa Basics

Cocoa can be added to beer in four ways:

  1. Chocolate syrup,
  2. Cocoa powder,
  3. Chocolatebars
  4. Cocoa nibs.

All four are relatively trouble-free and can be used at different stages of the brewing process.

The chocolate bars that are available in the shops don’t always work well with beer, it usually has lots of added sugar, oils and other additives and s the brewer we need to decide what and how much of any ingredients go into our stout not the chocolate maker.

So here we are using organic, fermented, dried cocoa beans from Sao Tome & Príncipe.

Nibs are essentially the crushed cocoa beans that have been roasted (for hygiene and flavour).

Taste and smell them before using and trust your instincts, Tatse is always the brewer’s and the chef’s best tool. Lightly roasted nibs work well in a brown ale or porter, but the fuller roasted nibs more at home in a stout.

Nib are about the same size of a barleycorn so can be used directly in the mash, the boil, or suspended in conditioning beer like hops or spices like you would coffee beans – roasted, crushed like a specialty grain, and added in small amounts as a steeping grain or in the mash.

We are also going to be using chocolate malt. (Chocolate malt is malted barley, kilned to a dark brown colour).

It gives the beer a chocolate-like aroma and taste, many brewers use the word chocolate in the names of their beers, but only a few of us actually use real cocoa nibs.

I find that the flavour is fully extracted in the mash, adding another roasted dimension to the brew. If used in conditioning beer, simply fill a small mesh sachet with nibs and suspend in the beer with a string. Since the extraction will be lower and mellower than if it is mashed or boiled, you will find that this approach will give a softer edge to the finished beer.

Nibs are this brewer’s preferred choice for most brewing additions, as they are relatively unaltered, and can be sampled in their natural state prior to use and offer more options.

There are many great recipes online for stout and porters so i am not going to post mine yet, have fun experimenting.

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