Brewing with Chocolate, Methods and Process

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Chocolate and beer are two of the best substances in the world, so they can only be better together, right? There are a number of ways to infuse the goodness of cacao, along with all the antioxidant power packed into those little beans, into your homebrew. Armed with sharp taste buds and a hint of imagination, the home brewer can develop a recipe that will delight the masses - even purists who think nothing belongs in beer but barley, hop, yeast, and water.
The first step is to consider your personal tastes. What do you currently like to pair with chocolate? Fruit? Nuts? Beers that have a sweeter finish can find a twist with the addition of chocolate. Let’s not forget the savory and bitter components of raw chocolate. The complexity that chocolate adds to a mole sauce is extraordinary. The bitterness of chocolate can be used to balance the sweetness of malts.
From Altbier to Weizenbock, many beer styles can accommodate an infusion of chocolate.

Flavors of Chocolate

A visit to a cacao farm offers a quick education in the complexity of flavors that occur in nature as cacao beans are grown. Beans grown in Madagascar have different flavors than the cacao beans grown in Trinidad or Hawaii. Plant genetics, as well as environment and soil, contribute to the differing flavor profiles. Additional flavor development occurs during the processing of the beans. Like beer, cacao beans are fermented for maximum flavor development by yeasts, lactic acid bacteria, and acetic acid bacteria.
Drying also affects the flavor and quality of the chocolate. Raw cacao beans are often brown, but this is a result of drying rather than roasting. Drying too fast or too slow can compromise the quality of raw beans and result in gray, lavender, or pale cocoa beans.
The next step in developing flavor is roasting. Different temperature roasts bring out different flavor profiles. Unless you plan to roast your own cacao beans, you’ll have little control over this step, however beans that are subjected to a medium temperature roast tend to develop the most desirable flavor profiles in beer.
Conching, the final step in chocolate making where the product is ran through a series of heavy rollers in order to ensure a uniform smooth consistency, is key to flavor and texture development. It is the most complex step, but only applies to chocolate products on the other end of the bean stage.

The Basic Flavors Chocolate Fall Into:

  • Earthy (musk, truffle, mushroom)
  • Fruity (berry, citrus, dried, tropical, tree-fruit)
  • Vegetative (fresh, cooked, dried)
  • Caramel (honey, butterscotch, molasses, milk, butter)
  • Nutty (hazelnut, almond, peanut, walnut)
  • Spicy (licorice, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon, black pepper)
  • Floral (rose, jasmine, violet, citrus bloom)
These flavors are often associated with various components of beer and can be used to enhance, deepen, or contrast the flavors of hops and malts.
Once you’ve identified the flavor you’d like to incorporate in your brew by tasting some different chocolates, it’s time to look at the choices of chocolate form to carry that flavor through to the glass.

Forms of Chocolate

Cacao nibs
Chocolate comes in a variety of forms from roasted beans to extracts. The variety is narrowed by the choice of form, so if an exotic chocolate is your preference, there may be a limitation of the additive forms readily available.
  • Raw cacao beans (fermented, dried)
  • Roasted cacao beans (fermented, dried, roasted)
  • Cacao nibs (fermented, dried, roasted, separated from the outer cacao husk)
  • Cocoa powder (conched, ground, separated from butter)
  • Chocolate syrup (conched, some butter, liquid, may contain sweetener)
  • Baker’s chocolate (conched, reunited with cocoa butter, unsweetened)
  • Sweetened processed chocolate (conched, reunited with cocoa butter or other fat* and sweetened with some form of sugar or sugar alternative)
  • Chips (conched, reunited with cocoa butter or other fat* and sweetened with some form of sugar or sugar alternative)
  • Liqueur (not to be confused with chocolate liquor, a step in chocolate production)
  • Extract (cacao nibs extracted into an alcohol base)
*Cheaper chocolates often have fillers in place of more expensive cocoa butter.

Raw Beans

Raw cacao beans are often available at health food stores and at online retailers. The color of the bean will impact the flavor, so it’s best to taste it before adding it to the brew. Raw cacao beans have been fermented and dried, but not roasted.
Pros: Purity, Taste selection
Cons: Require preparation (cracking)

Roasted Beans

Roasted cacao beans are a little harder to find, but available if you want to go that route. There’s not a significant flavor reason to go after the roasted bean instead of using nibs.
Pros: Purity, Taste selection
Cons: Require preparation (cracking), Availability

Cacao Nibs

Cacao nibs are widely available and carried by many LHBS, as well as health food stores and some grocers. Nibs are available roasted or raw depending on the source. Raw nibs should be roasted first to bring out the chocolate flavor before use. Roasted nibs are ready to use.
Pros: Versatile usage, Availability
Cons: Longer contact time needed, Potential for contamination when added post-boil (can be mitigated by either soaking the nibs in alcohol or pasteurizing them)

Cocoa Powder

dutch processed cocoa (right) and natural cocoa powder (left)
Cocoa powder is widely available, but not all cocoa powder is created equally. Like chocolate, cocoa powder has the characteristics of the bean it came from. Natural cocoa powder has a pH between 5 and 6, and is the powder found in most supermarket brands. Dutched or European cocoa powder is washed in a potassium carbonate solution to adjust the acidity to around 7, darkening and mellowing the powder and bringing out the earthy notes. So called “black” or “brute” cocoa powder is alkalinized to a pH of around 8, bringing out the more bitter chocolate notes. Think “Oreo.”
The choice doesn’t stop there. Cocoa powders are often blended, offering a wider range of flavor profiles. “Double-Dutch” is a blend of black and Dutch cocoa powder. “Triple blend” combines Double-Dutch and natural process cocoa powder. “Bensdorp Dutch” adds back fat content. “Cocoa Rouge” is a Dutch process that results in a reddish hue. There is also “raw” cocoa powder, made from unroasted cacao nibs that are cold pressed to remove oils.
Pros: Versatile usage, Availability, Lower contact time required when used in fermenter
Cons: Heat can release less desirable characteristics

Chocolate Syrup

The syrup, traditionally used as a condiment or dessert topping, comes in a variety of flavors and consistencies. A simple syrup can be created from cocoa powder, a sweetener such as sugar, and water; however, modern commercial versions may include other things like corn syrup, preservatives, emulsifiers, and artificial flavorings. When considering chocolate syrup for brewing one should read the label carefully for unwanted additives.
Pros: Availability, Easy to use
Cons: May contain sugar or other unwanted additives

Baker's Chocolate

Baker’s chocolate is “whole” chocolate, as oil in the form of cocoa butter is retained. Like any form of chocolate, flavor is dependent on origin.
Pros: Flavor choices, Availability
Cons: Head retention, Mouthfeel, Potential to sink to the bottom of the pot and burn, Uneven distribution in wort, Decreased beer shelf life

Sweetened Chocolate Bars

Sweetened chocolate crosses the threshold into a different realm. At this point not only do you contend with cocoa butter, depending on the quality of the chocolate you may have other oily fillers, dairy solids, and of course, sweeteners. Look at the ingredients to minimize introducing unknown elements into your beer that could potentially affect fermentation or introduce bacteria friendly hosts into the wort.
Pros: Flavor choices, Availability, Includes white chocolate
Cons: Head retention, Mouthfeel, Potential to sink to the bottom of the pot and burn, Uneven distribution in wort, Decreased beer shelf life

Chocolate Chips

Chocolate chips, unless made from unsweetened chocolate, are just a less labor-intensive version of the above.
Pros: Flavor choices, Availability
Cons: Head retention, Mouthfeel, Potential to sink to the bottom of the pot and burn, Uneven distribution in wort, Decrease beer shelf life

Chocolate liqueur

Commercial liqueurs may contain milk or other ingredients, so read labels before adding. Most commercially available liqueurs are sweetened.
Pros: High retention of flavor and aroma, Availability
Cons: Potentially decreased beer shelf life due to additives, Potential flavor disruption due to additives interacting with components in beer

Chocolate Extract

Available both commercial and as a DIY option using alcohol and cacao nibs. It does add an alcohol note, but offers excellent flavor retention.
Pros: High retention of flavor and aroma, Availability
Cons: Adds an alcohol note

When to Add it During the Brewing Process

Beer style will largely dictate your form choice. If brewing an IPA, a cloyingly sweet chocolate-bar taste isn’t likely what you have in mind. On the other hand, a peanut butter stout recipe would benefit from a more traditional chocolate punch. The form that you choose influences where in the brewing process it will be utilized. Chunks of chocolate bar can’t be successfully added to the bottle. Likewise, extract would lose its flavor if added pre-boil.
The following offers a hint at how to choose forms of chocolate and where to use it, depending on the flavor impact and beer style. Feel free to get creative with flavor, however. The only limit is your imagination.

Mash/Steeped With Specialty Grains

Chocolate added in the mash
Adds complexity and hints of chosen chocolate characteristics. Good for all beer styles.
Works well with:
  • Raw or roasted cacao beans slightly crushed and added to the grain bill (or steeped with specialty grains)
  • Cocoa powder (all types)
  • Nibs

Added to Grain Bed Before Sparge

Less pronounced flavor/complexity addition than mashing. Good for all beer styles.
Works well with:
  • Cocoa powder (all types)


More pronounced chocolate flavor, but mainly added complexity. May increase bitterness, adjust bitter hops accordingly. Use less chocolate in high gravity beers as alcohol releases more flavor. Good for all beer styles. One tip on usage is to melt them in hot wort before adding to the kettle to minimize risk of burning on the bottom of the pot.
Works well with:
  • Cocoa powder
  • Baker’s chocolate*
  • Sweetened chocolate*
  • Chips*
*Be mindful when boiling these types of chocolate as they may affect mouthfeel and head retention, especially if any oils they contain are not volatilized. Add extra boil time.

Secondary Fermentation

Cacao has anti-fungal agents that may affect yeast. So it should be avoided during primary fermentation. Secondary is okay though.
More pronounced chocolate flavor and added chocolate aroma. Reserve for beer styles where chocolate notes will be the highlight.
Works well with:
  • Cocoa powder
  • Nibs
  • Liqueur
  • Extract


Most pronounced chocolate flavor and aroma. Reserve for beer styles where chocolate flavor and aroma are desired as a major component.
Works well with:
  • Liqueur
  • Extract

Developing Beer Recipes Containing Chocolate

Give a man a recipe, he’ll brew a beer. Teach a man (or woman) how to create a recipe… they’ll disappear into the basement forever. There are many recipes employing cacao on the internet just waiting to be sampled. However, there is a certain satisfaction that comes from developing a recipe using your imagination, taste buds, and brewing software. The following can serve as a general guide to making your journey a successful one.
Guidelines on Quantity by Form Based on a 5-Gallon Batch:
Use one of these as a standalone, or reduce amounts and use a combination of forms:
Raw cacao beans, cracked (6 oz)
Roasted cacao beans, cracked (6 oz)
Cacao nibs (3 oz)
Cocoa powder (2 TBSP)
Baker’s chocolate (2 oz.)
Sweetened processed chocolate (6 oz)
Chips (6 oz)
Liqueur (1/4 – 1 cup)
Extract (4 tsp – 4 TBSP)
Brown Ales:
Raw cacao beans, cracked (3 oz)
Roasted cacao beans, cracked (3 oz)
Cacao nibs (2 oz)
Cocoa powder (1 TBSP)
Baker’s chocolate (1 oz.)
Sweetened processed chocolate (4 oz)
Chips (4 oz)
Liqueur (1/4 – 1 cup)
Extract (4 tsp – 4 TBSP)
Pale Ales:
White chocolate (6 oz)
Black Lagers or IPA’s:
Raw cacao beans, cracked (6 oz)
Roasted cacao beans, cracked (6 oz)
Cacao nibs (3 oz)
Cocoa powder (2 TBSP)
Baker’s chocolate (2 oz.)
Sweetened processed chocolate (6 oz)
Chips (6 oz)
Liqueur (1/4 – 1 cup)
Extract (4 tsp – 4 TBSP)
Fruit Beers: (can stand up to the heavier end of dosing)
Raw cacao beans, cracked (6 oz)
Roasted cacao beans, cracked (6 oz)
Cacao nibs (3 oz)
Cocoa powder (2 TBSP)
Baker’s chocolate (2 oz.)
Sweetened processed chocolate (6 oz)
Chips (6 oz)
Liqueur (1/4 – 1 cup)
Extract (4 tsp – 4 TBSP)
Generally, if a recipe has chocolate malt, consider that it could also benefit from additions of actual chocolate. There are no rules here. If a dark-chocolate, orange IPA sounds good, choosing a citrusy hop and adding chocolate to a favorite IPA recipe is a no-brainer.
You can always experiment by adding a little chocolate extract to a favorite recipe to get a preview without dedicating an entire brew to a bizarre flavor combination. No matter how you decide to approach it, brewing with chocolate is a great way to expand your beer selection.
Cat Stewart
Thanks for all the great info and suggestions for adding different forms and types of chocolate to brews. I have used cacao nibs in the secondary for a stout, but lately, I have been contemplating using dark cocoa powder in the boil. Now I have a guide for using chocolate in future brews. Thanks!
Nice article! I have a lightly spiced wheat beer going right now that I'm going to add some cocoa nibs too. Going for a chocolate orange type thing.
Put in 8 Oz cocoa powder at knockout in 5 gal batch of porter. Racked to secondary after 10 days and lots of chocolate colored trub on the bottom of the primary. Not sure how much of the cocoa powder actually dissolved. Let you know in a few months how the porter turned out.
Thanks for all the detail. I have always added my cocoa powder in the secondary and had great results. I use a lot more than 3TBS though. I used 6-8oz and it turned out great in a chocolate milk stout and a chocolate hazelnut stout I made just last year. I once tried it with only 2oz and I could barely taste it, whereas 6-8oz gives it a big chocolate punch and I love it.
Which came first Chocolate or Chocolate inspired malt?
I highly recommend trying raw chocolate, it has a liqueur flavor. I would consider adding chocolate except for two reasons. It would be a waste of good chocolate throwing away the bean, and I think Chocolate is oily.
I think it would be interesting to find out how Chocolate was originally treated in brewing. I think that the reason Chocolate beans were discovered in the first place, is people probably Mayans were fermenting the fruit to make an alcoholic beverage, when they discovered that the seeds were also tasty.
I took a tour of Schlafly a long time back (when they still did tours) and they said they tried a chocolate beer in their test batch and it was phenomenal. But when they went to production the first 5 barrel batch was so horrendous they had to dump the entire thing. They said after more research that chocolate didn't scale linearly and they didn't want to figure it out.
Any idea if this is true or have you found a scale?
Cool article! Just recently brewed and bottled a Cocoa Porter (5gal) that is pretty damn tasty! I boiled 5oz of organic cocoa powder with 2oz sugar and added it to the last 15 of boil.
Great article! I had the exact contamination issue you described with cacao nibs by adding them to secondary without soaking in alcohol first. I keg and the beer in the keg did not show any signs of contamination because it was refrigerated the entire time, but on this occasion I bottled a six pack that I stored at room temperature and it definitely was contaminated. Thanks for all the new ideas on adding chocolate, can't wait to try the liqueur!
Great article, thanks, you've filled in some blanks for me. Hope to see more of your articles in the future!!! I make my own extracts when I can.
I'm in the process of making some DIY cocoa extract - vodka and cocoa powder - going to keep it going for 6 months - so far, after 2 months tastes great! The coffee extract is very bitter, but when added in the right proportions to a brew, it will add just the amount of coffee notes that I want!
The great thing about extracts is you can taste test for the right amount of flavor - Northern Brewer used to have a video about taste testing - I dunno where it is!
We used about 4 oz of Cocoa Nibs, with 1 cup of Bourbon to sterilize / activate an ICI Whipcream w 2 CO2 chargers.. to force alcohol into the pores, then quickly released pressure to draw flavors out. Worked well & it's a common chef's tool for making flavor tinctures
hola. muy buen articulo, uno de los mejores. pregunta: cuanto licor de chocolate se agrega por litro de cerveza, tengo unos 7 litros de porter para experimentar.
Hi. Very good article, one of the best. Question: How much chocolate liquor is added per liter of beer, I have about 7 LITERS of porter to try.
I'm curious as to how using raw beans has worked out for you. They are not rinsed or washed after fermentation, the fermentation is halted purely by evaporation and sun-drying. There's still a cornucopia of bacteria, yeast, and fungal spores on the raw beans. Not to mention that most fermentation is done in an open pit on the jungle floor on farms with livestock running free. So the extra bacteria from that. I wouldnt recommend eating, tasting, or using a raw bean. Roasting helps to sanitize the bean in addition to developing the chocolate flavors.
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