Brewing Beer With Chocolate (Cacao Nibs, Extracts, Cocoa Powder, or Bars!)

Homebrewers love to experiment with new flavors and styles of beer. What should a homebrewer keep in mind when brewing with chocolate? 

There are many ways to brew beer with chocolate, including using cacao nibs, extracts, cocoa powder. Using pure chocolate with little to no additives is the best and easiest way to brew chocolate beer. Certain styles of beer – mostly light ones – won’t pair well with chocolate, but the flavor goes well with porters, stouts, and brown ales.

Continue reading for a comprehensive look at what chocolate beer is, the various ways it’s made, and how to make it yourself. 

Is chocolate beer a thing?

Recent findings suggest that a form of chocolate beer was being made by ancient Mesoamericans. They discovered chocolate could be made by fermenting the seeds and fruit of cacao, and then they extended that process to make a chocolatey fermented drink akin to beer.

Today, chocolate beer is any beer that has been fermented or brewed with cocoa. The chocolate can be added during the mash, at different stages of the boil, or during fermentation. The end result in flavor depends on the timing; for instance, chocolate that is added during the mash will lend an earthier flavor than the rich, traditionally chocolatey taste if it’s added during fermentation.

Chocolate and beer is a popular flavor combination, and many breweries offer their own chocolate beer, including:

Many beers (dark beers in particular) will list chocolate as a flavor note, but this doesn’t necessarily mean chocolate is an actual ingredient. Brewers can achieve a chocolate taste by using dark roasted barley. Guinness, for instance, does not contain chocolate but has a distinct chocolate-y taste.

One common misconception is that all chocolate beers are sweeter than ‘regular’ beer. While some brewers may choose to sweeten their chocolate beer, most often brewers use chocolate that does not contain sugar. 

What kind of beers work best with added chocolate?

Technically any ale or lager can be a chocolate beer, but lighter styles typically don’t work well.

Stouts, porters, and brown ales are most commonly made with chocolate as many of the flavors already present in those styles compliment the chocolate:

  • Stouts are rich with hints of coffee and molasses.
  • Porters typically have a lighter mouthfeel than stouts and show notes of toffee and roasted grains.
  • Brown ales are malty with a nutty, toasty flavor profile.

Can you use regular chocolate when homebrewing beer?

A chocolate bar you may grab in the checkout line at the grocery store has a lot of fat/oils in it.

When used in beer brewing, these oils may create an unpleasant mouthfeel or prevent a head from forming. However, using a high-quality chocolate bar with a low fat content can work when brewing beer.

Look for 90% or greater cocoa content and finely chop or break down the bar before adding it to the boil. Take care to stir continuously to prevent the chocolate from burning on the bottom of the kettle.

How to add chocolate flavor to homebrew beer

There are a variety of ways to add chocolate flavor to homebrew beer. Many homebrewers develop a preference, as each of these types of chocolate requires its own timing and methodology.

Here are the best ways to brew beer with chocolate:

  • Chocolate malt
  • Creme de cacao or other liqueurs
  • Cacao nibs
  • Cocoa powder
  • Chocolate extract
  • High percentage cacao chocolate bars

Keep reading for details on each of these forms of chocolate as well as how to use them while brewing. 

Chocolate malt

Despite the name, chocolate malt does not contain any chocolate. It is a dark-colored roasted brewing malt that lends chocolate flavors with its roasty, malty sweetness. Since it can be treated like any other grain in the brewing process, chocolate malt is popular with homebrewers. 

Brewers use anywhere from .25-1.5 pounds of chocolate malt when brewing a 5-gallon batch. It can be added with other grains during the mash.

Chocolate malt will adjust the color of the beer and may create a murky appearance if too much is used.

How much to add

Some brewers use chocolate malt to boost color and appearance, while others use it to lend a robust, chocolatey flavor.

Depending on your needs, you can use anywhere from a quarter pound of chocolate malt to 1.5 pounds, in addition to your other grains.

See below for a recipe to get started.

When to add it

Chocolate malt is added at the same time as other grains in the bill during the mash. 

Important notes and watch-outs

Chocolate malt adds color to the beer, so it should not be used in pale beer styles.

It can also give your beer a murky appearance if too much is used. On the other hand, using too little may result in extremely subtle chocolate flavor. 

Rogue Chocolate Stout clone recipe

This recipe uses chocolate malt to brew five gallons of a stout very similar to the popular Rogue Chocolate Stout.

Ingredients:

  • 11.0 lb (5 kg) Great Western two-row pale malt
  • 0.5 lb (227 g) 120 L crystal malt
  • 0.5 lb (227 g) chocolate malt
  • 0.5 lb (227 g) rolled oats
  • 3.0 oz (85 g) roast barley
  • 1.5 oz (42 g) chocolate extract (in secondary)
  • 1.0 oz (28 g) Cascade pellet hops, 5% a.a. (90 min)
  • 1.0 oz (28 g) Cascade pellet hops, 5% a.a. (30 min)
  • 1.0 oz (28 g) Cascade pellet hops, 5% a.a. (knockout)
  • 1.0 tsp (5 ml) Irish moss (20 min)
  • Wyeast 1764 Pacman Ale yeast or White Labs WLP001 California Ale yeast

Method:

  1. Mash at 150°F (65°C) for 60 minutes.
  2. Sparge at 175°F (79°C) to collect 6.5 gallons (24.6 L) of pre-boiled wort.
  3. Boil for 90 minutes.
  4. Cool to 60°F (16°C) and pitch yeast.
  5. Ferment at 60°F (16°C) for one week.
  6. Siphon into secondary at 50-55°F (10-13°C) onto chocolate extract and hold until fermentation is complete, then package and condition.

Creme de cacao or other liqueurs

A liqueur is a sweetened spirit, and creme de cacao is a chocolate-flavored liqueur. It is frequently used in Grasshoppers or chocolate martinis.

Creme de cacao and other liqueurs can be used in addition to priming sugar before bottling to lend desired flavors to beer.

Adding too much liqueur may over carbonate the beer as it has its own sugar content.

How much to add

To prevent over carbonation (the dreaded bottle bomb!), a small amount of liqueur should be added with or in place of the priming sugar. Some math will be required in order to prevent over carbonation.

If replacing the priming sugar with creme de cacao or other liqueur altogether, use the following formula:

(amount in ounces of priming sugar in recipe) / (the percent of sugar in the liqueur) = ounces of liqueur to replace priming sugar

When to add it

Creme de cacao should be added along with priming sugar before bottling.

Important notes and watch-outs

Carefully measure the amount of liqueur to prevent over carbonation. Be aware that adding the liqueur will increase the ABV of the finished beer.

Do not use cream-based liqueurs, as they will curdle and separate.

Black Forest Lager recipes (using creme de cacao)

This Black Forest Lager uses creme de cacao to contribute the chocolate part of a Black Forest cake’s signature chocolate and cherry combination.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. black malt
  • 4 oz. dark crystal malt (90° Lovibond)
  • 4 lbs. amber dry malt extract
  • 4 AAU Hallertauer hops (1 oz. of 4% alpha acid)
  • 2 AAU Saaz hops (2/3 oz. of 3% alpha acid)
  • 1 pint starter Munich Lager yeast (White Labs WLP838 or Wyeast 2308)
  • 1/2 cup corn sugar for priming
  • 1 cup dark creme de cocoa
  • 1 cup cherry liqueur

Method:

  1. Steep black and crystal malts in 2.5 gallons of cold water.
  2. Gradually raise heat to 150° F, hold 30 minutes.
  3. Remove grains and rinse them back into the pot with hot water.
  4. Stir in dry malt, bring to boil.
  5. Boil 15 minutes, add Hallertauer hops.
  6. Boil 45 minutes, add Saaz hops.
  7. Boil 15 minutes, remove from heat, cool 15 minutes.
  8. Add to fermenter along with enough chilled, pre-boiled water to make 5.25 gallons.
  9. Cool to 65° F, pitch yeast.
  10. Seal and ferment for two weeks at 65° F, then rack to secondary and age in a cold dark place (45° F) for a month.
  11. Prime with corn sugar, add liqueurs and bottle.
  12. Bottle condition cold (40°F) and dark for two months or more.

Cacao nibs

Cacao nibs are dried, crushed bits of cacao. They can be purchased raw or roasted and have a bitter taste.

Cacao nibs can be added during the mash, in the boil, or during primary or secondary fermentation. The timing of the addition will change the profile of the chocolate. Adding 4 ounces of cacao nibs to 5-gallon batches adds great chocolate flavor.

Cacao nibs are popular with homebrewers because they allow for better control over the finished product. They also like cacao nibs for their pronounced chocolate taste.

How much to add

Many homebrewers begin with 4 ounces of cacao nibs for a 5-gallon batch. This amount is great whether you’re adding it during the mash, the boil, or primary/secondary fermentation.

When to add it

The most popular time to add cacao nibs for many homebrewers is during fermentation in order to extract as much rich chocolate flavor as possible. Adding the chocolate during the mash or boil can emphasize the chocolate’s bitterness.

Important notes and watch-outs

Use a hop spider or a boil bag when working with cacao nibs for easy retrieval. They can be used as a bittering component – just adjust your hops to keep the beer from becoming too bitter.

Cacoa Nibs Stout recipe

This stout recipe produces a very dark beer with just a hint of chocolate. The roasted cacao nibs also lend a coffee flavor and a slight nuttiness.

Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs Dark Malt Extract
  • 1lb Crystal 60 Malt
  • 1/2 Flaked Oats
  • 1/4 Black Malt
  • 1/4 Roasted Barley
  • 1/8 Chocolate Malt
  • 2 lbs Cocoa Nibs
  • 1 oz Fuggles in Boil
  • Wyeast Irish Ale Yeast (2 quart starter)
  • 3/4 cup corn sugar for priming

Method: 

  1. Steep grains for 45 minutes in 160-170°F water. 
  2. Sparge grains with hot water, add malt extract and hops and boil for 1 hour. 
  3. Just before end of boil remove the hops with a strainer and add the cocoa nibs in a grain bag to the wort and turn of heat. 
  4. Let nibs steep for 20 minutes then remove and sparge with cold water. 
  5. Pitch yeast and ferment.

Cocoa powder

Cocoa powder is a finely ground version of cacao nibs – it is pure and unadulterated by sugar or other additives. It’s an easy way to add rich, dark flavors to your beer.

Using 100% cocoa powder during the mash, boil, or primary or secondary fermentation will create a rich, chocolatey flavor in your beer. You can easily experiment with the amount per 5-gallon batch, but many recipes call for 8 ounces of cocoa powder.

How much to add

There is a lot of room to play with cocoa powder and many homebrewers recommend starting with 8 ounces per 5 gallons.

You can adjust the amount to taste without worrying about unwanted bitterness (within reason, of course!). 

When to add it

Cocoa powder can be added during the mash, boil, or primary or secondary fermentation. Adding cocoa powder during the mash or boil makes it easy to leave the resulting dark sludge behind with the mash or at the bottom of your brew kettle. You will have a robust, complex chocolate profile.

If you choose to add it during fermentation, you can mix it with some vodka to ensure it is sanitary. Adding it during fermentation will produce a more mellow chocolate flavor.

Important notes and watch-outs

Make sure to use 100% cocoa powder and not hot cocoa mix or anything that may have additives. 

Chocolate Oatmeal Stout recipe (using cocoa powder)

This Chocolate Oatmeal Stout uses multiple types of chocolate – malt, nibs, and cocoa powder – to layer the complex chocolate flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 6 lb Pale 2 row
  • .5 lb Chocolate Malt
  • .25 lb Roasted Barley
  • 5 oz Crystal 80L
  • .5 lb Flaked Oats
  • .5 lb lactose sugar @ 10 min
  • 2 oz cocoa powder @ 15 min
  • 2 oz cocoa nibs
  • 2.5 oz bourbon
  • .25 oz Nugget @ 60 min
  • .5 oz Willamette @ 30 min
  • Safale US-05, 1 packet, no starter or re-hydration

Method: 

  • Mash at 152℉ for 75 minutes before boiling for 60 minutes. 
  • Add the Nugget to begin and Willamette at 30 minutes. 
  • Sprinkle in cocoa powder at 15 minutes, and the lactose at 10 minutes. 
  • Pitch yeast once the wort has cooled sufficiently. 
  • Meanwhile, soak the cocoa nibs in the bourbon for 4 days before adding them during secondary fermentation.

Chocolate extract

Chocolate extract is an infusion of alcohol and cocoa beans, similar to vanilla extract. The beans are soaked in alcohol and then removed. This is a less popular method for homebrewing since adding cocoa powder or nibs is so easy. 

Chocolate extract can be added during primary or secondary fermentation to taste. Siphon off a small amount of beer and add the extract gradually, tasting for your preference. 

Since it is sterile, it can be used safely during fermentation. In many cases, chocolate extract is a great way to enhance chocolate flavor prior to bottling. 

How much to add

Very few homebrewers will use chocolate extract as their main source of chocolate flavoring in beer. Instead, they’ll use cocoa powder or nibs at whichever stage they prefer, and then use the extract to taste to enhance the flavor. Start with a tablespoon and scale up from there.

When to add it

Add chocolate extract during secondary fermentation for more pronounced chocolate notes. 

Important notes and watch-outs

To prevent stalling or killing your yeast, add the chocolate extract during secondary fermentation, not the primary.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout clone recipe (using chocolate extract)

This Young’s Double Chocolate Stout clone uses both chocolate malt and chocolate extract (hence the “double chocolate”) to create a fairly sweet beer.

Ingredients:

  • 6 lb. 14 oz. (3.1 kg) 2-row pale ale malt
  • 11 oz. (0.31 kg) crystal malt (60 °L)
  • 13 oz. (0.37 kg) chocolate malt
  • 12 oz. (0.34 kg) lactose
  • 8.0 oz. (0.23 kg) invert sugar
  • 4.0 oz. (0.11 kg) cane sugar
  • 6.0 oz. (0.17 kg) cocoa powder
  • 0.33 oz. (9.4 g) liquid chocolate extract
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss (15 mins)
  • 1/8 tsp. yeast nutrients (15 mins) 7 AAU Fuggles hops (60 mins) (1.4 oz./40 g of 5% alpha acids)
  • 1.25 AAU Kent Goldings hops (15 mins) (0.25 oz./7 g of 5% alpha acids)
  • Wyeast 1318 (London Ale III) yeast (1.5 quart/~1.5 L yeast starter)
  • 0.75 cups corn sugar (for priming)

Method:

  1. Heat 10.5 quarts of water to 164°F. 
  2. Stir in crushed grains and mash at 153°F for 60 minutes. 
  3. Collect 4.25 gallons of wort, add 2.25 gallons of water and boil for 90 minutes. 
  4. Add hops at times indicated in ingredient list. 
  5. Add sugars, Irish moss and yeast nutrients with 15 minutes remaining in the boil. 
  6. Dissolve cocoa in hot water and also add with 15 minutes remaining. 
  7. Cool wort, aerate and pitch yeast. 
  8. Ferment at 68°F. 
  9. Add chocolate essence in secondary.

High-percentage cacao chocolate bars

Minimizing the amount of fats and oils in your chocolate is critical for the mouthfeel of your beer as well as head retention.

Using chocolate bars requires more work than cocoa powder or nibs and is not very popular among homebrewers because of the oils. You will need to find a 90% or higher chocolate content for best results.

Add broken-up high-percentage cacao chocolate bars to a vigorous boil in order to melt the chocolate and volatize the oils. You will only need 4-8 ounces per 5 gallons.  

How much to add

Similar to cocoa powder, you can use 4-8 ounces of high-percentage cacao bars for every 5-gallon batch. 

When to add it

In order to melt the chocolate and volatize the oils, add the chocolate bars to a vigorous boil for at least 15 minutes.

Important notes and watch-outs

Make sure to use 90% or greater cacao content chocolate – the higher quality, the better. The oils that hold the bar together can affect head retention if the chocolate is not boiled for long enough. 

Bitter Chocolate Imperial Stout recipe (using high-percentage cocoa bars)

This Imperial Stout recipe employs chocolate malt to lay a chocolate base, but the unsweetened chocolate bar deepens the chocolate flavor without adding any sweetness.

Ingredients:

  • 4 oz. black malt
  • 4 oz. chocolate malt
  • 4 oz. roasted barley
  • 7 lbs. dark dry malt extract
  • 2 oz. unsweetened baker’s chocolate, broken
  • 8 AAU Target hops (1 oz. of 8% alpha acid)
  • 4 AAUs Fuggles hops (1 oz. of 4% alpha acid)
  • 1 pint starter of English ale yeast (White Labs WLP002 or Wyeast 1968)
  • 3/4 cup dry malt extract for priming

Method: 

  1. Steep the black and chocolate malts and the roasted barley in 2.5 gallons of cold water. Gradually raise heat to 150°F, hold 30 minutes. 
  2. Remove grains and rinse them back into the pot with hot water. 
  3. Stir in dry malt and baker’s chocolate, bring to boil. 
  4. Boil 15 minutes, add Target hops. 
  5. Boil 45 minutes, add Fuggles hops. 
  6. Boil 15 minutes, remove from heat, cool 15 minutes. 
  7. Add to fermenter along with enough chilled, pre-boiled water to make 5.25 gallons. 
  8. Cool to 70°F, pitch yeast. 
  9. Seal and ferment for ten days, rack to secondary and age in a cool dark place for a month. Prime with dry malt and bottle. Bottle condition cool and dark for a month or more.

Tips for brewing beer with chocolate

There are so many ways to infuse chocolate flavor into your beer.

For best results: 

  • Use high-quality ingredients at every opportunity
  • Use the purest chocolate you can find
  • Pay attention to timing
  • Experiment to taste

High-quality ingredients

To ensure your beer turns out deliciously chocolatey, use high-quality ingredients from well-respected brands.

Chocolate extracts, for instance, can have a pronounced and unpleasant alcohol flavor if they’re cheap, and that will translate into your beer.

Pure chocolate

Avoid any additives wherever possible.

Using the purest forms of chocolate you can (whether that’s powder, nibs, etc.) gives you greater control over the final product with less risk of additives throwing curveballs. 

Timing

It’s crucial that the chocolate goes into your beer at appropriate times depending on its form.

Adding cocoa powder or nibs during hot stages sterilizes it, but if you add creme de cacao during the mash or boil, you risk tampering with fermentation. 

Experiment

It’s what homebrewers are known for: tinkering with recipes until it’s exactly what they want!

You can ramp up the amount of chocolate you add or tone it down to taste.