How To Brew a Chocolate Stout (Recipes, Water, Mash, Boil, Fermentation)

Look no further if you want to merge your love for chocolate and beer. The chocolate stout style is harmonious with distinct creaminess, bitterness, and sweetness. It’s easy to brew and uses a milk stout base.

Brew a delicious chocolate stout using Cascade or East Kent Golding hops and a medium-high attenuation yeast with high flocculation. You will also need a lightly roasted British pale malt, roasted chocolate malt, crystal malt, and cocoa powder, plus additional hops for bittering. The water should have a pH of 5.2 and a balance of minerals.

Keep reading for in-depth information about brewing the best possible chocolate stout. Follow these guidelines and the included recipe to get started on your own.

What is a chocolate stout?

Before we learn how to brew a chocolate stout, it’s important to know all about the style. Chocolate stouts are chocolatey, bittersweet beers with dark bodies and a silky mouthfeel. They typically fall into one of the stout categories per the BJCP but can also be classified as specialty beers.

Chocolate stouts use large amounts of chocolate malt. Chocolate stouts are commonly brewed with real chocolate and often include cocoa powder, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate pieces in the mash. The most common stout substyle for a chocolate stout is a milk stout.

The chocolate stout gets its flavor from the malts used, where chocolate is the prominent flavor in chocolate malt. The addition of chocolate or cocoa in the recipe complements the chocolate malt flavors and makes it a chocolate beer.

The most recent BJCP style guidelines for chocolate stouts are as follows:

  • Color – Dark brown to black, 22-40 SRM
  • Common flavor – Chocolate, roasty, coffee, cream-like
  • Aroma – Mild coffee, roasted malt, cocoa
  • Mouthfeel – Smooth, medium to full-bodied, oily
  • IBUs (Bitterness) – 20-40
  • ABV – 4-6%

History of the chocolate stout

To understand where chocolate stouts come from, we need to think more broadly about chocolate beer. Which came first – the chocolate or the beer?

Chocolate beer began originally from South America; historians recently discovered that chocolate was originally a byproduct of beer. Around 3,000 years ago, South America’s inhabitants brewed beer by fermenting the pulp from cacao beans, resulting in a chocolate-tasting beer.

So, chocolate beer came before chocolate? Sweet.

As for chocolate stouts, historians are unsure when they came to be. Milk stouts, the popular base style for chocolate stouts because of their silky mouthfeel and residual sweetness, became popular in the 1900s. Mackeson brewery in England brewed the first commercial milk stout in 1907.

Popular commercial chocolate stouts

Here are some popular chocolate stouts for you to try:

  • Samuel Smith Organic Chocolate Stout – Brewed with roasted chocolate malt, organic cane sugar, organic hops, and organic cocoa. Smooth and creamy with rich chocolate notes.  
  • Rogue Chocolate Stout Nitro – Brewed with 2-row, C120, and chocolate malt. Smooth and creamy with bittersweet chocolate flavors.
  • Prairie Artisan Ales Bomb! – Imperial stout with bitter cocoa flavor and rich espresso. Aged on cacao, nibs, vanilla beans, and chili peppers.

How to brew a chocolate stout

Now that we understand chocolate stouts – their characteristics, where they come from, and famous examples – we can dive into how to brew them. I will take you step-by-step through ingredient selection and how to use them in your recipe.

A chocolate stout can take up to 6 weeks to brew. Recipes requiring only one fermentation period without bottle conditioning can take as quickly as 1-2 weeks. The initial brew day will take a few hours.

Recipe and ingredients

Apart from choosing a beer style, choosing the recipe and ingredients are the first steps in brewing a beer.

The following ingredients are the basis for a chocolate milk stout and each section offers variety and versatility:

  • Water profile
  • Base grains
  • Specialty grains or other additions
  • Hops
  • Yeast

This style leaves some room for experimentation.

Water profile

Chocolate stouts mostly use milk stouts as the base for the beer, so it’s best to go with a shape that fits that style. Check out this article for a comprehensive guide to milk stout water profiles.

A good water profile for chocolate milk stouts has a pH of 5.2 and a balanced assortment of minerals. Using RO (reverse osmosis) is the best option for brewing with stouts, allowing you to adjust the water profile by adding specific ingredients.

The water profile is not the end-all-be-all for quality beer. Brewing your beer with it is safe if the water is clean and tastes good.

Base grains

Chocolate stouts are opaque brown to pitch black in appearance. These attributes that make up the style’s distinct profile come from the grains used.

Stouts are made with different roasted grains. Base grains to use in a chocolate stout include lightly roasted British Pale malt, roasted chocolate Malt, and crystal malt. High-quality ingredients impact the beer’s flavor and make a noticeable difference in this style.

The chocolate stout utilizes lightly roasted malts to offer some roasted flavors but maintains sweetness first and foremost. Use roasted chocolate malt at around 250-400ºL (Lovibond) for balanced sweetness.

British Pale malt is generally used in these beers at around 500ºL to add to the style’s sweetness and balance the bitterness from any chocolate additions.

Specialty grains or other additions

Stouts use the same roasted grains for almost every style with minimal deviation. Chocolate stouts, however, use other additions to introduce chocolatey flavors.

Along with the base grains, chocolate stouts include cocoa powder. The cocoa powder enhances the chocolate notes from the roasted grains and adds to the bitterness from the malt and hops used. 

An alternative to adding cocoa powder to the mash is using chocolate extract in primary or secondary fermentation. The extract is potent and using it during fermentation guarantees a strong chocolate bittersweetness.

You can also get away with high-protein grains in a chocolate stout to enhance the silky mouthfeel and opaque appearance. These grains will create a subtly hazy appearance and pillow softness in the beer.

Lactose sugar is another possible chocolate stout ingredient. After fermentation, the residual sugars left in the beer will also lend a hand to the thick mouthfeel and provide more sweetness.

Hops

Chocolate stouts use hops equally for bittering and aroma. Most of the flavor comes from grain ingredients and other adjuncts, but hops play the critical role of balancing the beer’s many flavors.

The best hops for a chocolate milk stout are Cascade and East Kent Golding hops. Cascade is an American hop designed to enhance bitterness, making it a perfect addition to balance the bittersweet chocolate stout flavors. East Kent Goldings provide sweet, earthy notes desired in this style.

Chocolate stouts feature mainly American and British hops. American hops are used mostly for bittering and British hops are mostly for aroma and flavor.

Bittering

Bittering hops are the hops used to provide bitterness in beer. Alpha acids are a chemical compound found in the lupulin glands of hop flowers, which undergo isomerization during brewing to induce bitterness in the beer. Some hop varieties have higher alpha-acid concentrations than others.

Bittering hops are added at the beginning of the boil because the alpha acids take time to break down into the boiling wort. The flavor from these hops is boiled away during the brewing process, categorizing them as bittering hops.

Because bittering hops don’t impart much flavor to the beer, it’s best to use high-quality hop varieties with high alpha acid content to make the bittering process as efficient as possible. Be careful with bittering hops in a chocolate stout though, as too much bitterness can take away from the sweet profile of these beers and too little will result in a cloying brew.

NamePurposeAlpha Acid %
CascadeBittering + Aroma4.5-8.9%
CentennialBittering + Aroma9.5-11.5%
ClusterBittering5.5-8.5%
MagnumBittering12-14%
WarriorBittering15-18%
Aroma and Flavor

Aroma hops are used more for their aroma and flavor rather than their bittering qualities.

Aroma hops are added later in the boil. Their alpha acids don’t have enough time to isomerize and their oils remain in the wort instead of boiling away. The less time they spend in the boil, the more aroma they will impart to the beer.

Chocolate stouts require a careful selection of aroma hops to pair with the rest of their ingredients. Consider reading this article to learn more about which hops go together before picking your chocolate stout ingredients.

It’s common for brewers to use just one hop variety for brewing and add it at the beginning, middle, and end of the boil. The additions help balance flavors and avoid clashing hop profiles. If you’re brewing a chocolate stout on a milk stout base, keep in mind that hop flavor and aroma should not be present in this beer style.

NameFlavor/AromaAlpha Acid %
ColumbiaLemon, vegetal8.8%
East Kent GoldingLavender, spicy, earthy5-6%
FuggleEarthy, woody, herbal2.4-6.1%
WillametteFloral, fruity, spicy4-6%

Yeast

Yeast plays a critical role in brewing chocolate stouts.

Good chocolate stout yeast strains have medium-high attenuation and high flocculation. British ale yeasts are generally acceptable with these stouts, as their fruity sweet esters play nicely with the style’s bittersweet profile.

As for liquid or dry yeast strains, the decision is yours to make. Each has its pros and cons, with dry yeast being easier to store and liquid yeast offering more variety. 

Dry

Here are a few good dry yeast strain options for a chocolate stout.

NameAttenuationFlocculationTemp Range
LalBrew Nottingham77%High50-72°F
Omega Voss Kviek75-82%Medium68-95°F
Safale S-0474-82%High59-68°F
dry yeast strain options for a chocolate stout
Liquid

Here are a few good liquid yeast strain options for a chocolate stout.

NameAttenuationFlocculationTemp Range
Safale US-0578-82%Medium64.4-78.8°F
White Labs California Ale73-85%Medium68-73°F
White Labs English Ale63-70%Very high65-68°F
White Labs Irish Ale69-74%Medium to High65-68°F
liquid yeast strain options for a chocolate stout

Brewing process

One of the most important parts of the brewing process happens before you start; preparing for the brew day and fermentation periods is a critical step.

Consider if you’re using a single infusion or step-mash, the grains you will use, the water profile for your beer, if you will need yeast starter and if you will bottle or keg your beer.

If you’re using prepared malts, you’ll start with the mashing process. If you’re using an extract recipe, you can fast-forward to the boil.

The boil will last for 60-90 minutes and will include hop additions throughout; for a chocolate stout, you’ll likely only use 2-3 hop additions with 60, 30, and possibly 10 minutes remaining. At the end of the brew day, you’ll finish by cooling your wort and pitching your yeast.

Once you pitch the yeast, it’s time for our eukaryotic friends to take charge. Patiently wait for your yeast to ferment the sugars from the wort, and be prepared to move the liquid from primary to secondary fermentation if needed. After fermentation, your beer will either be ready for consumption or set for bottle conditioning.

Mashing

The temperature and duration of your mash depend on the yeast strain you’re using and the starting gravity.

A mash temperature between 148-156°F is perfect. Use a low mash temperature if you have a low starting gravity or low attenuating yeast. Use a higher temperature for high starting gravity and high attenuating yeast.

Higher mash temperatures create more sugars. If your yeast does not attenuate well, it won’t be able to eat all of the sugars and will produce an overly sweet beer. On the other hand, if your yeast attenuates too well, your milk chocolate stout might turn into an imperial style.

Boil

The boil length for a chocolate milk stout is 60 minutes with the most important hop addition at the beginning.

Add your bittering hops at the start of the boil with 60 minutes remaining. This lets you extract bitterness from the hops without any undesired aromas. If you use aroma and flavor hops, add those at the end of the boil with no more than 10 minutes remaining.

The longer the hops boil, the more bitterness they impart to the beer, with less flavor. It’s not uncommon for chocolate stouts to include a majority or all of its hop additions at the beginning of the boil. Some hops, like Willamette, work perfectly with 10 minutes left in the boil to give these beers another layer of flavor.

Whirlpool or flameout

Whirlpool or flameout are two additional times to add hops.

Whirlpool additions are added while the wort is cooling. As this happens, the hops are spun around in a whirlpool motion to impart more of their flavors. Hops added at flameout are left in the wort as it cools to near room temperature.

Whirlpool and flameout hop additions to a chocolate milk stout are unadvised. I don’t recommend doing this unless you know well which hops pair well with each other and other flavors, as it’s not necessary for this beer style, and flavors could clash.

Fermentation

The fermentation for a chocolate stout is pretty standard.

The fermentation period for a chocolate stout should take between 7-10 days. In some cases, it might take more or fewer days for your yeast to finish fermenting. It’s best to keep your fermentation container at a consistent temperature throughout the process.

Some stouts might need additional time for bottle conditioning and can lengthen the total production time to as long as six weeks.

Temperatures

The temperature for fermentation depends on the yeast strain used.

Chocolate stouts use yeast strains where 65-80℉ is optimal for the purpose and health of the yeast. If you prefer your yeast to produce fewer esters, ferment it on the lower side of its temperature range.

Remember: try to keep your fermenter at a singular temperature throughout fermentation.

Bottling or kegging

This is completely up to you and both options are fine. Each method does the job, but bottling offers some unique benefits.

If you’re interested in drinking all of the stout right away, you can either bottle or keg it. If you think you might want to save some of the stout or if you would like to condition or age it, bottles are the better choice.

Example chocolate stout recipe and instructions

Ready to brew your chocolate stout? Here’s a great 5-gallon, all-grain starter recipe for a chocolate milk stout from Northern Brewer, with an extract version alternative. The following recipe and instructions are for the all-grain recipe. The OG gravity is close to 1.049 and the beer’s ready to drink in six weeks.

Ingredients

  • 8 lbs Rahr Pale Ale Malt 
  • 0.75 lbs. Fawcett Pale Chocolate Malt
  • 0.25 lbs. English Extra Dark Crystal 
  • 0.75 lbs. Weyermann Carafa III
  • 1.25 oz. Cluster hops
  • 1 lb Lactose
  • 4 oz. cacao nibs
  • 10 oz. vodka
  • Safale S-04 yeast
  • 5 oz. priming sugar

Method

  1. Sanitize and set up all-grain brewing equipment.
  2. Heat water to 152℉.
  3. Add grains, and maintain 152℉ for 60 minutes.
  4. After 60 minutes, mashout at 170℉ for 10 minutes.
  5. Sparge, collect 6-7 gallons of water for wort.
  6. Begin 60-minute boil, and add 0.75 ounces of Cluster hops and 1 lb. of Lactose.
  7. At 30 minutes remaining, add 0.5 oz. of Cluster hops.
  8. Cool wort to pitching temperature.
  9. Pitch Safale S-04 yeast.
  10. Ferment in primary for 1-2 weeks (Safale S-04 has a temperature range of 64-75℉).
  11. Just before moving to secondary fermentation, soak 4 oz. of cacao nibs overnight in 10 oz. of vodka.
  12. Move to the secondary fermenter for 1-2 weeks, and add cacao nibs.
  13. Once fermentation has finished, prime your beer bottles with priming sugar.
  14. Bottle your beer and let it bottle condition for 2 weeks.
  15. Once bottle conditioning has finished, enjoy your beer!