What is a Chocolate Stout? (Flavor, Ingredients, and Recommendations)

The chocolate stout beer style has been around for some hundred years. It combines two of humanity’s favorite things: chocolate and beer. How can the two go so well together, and what exactly is a chocolate stout?

A chocolate stout is a stout brewed with chocolate. The main ingredient is chocolate, and most chocolate stouts use cacao nibs, cocoa powder, dark chocolate or a combination of the three. These stouts are also brewed with chocolate malt alongside roasted barley and other aromatic specialty grains to achieve a brown-to-black opaque appearance. 

For an in-depth analysis of chocolate stouts, their history, flavors, aromas, and more, continue reading. We’ll also cover common questions about chocolate stouts and some of the most popular ones from this year.

The chocolate stout beer style – a comprehensive look

Chocolate beers can deter some, and adding chocolate to beer can feel like a step away from “real” beer. This is a safe place, though, and chocolate stouts get a warm welcome from us. Where did the style come from, and what do chocolate stouts really taste like?

Chocolate stouts likely came from England where stouts were first brewed. The origin of chocolate stouts is assumed to have come shortly after. These beers have a rich chocolate taste and aromas with silky mouthfeels. The chocolate stout is made using varying base styles, including milk, American, and oatmeal stouts.

When we look at the chocolate stout beer style, we see many breweries creating renditions of the style year after year. It’s a growing trend with more brewers backing it than ever before. Later in the article, we’ll take a look at some of the most recommended chocolate stouts.

History

The broader category of chocolate beer preceded chocolate stouts, first introduced in the 1900s. 

Chocolate stouts were likely introduced in the early 1900s when Mackeson Brewery made the first commercial milk stout, the milk-sugar base style for most chocolate stouts. Stouts originated in the United Kingdom in 1817 when Daniel Wheeler invented the roasting kiln and applied roasted malt to beer recipes. 

Unfortunately, we don’t know who brewed the first official chocolate stout, but because stouts inherently contain notes of chocolate, it was common for stout recipes to include chocolate.

Flavor

Chocolate stouts use milk stouts as a base style. The milk sugar, or lactose, creates a silky mouthfeel, and the lactose makes this style sweeter than other stouts.

Chocolate stouts are sweet with prominent notes of chocolate. They have subtle notes of coffee and caramel with minimal hop flavor. They are less bitter and dry than American or Irish dry stouts. The lactose used to brew chocolate stouts is unfermentable, enhancing the beer’s sweetness with residual sugars.

Aroma

Chocolate stouts have notes of roasted malt with minimal hop presence. The beer’s characteristics come from two main ingredients. Since it actually contains the ingredient, do chocolate stouts smell like chocolate?

Chocolate stouts have a roasted aroma with hints of bittersweet chocolate. The scent is sweet from the lactose used to brew, which remains in the final product. Chocolate stouts are brewed with cacao nibs, giving this style a chocolatey aroma.

Overall, chocolate stouts have a bittersweet chocolate aroma.

Mouthfeel

Chocolate stouts have a distinct silky mouthfeel. Lactose gives beers an extra thickness and is the main ingredient in milk stouts. Unfermentable sugars remain in the final product to balance the bitterness from the malt, hops, and chocolate used.

The smooth and thick mouthfeel is what milk stouts and, consequently, most chocolate stouts are known for.

Common questions about chocolate stouts

Chocolate stouts vary depending on the recipe. They rely on other official stout styles as the base of the beer. A chocolate milk stout, for example, will be sweeter and softer than an oatmeal chocolate stout.

The amount of chocolate used to brew the stout will determine the beer’s bitterness and sweetness. Different yeast strains fermented at varying temperatures also play a role in the profile. Stouts brewed with lactose will have a fuller body and more incredible sweetness, and even the type of chocolate used will affect flavor.

Everything from the hops, yeast, and grains used to brew the stout will impact flavor. The consistent ingredient in chocolate stouts is chocolate, added in the form of cacao nibs and cocoa powder.

Do chocolate stouts actually have chocolate?

What makes it a chocolate stout? What types of chocolate do chocolate stouts use?

Yes, chocolate stouts have chocolate in them. Cacao nibs and cocoa powder are common ingredients in chocolate stouts.

Chocolate stout recipes use these ingredients during primary or secondary fermentation.

Are chocolate stouts sweet?

Chocolate stouts combine the bitterness and sweetness of chocolate to create a balanced and delicious beer.

Chocolate stouts are sweet. Because of their design, they can afford to be sweet but not cloying.

Ingredients like yeast, roasted malt, and bitterness help to balance the sweetness and make it more approachable.

Are chocolate stouts bitter?

Chocolate stouts have a slight bitterness but aren’t as bitter as an American imperial stout.

Chocolate stouts get their bitterness from the hops, malt, and chocolate used. Chocolate – cacao nibs especially – contains a slight bitterness which lends to the overall profile of the beer. At the same time, the chocolate addition adds to the beer’s sweetness.

Is Guinness a chocolate stout?

Guinness is one of the most popular beers in the world. Is it a chocolate stout?

Guinness is not a chocolate stout. Chocolate stouts use chocolate, but Guinness uses yeast, barley, hops, and water.

Because there is no chocolate in Guinness, it is not a chocolate stout.

Does chocolate stout have caffeine in it?

Chocolate stouts often contain cacao nibs in the ingredient list. Does this mean they have caffeine?

Stouts brewed with cacao nibs contain small amounts of caffeine. You won’t experience caffeine side effects from a chocolate stout, but there are trace amounts of it in beers brewed with cacao nibs or other caffeinated ingredients.

For more information on stouts and caffeine, read this article.

The best chocolate stouts to try in 2022

Chocolate stouts are popular year-round, especially in the winter months. As 2022 comes to a close and more breweries release seasonals in the style, let’s look at some of the most popular ones from this year.

Here is a list of the most recommended chocolate stouts:

  • Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout
  • Rogue Chocolate Stout Nitro
  • Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
  • Arboretum Trail Sweet 2 Cosmic Death
  • Angry Chair Geiger’s Imperial Salted Chocolate Sweet Stout
  • Harpoon Chocolate Stout
  • Stone Xocoveza
  • 4 Hands Chocolate Milk Stout
  • Oakshire Heart-Shaped Box
  • Sand Creek Oscar’s Chocolate Oatmeal Stout
  • Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout

  • Brand: Samuel Smith
  • From: Tadcaster, North Yorkshire England
  • ABV: 5%
  • IBU: 28
  • Featured Hops: N/A
  • Taste: Made with lightly roasted organic chocolate malt, organic cocoa, and cane sugar. Smooth and creamy with rich notes of chocolate.

Rogue Chocolate Stout Nitro

  • Brand: Rogue Ales
  • From: Newport, Oregon
  • ABV: 5.8% 
  • IBU: 69
  • Featured Hops: Cascade 
  • Taste: A perfectly balanced beer with equal parts maltiness, bitterness, and sweetness with a prominent chocolate flavor. It uses Pacman yeast and chocolate additions. It is made with 2-Row, C120, Chocolate and Munich malt, roasted barley, and rolled oats.

Young’s Double Chocolate Stout

  • Brand: Eagle Brewery
  • From: Bedford, England
  • ABV: 5.2%
  • IBU: 25
  • Featured Hops: Challenger
  • Taste: Brewed with oats and dark chocolate, this beer features an especially rich taste of chocolate and roasted barley. Chocolate notes are prominent with sweetness exceeding bitterness. 

Arboretum Trail Sweet 2 Cosmic Death

  • Brand: Arboretum Trail
  • From: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • ABV: 8.9%
  • IBU: N/A
  • Featured Hops: N/A
  • Taste: Imperial Milk Stout brewed with American 2-row, light and dark wheat, and other specialty grains. Lactose sugar and Madagascar vanilla bolster the smooth mouthfeel and sweetness.

Angry Chair Geiger’s Imperial Salted Chocolate Sweet Stout

  • Brand: Angry Chair
  • From: Tampa, Florida
  • ABV: 10%
  • IBU: N/A
  • Featured Hops: N/A
  • Taste: Potent chocolate notes and assertive bitterness. Mild astringency with layers of flavor from the salt and chocolate additions. Milk stout base with lactose to thicken the mouthfeel.

Harpoon Chocolate Stout

  • Brand: Harpoon Brewery
  • From: Boston, Massachusetts
  • ABV: 5.9%
  • IBU: 35
  • Featured Hops: N/A
  • Taste: Brewed with loads of chocolate malt and some chocolate. Dark malts roasted or kilned to provide heightened chocolate flavor. Rich chocolate flavor with a smooth mouthfeel, brewed with an American stout base.

Stone Xocoveza

  • Brand: Stone
  • From: Escondido, California
  • ABV: 8.1%
  • IBU: 50
  • Featured Hops: English Challenger, East Kent Golding
  • Taste: Mocha stout brewed with Mexican hot chocolate. Prominent notes of cocoa and cinnamon. Contains coffee, pasilla peppers, and vanilla. Layers of flavor with a full body and light bitterness.

4 Hands Chocolate Milk Stout

  • Brand: 4 Hands Brewing Company
  • From: St. Louis, Missouri
  • ABV: 5.5%
  • IBU: N/A
  • Featured Hops: N/A
  • Taste: Potent flavor and aroma of baker’s chocolate, roasted barley, and chocolate malts. Rich and smooth mouthfeel from lactose sugars and high residual sweetness. Made with cacao nibs.

Oakshire Heart-Shaped Box

  • Brand: Oakshire Brewing 
  • From: Eugene, Oregon
  • ABV: 14%
  • IBU: N/A
  • Featured Hops: N/A
  • Taste: Aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels with rich flavors of raspberry, vanilla, and chocolate and brewed with cacao nibs and Guatemalan coffee. 

Sand Creek Oscar’s Chocolate Oatmeal Stout

  • Brand: Sand Creek Brewing Company
  • From: Black River Falls, Wisconsin
  • ABV: 5.6%
  • IBU: 30
  • Featured Hops: N/A
  • Taste: A full-bodied oatmeal stout brewed with dark chocolate and roasted coffee. Layered flavors with sharp bitterness and sweetness.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

  • Brand: Brooklyn Brewery
  • From: Brooklyn, New York
  • ABV: 10%
  • IBU: 51
  • Featured Hops: unknown
  • Taste: Approachable Russian imperial stout made with roasted malt and dark chocolate. Hints of bitter espresso with a smooth mouthfeel. Pitch black in color.