Ask the Alchemist #87


I am an avid home brewer. I am about to brew a chocolate porter and want to you cocoa nibs. Can you give me advice on what techniques to use?

Disclaimer: This is going to be aimed at home brewers and not really chocolate makers at all. With that, there may be a bit of home brew speak going on that I’m not going to explain for the non-brewer. Google is your friend and you are never too old to learn something new.

I am an avid home brewer also. I have a smoked chocolate pumpkin Imperial stout in the works. What I did is add 1 lb of dark roasted (a new blend I’m working on) Brewing cocoa into the mash. I treated it as I would any other moderately flavored specialty malt. But I came by that number by taste testing different levels of infusions of nibs and brewing cocoa. My thought process was that if the resulting infusion did not have substantial enough character in just plain water, how could I expect it to contribute in any meaningful way to an complex grain bill.

While I was in the homebrew shop getting my grains, I noticed little 2 oz bags of ‘cacao nibs’. These were in the same section as the spices. Unfortunately cocoa nibs are not spices and don’t extract the same way. Take a tablespoon of cinnamon or coriander and put it into a quart of boiling water. The result will be a nicely perfumed quart of spice. It’s there. You can smell it and taste it. Do the same thing with cocoa nibs….and you get nothing. Do it with 10 tablespoons of cocoa nibs and you get tinted water. Trying to treat nibs as spices just does not work. They are water insoluble. They are 50% oil and that ‘oil and water don’t mix’ thing is fighting you the entire way. And even if you grind them up, it’s basically the same.

That said, LOTS of brewers that I sell to put nibs into the secondary. Generally I roast pretty heavy for them. And they add a bit. On average, between 50-100 lbs per 5 barrel batch. At 150 gallons per batch, that is between 5 and 10 ounces per gallon, or 1.5-3.0 lbs per 5 gallon batch (the home brewer average). That is WAY higher than those 2 oz ‘spice’ packs. And they usually set for 4-8 weeks in the brew. And I’ll be honest. It does not contribute a huge amount. Some, sure, but certainly not ‘wow, that’s chocolate milk’ flavor. It’s more subtle.

But there are other options. And it’s basically a variation of a problem that has already been sussed out. That answer is Brewing cocoa. And the question is ‘how do you water extract cocoa?’. You roast cocoa beans a bit heavier, grind them husk and all pretty fine (1000 fold increase in surface area after all), and use proportionally, a LOT!. 4 T per 8 oz of water is my recommended dose, based purely on taste tests. Scaling that up to gallons, you are talking about one pound of brewing cocoa per 5 gallon batch. Interestingly very close to what you would use for a crystal or brown malt.

So that is what I added and what I would recommend as a starting point. 16 oz of dark roasted brewing cocoa into the mash for 5 gallons. The result has some chocolate character. And personally, I think 1.5 lbs or even 2 lbs would not be too much. I’m thinking that a good test would be a nice chocolate ESB to really test the contribution of the cocoa.

One final note. Even fully roasted, when I tried adding brewing cocoa to some finished ale as you would do in a secondary I ended up with contamination. So cold side addition is not something I would recommend.

Relax. Don’t worry. Have a chocolate homebrew!

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