It’s tough to overhype a good chocolate-infused beer. Cacao and malt go together hand-in-glove, making for something that’s certainly chocolaty but not necessarily so rich and decadent that it’s strictly dessert material.
In fact, with the bitterness imposed by a good hop bill and some of the grainy notes that come from other ingredients involved, beers made with chocolate can be as much about other familiar flavors — espresso, toffee, caramel, vanilla — as the brown gold that’s added to the batch.
But don’t let that take away from chocolate’s vital role and proven ability to turn a good stout, porter, or similar style into a phenomenal one. As Valentine’s Day approaches and the nationwide chocolate marketing campaign goes berserk, get your cacao fix by way of a robust sipping beer. You’ll probably find it to be more interesting and maybe even more romantic than tearing into a candy bar or chocolate-covered strawberry.
Now, check out a few chocolate beers that will be worth your time.
Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company has an admirable stout game. This one is big and benefits from the addition of coffee and the smoothness of barrel aging. It’s like rolling out an endless velvet carpet made out of cacao and coffee cake, just for your mouth. It’s also proof that you can dump a bunch of great things into a beer and as long as it’s aged gracefully, the end result will still be balanced (albeit hot at 12.2% alcohol by volume).
Part of the Blackwater Series, this imperial stout by New York’s Southern Tier is worth your tulip glass. It manages to walk the entire chocolate spectrum, from light and bitter baking chocolate to the candied, syrup-laden iteration. All while holding on to its beer-ness and not drowning your palate in utter sweetness.
The Brit’s can do it, too, as this chocolate stout strongly suggests. Again, dessert-like flavors abound alongside traditional beer elements like barley and some more subtle, bread-like yeast notes. You don’t normally think about thirds and fourths when it comes to a pint of good chocolate beer, but Sam Smith’s version will have you at least fantasizing about such selfishness. Most impressively, it comes in at a modest 5% ABV.
A good porter is fair game for a dose of some form of chocolate, too. The most recent installment in the series was made with cacao powder and cardamon, chocolate malt (among two other types), and aged in bourbon barrels. It’s a little reminiscent of some locally famous sweet rolls made down the street (also with cardamon) from Deschutes Brewery at The Sparrow Bakery.
What about white chocolate? While it’s not technically added here, the makeup of the beer has plenty of the milky, vanilla-like qualities of white chocolate. California’s The Bruery deems it a barrel-aged, wheatwine-style ale, with rich flavors of honeycomb along with more exotic notes like coconut. It’s made like an increasing number of good darker beers, with cacao nibs, or cacao bean pieces.
Another in the white chocolate zone, South Carolina’s Legal Remedy serves up a white chocolate stout that comes out blonde in color … a visual that is almost antithetical to the style itself. Rich coffee flavors mix with smooth white chocolate notes (that come from white chocolate natural flavor) for an utterly easy-drinking, yet full stout experience.
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