Beer Nuts

Brewers Make Beers Irresistible With a Kiss of Chocolate

By JEFF LINKOUS | Feb 07, 2018

Around the start of the year, I read a completely horrifying headline online: climate change bearing down on the fragile cocoa plant; chocolate possibly gone by 2050; scientists looking for solutions …

Let’s hope they are. Because, egad, that would be truly cataclysmic. A world without chocolate? Shudder to think it. You can’t bury your head in the sand in the face of such news, but you could in a pint of Häagen-Daz or Ben and Jerry’s. Chocolate, of course.

Better yet, get buried in a pint of beer: a chocolate cherry porter, cocoa and chili pepper stout; a chocolate peanut porter … the list of potential pints is long. Search the BeerAdvocate website using the word “chocolate” and you’ll see.

That’s because chocolate’s a big part of craft beer and brewing, bringing a special depth that only things cocoa can. Not to mention the hypnotic mystique of chocolate. How often do you say “no” to chocolate? Perhaps never, and if you’re a craft beer enthusiast, things shouldn’t be much different.

You’ll certainly have the opportunity to answer that question yourself when Chocolate Week, Feb. 11-18, arrives. Our three local breweries, Pinelands Brewing (Little Egg Harbor Township), Ship Bottom Brewery (Bay Village in Beach Haven) and ManaFirkin Brewing (Stafford) all have something chocolate up their sleeves. More on that in a few. Right now, some context ...

Seriously, chocolate in beer? Yes. But wait; it’s not so straightforward. Chocolate in beer, typically in dark beers such as stouts and porters, can be both an actuality and a misnomer. Quite often, the word “chocolate” in a beer name refers to a specialty grain – chocolate malt (a little on the nose, huh?) – used to brew the beer.

Chocolate malt is more about deepening a beer’s color and imparting some subtle chocolate-like or coffee-like flavors. But it’s not actually chocolate; it’s a kilned, malted barley.

Cocoa powder and cocoa nibs, however, are a different story, and it’s not uncommon to find those adjuncts used in tandem with chocolate malt (the barley) to create that rich, satisfying, even dessert-like drinking experience that a decadent chocolate beer can be. (Even milk chocolate is fair game, though the butter fat in it means the beer won’t form a head of foam.)

All of that is just about chocolate/cocoa put in the beer. There’s more: A pint of imperial stout, or a big malty, fruity-tasting Belgian quad, pairs well with a seductive devil’s food cake, for instance.

“We use chocolate in a lot of our beers,” said Rob Zarko, owner of Ship Bottom Brewery, “liquid cacao in Barnacle Bottom Stout, Mexican chocolate in the Mexican stout. Chocolate really adds another dimension and complexity to the beer.”

For Chocolate Week, Ship Bottom hopes to entice with, among other offerings, a cask of Baltic porter tricked out with chocolate and burnt orange peel.

“Entice” is an apt word when talking about chocolate. “Tempt” may be a better one. Chocolate has a potent allure, for beer newbies and pint-tested pros alike, agrees Todd Hunt, a co-owner of ManaFirkin Brewing. ManaFirkin will feature a chocolate cherry porter during Chocolate Week.

“A lot of beers like that pull people in,” Hunt said. “People will say, ‘I’ll try that.’”

At Pinelands Brewing, the ale-maker’s flagship vanilla porter is going Neapolitan for Chocolate Week, with the addition of cocoa nibs and strawberry. Backing that up will be an imperial version of Pinelands’ milk stout finished with cocoa nibs, plus an experimental chocolate-dosed Swamp Donkey IPA.

“We have no idea what’s going to happen,” brewer Corey Nickerson said of the IPA, “but there’s one way to find out.”

Dark beers such as porters and stouts readily welcome it as an ingredient; Belgian quad ales pair nicely with devil’s food cake, truffles or a creamy chocolate cheesecake or fudge.

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