“It’s by far our best selling seasonal,” says Doug Smith, production supervisor at Fort Collins Brewing in Colorado, of their Double Chocolate Stout. “It is a phenomenal beer, but when you put the word ‘chocolate’ on the label it makes it just jump off the shelf.”
Fort Collins has been making its Double Chocolate Stout for four years. While the beer was originally meant to be a winter seasonal, they sell it for about six months of the year. They use a significant amount of chocolate malt in the grain bill, adding Dutch processed cocoa along the way.
“We’re not looking for any sugar. We’re looking for a high cocoa content and high fat content, which serves as a nutrient for the yeast,” Smith says. “Sugar will give you either a wine or sour character. We are going for a rounded mouthfeel.”
At Southern Tier Brewing in upstate New York, head brewer Paul Cain uses chocolate in two of the brewery’s Blackwater Series of high gravity stouts.
“We’ve never brewed a normal gravity stout,” says Cain. “We add chocolate to our imperial stout at the end of the boil when you would typically add the aroma hops.”
Cain makes two stouts, Choklat and Mohka, which are blended with coffee. Southern Tier uses a custom-made Belgian chocolate, but has a confidentiality agreement in place so it does not discuss the maker or what state the cocoa is in when it arrives at the brewery.
“Our Imperial Choklat Stout is the most popular of the Blackwater Series,” Cain says. “It ferments for about a month. We have to be sure the yeast is healthy and viable, but that is pretty typical when you are making a high gravity beer. Choklat ends up being 11 percent ABV.”
While nearly all of the chocolate beers on the market tend to be stouts, there is a fairly wide range to the weights and flavor profiles. Stout makes a logical choice for the base since it has the dark qualities we associate the most with quality chocolate. But brewers have taken flavors into their own hands. Bison Organic Chocolate Stout from California takes a straightforward approach, with chocolate notes dancing subtly throughout. While Viking Hot Chocolate is a winter seasonal stout that is brewed in Wisconsin with Fair Trade organic cocoa and cayenne pepper.
With the wide range of flavors, which mirror the breadth of chocolate styles, there just might be a chocolate beer that meets almost every beer drinker’s taste. That means your next beer might just be something the Aztecs would recognize.