Choose your ingredients so each one contributes to the overall effect. For a smooth, chocolaty mild ale, start with the mild ale malt I just mentioned, where it gives a round richness, similar to the sweet component of the chocolate flavor. Add to that some amber/biscuit malt, also a traditional component of such beers, for a toasty mocha flavor, sort of the mid-range of the chocolate taste. Top it off with a small amount of smooth, roasty black malt, which evokes the sharp roastiness of bittersweet chocolate.
The character of the hops plays into this as well. I would use Northern brewer, which to my taste has a certain chocolaty bitterness. Further, I would choose a yeast that accentuates the sweetness of malt, such as the Fuller’s strain. Layered. Luscious.
Boost the body.
A little more body and sweetness can make a beer drink bigger than it really is. During World War I, the British were very interested in Belgian witbier brewing techniques, which at the time were turning out palatable beers with a gravity of around 1025. The Belgians did this by mashing in, then draining off all the enzyme-rich liquid. They then boiled the liquid, which destroyed the enzymes but preferentially left alpha amylase, which would produce a poorly fermentable wort. The resulting beer was somewhat sweet.
There are a number of other, saner techniques for doing this. Mashing at higher temperatures—155 degrees F instead of 150 degrees F—is one. Crystal malt is a proven body-booster. The judicious use of a little lactose can enrich a beer. Adjuncts such as oats, wheat, or rye contain proteins and gummy carbohydrates that can enhance body and head retention. Salt in small quantities (1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon per 5 gallons) will add a sense of palate fullness, a trick used by brewers of gose beer, a light brew from eastern Germany. Many old brewing books make the same claim for coriander, and indeed this spice does find its way into several very light styles.
Develop extra flavor from processes.
Brewer/Owner Chuck Skypeck of Bosco’s in Memphis has an unusual touch for his house blonde beer—it’s a stone-brewed beer. Hot glowing rocks are added to the brew kettle, where they hiss, fume, and generally wreak havoc. The resulting caramelization adds a really lovely layer of caramel to an already well-brewed beer. Small wonder that this is Bosco’s most popular beer.
You can achieve a similar effect without all the drama by cooking a small amount of wort or extract in your kettle until it is boiled down to just the sugars and other solids, where after a while it will begin to caramelize and darken. An old commercial brewing trick is to light the fire under the kettle before running in the wort, which will produce a similar effect when the wort finally hits hot copper. This probably won’t work in a home brewery, due to the small thermal mass of the typical homebrew kettle.
Spices and herbs have a place.
They’re not for everybody, or for every beer, but let’s not forget that the hallowed hop is an herb like all the others. Coriander, orange peel, grains of paradise, ginger, and other spices have long been used to give beers an extra depth. Most of the old recipes call for smaller quantities (surprise!) than your typical homebrewed holiday beer, so the effect must have been subtle. In most of the really elegant spiced beers, the spices just add a little extra dimension, one more layer of flavor between the malt and hops. And some spices–black pepper, for example–can help to enhance the perceptions of other flavors, exactly the same purpose they serve in cuisine.
Pay attention to condition.
Fortunately, fining and filtration are seldom necessary in homebrewing, so the concern about stripping the life from our beers this way isn’t an issue. Nonetheless, it’s especially important that the lighter sort of beers be carbonated appropriately for the style, then served with a perfect layer of foam, in the correct glassware at an ideal temperature. All of these qualities will vary with the style of beer, so dig out your Michael Jackson and get cracking. Another pint beckons!