Chocolate week Chocolate Week

A Taste Test to Find the Best Chocolate Beers

Perfect for a cold, winter day – or as an alternative to red wine on Valentine’s Day – we took measure of these stouts, ales and lagers

Chocolate beer spans a wide spectrum of flavors and varieties. (Flickr user Don LaVange)
smithsonian.com

Peanut butter. Strawberries. Milk. Hazelnuts. Chili peppers. Coconut. Bacon. Marshmallows. Dried crickets. The world, it seems, was made to be eaten with chocolate.

Beer, also, is increasingly being made with chocolate—especially for Valentine’s Day releases. The funny thing is, brewers don’t really need chocolate to make a beer taste like chocolate, since the things they can do with just malt and hops are amazing. With these basic beer ingredients, brewers can create just about every flavor in the spectrum. Many imperial stouts and porters taste remarkably like chocolate even in the absence of added cocoa. Consider Brooklyn Brewery’s Black Chocolate Stout. The 10-percent-alcohol-by-volume beer is intensely fudgy, but there is no chocolate in the recipe. The beer is testament to the art and alchemy of brewing.

On the other hand we have Sexual Chocolate, made every January by Foothills Brewing Company in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Brewer Jamie Bartholomaus, who devised the recipe in college as a homebrewer, steeps 300 pounds of raw organic Peruvian chocolate nibs in a strong imperial stout—but the beer takes away just the faintest essence of cocoa. “Some people knock us, saying we tricked them and didn’t actually use chocolate,” Bartholomaus says. For one reason or another, the beer has developed a strong cult following, and on the February release day, a small stampede of fanatics swarms the brewpub to get their Sexual Chocolate. The bottled supply usually sells out in about three hours.  

Brewers use several means of adding chocolate to their beer. Some use chocolate syrup, others powder, others bars and still others nibs—dried pieces of cacao fruit that look something like coffee beans. So, which chocolate beer is for you? That depends what you like. Some chocolate beers taste very subtly of cocoa, like some unsweetened baker’s chocolate was sprinkled with care into the brew kettle. Others more closely resemble a pureed chocolate brownie. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, when chocolate sales spike, we review eight chocolate beers. 

Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout (Yorkshire, England)

(One of the best options for a chocolate beer. Alastair Bland)

This beer smells like brownies and tastes like liquid chocolate. It goes down thick, smooth and milky, and, although a rich and viscous mouthful, it’s delicious and, at a mild 5 percent ABV, does not exhaust the palate. This is one of the very best chocolate beers in the category, from a historic brewery that knows its craft.  

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