Fall/Winter Are Chocolate Beer Seasons, and SoChatti Helps Indiana Make Great Chocolate Beers

Fall/Winter Are Chocolate Beer Seasons, and SoChatti Helps Indiana Make Great Chocolate Beers

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Yes, we are in the heart of pumpkin beer season, and I guess we have been ever since July, but Autumn is also a time to make richer beers with other flavors as well. Chocolate is a classic food, but it makes good beers too, with both chocolate bomb and subtle, roasty examples.

Some people scoff at the idea of a chocolate beer, but here’s a few reasons why they shouldn’t. One, chocolate is a very complex substance that has the earthiness of several different things we already like in beer (malts and hops), and it adds to the complexity of beer. Two, there are myriad ways to control and refine chocolate flavor in beer, from dark roastiness to sweet candy-bar notes, so decrying a chocolate beer as just a chocolate beer is like saying all hops are the same.

And three, the history of chocolate beer is as old as beer itself, so it’s not a fad at all. It seems that pre-Columbian Mesoamericans fermented cacao fruits to make a form of beer called chicha (usually made with corn but other things were used, including chocolate). What’s more, modern chocolate making starts by fermenting the fruit and seed, so it is likely that without chocolate beer, we wouldn’t have chocolate foods at all!

It takes 400 cacao beans and therefore 400 nibs to make a pound of chocolate. That makes nibs for chocolate pretty expensive. image credit: More Beer

As to the complexity of flavor and body that chocolate can add to beer, it is worth noting that chocolate malt is really just named for the color the malt takes on during roasting, but there are definite chemicals that come out during the roasting that can remind one of chocolate. The timing of chocolate use in beer can affect flavor and body as well. Using chocolate in the mashing-in process tends to give more subtle notes and earthiness. Using it in the boil makes it roastier, while using it in the fermenter can bring out stronger chocolate flavor.

Finally, not all chocolate in beer is the same, either in form or flavor. Different forms of chocolate used include cocoa powder, cacao nibs (the part we make food chocolate from), chocolate foods, or even the chaff produced as cacao is transformed from fruits and seeds to nibs (definitions. Cacao = fermented, unroasted cacao product. Cocoa, fermented and roasted cacao. Chocolate = cocoa in solid or liquid (not powder) form.) As to flavors, chocolate has a terroir (it takes on the characteristics of it was grown). Using chocolate from different regions will definitely add different flavors.

And it is in regard to these last two items, form and flavor, that Indiana has a distinct advantage over other states in producing chocolate beers. That’s because we’re the home of SoChatti Chocolate in Indianapolis, a resource for both chocolate lovers and brewers. Opened in 20xx in the CCIC in Indy (the same building that houses Centerpoint Brewing, New Day Craft, 8th Day Distillery, and the Fowling Warehouse), Sochatti is revolutionizing chocolate production, and in the process, is giving us some great chocolate products to make beers with.

In terms of flavors, Sochatti sources their cacao from single farms in individual countries, so the chocolate flavors are distinct. Tanzanian chocolate is the most popular for beer, with distinct blueberry flavor notes. Peruvian chocolate tastes of red berries, Trinidadian having a more vanilla and honey feel, and Honduran being the boldest and earthiest. Each makes a very different beer, especially if you experiment with when to add it.

image credit: SoChatti Chocolate

As far as the form of the chocolate, Indiana breweries are loving the product and the price. SoChatti has tons (literally) of “chaff” left over from the chocolate production process. Chaff is made up of the shell, and other cacao bi-products from when the nibs are collected. It is aromatic, even more aromatic than cacao nibs themselves, and contains less oil and fat than the nibs. Even better, it’s cheap, a better value by volume, and is versatile.

At SoChatti, chaff is sold for $3 a pound, while nibs average a cost of nibs is $20/lb/ or $6/4 ounces – that’s a deal. Plus since chaff is lighter than nibs and more packed with the things that make beer excellent, it’s even a better deal. So far, the feedback that SoChatti has received from Indiana breweries has been that chaff works well in the whirlpool, but I think people have barely scratched the surface of how chaff can be used.

Chilly Water has made their very popular SocChatti Porter with the chaff, and Four Day Ray has used it in their coffee blonde. Guggman Haus has gone the biggest so far, brewing n imperial chocolate stout with the chaff. I talked to Dan Kryzwicki at Chilly Water about the chaff and he said, “SoChatti approached me about utilizing their byproduct: the husks of the cacao bean.  These cacao chaffs have a multitude of uses and have even been used as landscaping mulch.  They are highly aromatic and are easy to use in the brewing process.  I was very happy with the result and will be collaborating with SoChatti again!”

Try the Coffee Blonde at Four Day Ray even if you’ve had it before. The newer version is souped up on the chocolate using SoChatti chaff to smooth out the coffee. image credit: Untappd

Brian Graham, owner of Four Day Ray Brewing in Fishers, started using the SoChatti chaff in this year’s seasonal coffee blonde ale variant of their blonde ale. He said, “We had previously relied on the coffee from our partners at Indie Coffee Roasters to convey a chocolate flavor and aroma as a complement to the citrus notes of the blonde ale. However, the chaff has such great aroma and flavor and is so cost effective that we decided to enhance the chocolate essence in the beer and give it more complexity.” He added, “The single source cacao makes the chaff superior to common nibs in aroma and taste and the chaff is just as easy or easier to use as nibs. We love using it.”

If you’re a craft beer fan, you should be looking for more local chocolate beers and start comparing them to regional and national chocolate beers. What’s more, start discussions in the breweries to see what they are using in their chocolate beer to make it chocolatey = nibs, cocoa powder, cacao chaff, or something else.

If you’re a brewery, you should be talking to Matt or Robert at SoChatti Chocolate about their chaff and other products to help you brew more flavorful beer. You could meet them out at just about every Indiana On Tap festival in 2022, but you really shouldn’t wait that long. SoChatti can help you with make better beer, cheaper. Because after all, money talks, but chocolate sings.

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