We’re at peak chocolate in February, snapping up tens of millions of pounds of the stuff and riding out the month on a sugar high.
Hearts filled with Valrhona have their place on Feb. 14, but so, too, should chocolate beers. Mindful of our enduring sweet tooths, brewers tread many roads to chocolate-dom: cacao nibs, cocoa husks, cocoa powder, added anywhere from the mash (brewing’s first stage) to fermentation.
The result is earthy, inky porters and stouts (mostly), fortifying, cold-weather styles that mesh well with the moody flavors of chocolate and are released seasonally each fall and winter. These beers may make lovers of IPAs wince: Some taste almost like liquid cocoa. Some are sweet, others almost syrupy. Gift-givers might despair that some come in decidedly unromantic cans.
Yet, they provide a viable alternative to sipping wine with chocolate (a practice I’ll never understand). Here’s a cull of what’s out on the shelves now, whittled down from about 10 I tried.
THE CLASSIC CHOCOLATE BEER Breakfast Stout, double-chocolate coffee oatmeal stout from Founders Brewing Co. Whereas some chocolate beers seem to wither under the weight of cocoa, this stout has a bitter backbone that keeps it lively. It still has plenty of weight, though — it’s brewed with multiple chocolates, oats and Kona and Sumatra coffees. It’s pretty easy to find, too. It’s 8.3 percent alcohol, about $10 for a 12-ounce bottle.
A DEEP, DARK CHOCOLATE BEER Choklat Stout from Southern Tier Brewing Co. This creamy beer is like drinking thick, iced hot chocolate, sans the sugar. Fermented with bittersweet Belgian chocolate, it’s billed as a dessert beer but isn’t terribly sweet. It’s 10 percent alcohol, about $18 for four (12-ounce) bottles.
A CHOCOLATE BEER WITH ZESTINESS Against the Cacau from Cervejaria Way (aka Way Beer). Bucking the trend of chocolate-tinged porters and stouts, this brown ale is a collaboration between the Brazilian brewery known as Way Beer and the Louisville brewpub Against the Grain. It’s copper-tinged and creamy, but still bitter enough to bridge Romeo-Juliet romances between hopheads and malt lovers. Pop open the cheerful yellow can, which is decorated with flying tangerine wedges and chocolate segments, for a delicious, juicy, slightly tropical ale laced with the ghost of cocoa. It’s 6.2 percent alcohol, $7 for a 16-ounce can.