Homebrewing with Cacao Nibs

Over the past decade or so, both homebrewing and craft chocolate have become wildly popular. So it was only a matter of time before these two trends got together. Today, major brewers including Dogfish Head, The Bruery, Stone, , and Samuel Adams have all experimented with adding chocolate to their beers.

Chocolate can be incorporated into beer in a number of forms, from cocoa powder, chocolate couverture, cacao nibs (crushed pieces of cacao beans), or some combination of the lot! Many brewers prefer nibs because their flavor, and aroma blend seamlessly with beer and they can increase a beer’s mouthfeel. They contain less of the fats and oils found in chocolate bars or powders, which can mess with the beer’s head retention and shelf life.  

Looking to add some chocolatey flavor to your own home brews? Keep the following tips in mind during your experimentations with chocolate libations. 

Tips for Homebrewing with Nibs

Know that a little goes a long way.

No matter whether it’s added to baked goods or beer, chocolate boasts bold flavor. That means it’s not a good idea to dump a bucketful of nibs into your mash and hope for the best. Instead, ease into it so you can capture a subtle, chocolatey flavor without overwhelming all the other flavor notes. Generally, for a lighter but noticeable flavor, we recommend about 4 to 8oz. of cacao nibs per barrel.  For a bolder, more distinct chocolatey flavor, we recommend about 12 to 16oz. per barrel.

Pair your flavors thoughtfully.

Not every beer will pair well with chocolate, so think carefully before adding nibs to any brew. Chocolate tends to function much like chocolate malt, black patent malt, or roasted barley, so adding nibs to a brew that might normally include one of these ingredients is probably a safe bet (like porters and stouts. But we’ve tried some amazing lighter bodied beers with chocolate that can be a tasty surprise, too!). Chocolate can also pair well with a host of flavorings including honey, fruit, hazelnut, malt, vanilla, coffee, and spices such as chili powder, star anise, or cinnamon.

Timing is key depending on the desired end result.

A sound way to introduce nibs into a brew is by incorporating them into a secondary fermenter or keg for approximately two weeks during maturation. This will give the beer a chance to absorb the cacao nibs’ aromas and flavors for a mellow, well-rounded end product. Alternatively, you could add them as early as the mash or boil—just be aware that this can up the bitterness quotient, so use a smaller amount if starting here. You can also add the nibs right before the whirlpool stage for a bitterness and chocolatey level somewhere in between. But if you’re gunning for a smooth finish, adding them during the secondary is probably best.

When pairing malts and chocolate, aim for balance.

If you decide to add chocolate to a brew that also contains dark malts, don’t just add cacao nibs to the regular recipe and call it a day. Instead, plan to remove as much dark malt as you add cacao nibs to help maintain a balanced flavor.

Be willing to experiment.

As with any brewing adventure, it can take some time to decide on your preferred ways of using cacao nibs in beer. Give yourself time and space to experiment with quantities, when you add the nibs, and flavor combinations. In the process, you’ll have fun, enhance your brewing skills, and ultimately enjoy a seriously tasty brew. Cheers!