If you’re brewing a beer to evoke a culinary experience like eating a piece of key lime pie or German chocolate cake, choosing the right ingredients and treating them correctly can be the difference between a balanced and nuanced beer, and one that’s disjointed and unsatisfying. Here’s a quick primer on ingredient selection and use—based on our experience—that will help you make the right choices for your beer.
The single most important thing you can do when procuring cacao to add you’re your beer is to source it locally. Think of cacao like coffee—the fresher the better—so your best possible source is a local chocolatier who roasts their own beans. Cacao doesn’t degrade as fast as coffee does, but if you get it fresh, you can use the husks as well as the nibs and they’ll impart an additional richer flavor. Locally roasted cacao isn’t available to everyone, and if you’re ordering it or buying from your local homebrew shop, look for Tcho cacao nibs. Shops or breweries can order them from BSG, and they’re a high quality product at an affordable price. Of the two varieties they offer, Ecuadoran is dark fruit-forward, while Ghanaian is more earthy. We stick with Ghanaian for the more traditional quintessential chocolate flavor. Your choice should depend on the your flavor target—for softer and fruitier beers, stick with South American. For earthy and spicier cacao character, stick with African.
Another thing to consider with cacao is the potential for infection. Find a provider that packages them in a sanitary way after roasting—the heat of roasting will kill microbes, and the quicker you can get it in a sealed environment after roasting, the lower your chance of picking up unwanted microbes. We’ve had no issues at all with Tcho’s packaged cacao nibs.