Homebrewing an Adjunct Stout

Brewing a great stout with coffee, chocolate, and other adjunct ingredients requires recipe tweaks beyond just the ingredients you add.

Neil Fisher Aug 3, 2016 - 10 min read

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Lately, I have found myself pining for the rich, flavorful complexity and unique nuances of adjunct stouts. There are plenty of dissenting opinions about the use—and potential overuse—of adjuncts in modern iterations of stouts. However, when used in the right context, adjuncts can complement, and even enhance, the complexity of the base beer to offer a truly unique experience. In addition, as a homebrewer, I find brewing with adjuncts is usually easier and more feasible than it is for commercial brewers, given the cost and process concerns associated with certain ingredients. So brewing with adjuncts offers homebrewers another option for crafting beers that are truly different from their commercially brewed counterparts.

Recipe Design

When you brew any specialty beer, you can either design the recipe around the specialty ingredient, or you can select the ingredient to complement the base beer. Regardless of the approach you take, balance and intentionality are essential when brewing with unique ingredients. As both a homebrewer and a pro brewer, I have had the most success by selecting the specialty ingredient or adjunct I want to feature first and then crafting the recipe around the ingredient.

There are nearly a limitless number of options when selecting special ingredients to add to a stout. For a quick reference, consider any decadent, mouth-watering dessert, and the ingredients used will work in a stout. Coffee, chocolate, vanilla, maple syrup, coconut, hazelnut, cinnamon, peppers, mint, and peanut butter are just a few of the more popular selections, but the possibilities are endless, not to mention the infinite combinations of multiple adjuncts—some of which work well together and others of which do not. Once again, balance and intentionality are key, even when using more unique, off-the-wall ingredients. Otherwise, it can be hard to target your desired flavor profile.

We won’t be able to address all the adjuncts that can be used (successfully) in stouts nor all the different ways those ingredients can be added to the beer, but hopefully a few examples will give you a better sense of how to design and brew your own adjunct stout.


Of Course, There’s Coffee

For starters, let’s look at one of the most popular adjuncts added to stouts—coffee. You can add coffee to beer on both the hot side and the cold side of brewing, but I have always found the best results on the cold side, as it keeps the acidity and bitterness produced by the coffee low. My preferred method is to add both cold-brewed coffee and whole beans to the beer after fermentation (either directly to the fermentor or in a secondary). In my tests, this method has resulted in the most pronounced and stable coffee flavor and aroma.


When you consider malts for a coffee stout recipe, start by dialing back on the dark roasted malts, such as roasted barley and black malt, which lend their own unique coffee-like character. I typically use less than 2 percent roasted barley in my coffee stout recipes because the combination of too many dark roasted malts and coffee usually results in an astringent beer that tastes like burnt toast. You might also consider increasing the body and mouthfeel to help the base beer hold up to the thinness, bitterness, and/or acidity that coffee can contribute to a beer. To boost the body and mouthfeel, try designing your coffee stout recipe with 10–15 percent of a combination of flaked oats and dextrin malts.


For hops for your coffee stout recipe, consider something earthy, woody, or mildly spicy, such as East Kent Golding or Willamette, as they complement similar flavor contributions from the coffee. As for hops bitterness, keep in mind that any coffee infusion, even when added cold, will result in some added bitterness and the perception of bitterness (our palates are trained to expect bitterness as soon as we smell coffee). Try keeping the IBUs around 25–30.


Finally, select your yeast to complement the roast level of the coffee. For darker roasted coffee that exhibits dark chocolate and toasted almond flavors, a cleaner American ale yeast (WLP001 or similar) will keep esters low and allow the emphasis to be on the complexity of the coffee.

But an English ale strain such as WLP002, fermented at 64–66°F (18–19°C), will produce subtle stone- and dark-fruit esters, such as apricot and date, which work well with a lighter coffee roast that expresses similar fruity characteristics.

Be sure to adjust your temperatures accordingly for the yeast you select. To keep the finishing gravity high, the higher attenuation of American strains will require a bit higher temperature than certain English strains.


And Then There’s Chocolate

Another extremely popular adjunct used in stouts is chocolate. Brewers can select from a variety of products to add chocolate to their beer, including cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate, and cacao nibs. Each product lends a different chocolate characteristic, but my personal preference is to use roasted cacao nibs. Cacao nibs lend flavors of rich, decadent bittersweet and dark chocolate with just a hint of bitterness. As with coffee, I always add cacao nibs on the cold side after fermentation is complete, usually for 1–2 days. Just be sure not to leave the cacao on the beer for too long because extended aging will add more bitterness and sometimes astringency.


For a chocolate stout recipe, you can enhance the complexity and richness of the chocolate flavor by using various chocolate malts in the base beer, in ratios as high as 15–20 percent. My favorite chocolate malt to use in a chocolate stout is Weyermann Chocolate Rye because it lends a unique combination of rye spice and cocoa that adds layers of complexity to the chocolate character contributed by the cacao nibs.

Use 10–15 percent crystal malts to lend a rich caramel malt sweetness that combines with the cacao to create a sweeter, milk chocolate character.


Hops in a chocolate stout should be subtle and used only for balancing the sweetness of the base beer. And because the cacao will likely add some bitterness, keep the IBUs lower, maybe around 40–50 in an imperial stout base or lower in a lighter stout.


An expressive English ale yeast such as White Labs WLP005, fermented at 65–68°F (18–20°C), will contribute some dark-fruit esters, such as fig and raisin, which can be a nice complement to the deep, rich chocolate character of the beer. But if you want a beer squarely focused on the cacao, stick with a clean American strain such as White Labs WLP001 so that the complexity of the chocolate can really shine.

Aging on Wood

Finally, there are wood-aged adjunct stouts, which comprise some of the highest-rated beers in the world. The additional complexity contributed by wood aging can make a delicious well-executed adjunct stout into a true work of art. Wood-aged adjunct stouts, especially if you use barrels, can prove difficult and pricey for both homebrewers and commercial brewers, but the rewards can far outweigh the time and cost involved. There are, however, a few additional factors to take into consideration when wood-aging an adjunct stout.

Adjuncts themselves can be added before or after wood-aging, but keep in mind that flavors from ingredients such as cacao nibs, coffee, and coconut will degrade over time, similar to hops. So save your most delicate adjunct additions, especially coffee, for after the wood-aging process is complete. That being said, sometimes a few months of wood-aging can help meld the flavors of the adjunct with the character from the wood.

Another thing to keep in mind is that bitterness will diminish over time, so for an imperial stout that will spend six months or more in a barrel, shoot for a target of 85–90 IBUs.

Although some would argue that adjunct stouts are a fad or gimmick that is enjoying a brief period of popularity in brewing, the reality is that adjunct brewing is a simple, yet effective, way to exhibit more complexity in your stouts.

Want to try your hand at an adjunct stout? Here’s an imperial stout designed specifically for aging with roasted cacao nibs and vanilla beans to create a rich, decadent, and complex beer featuring notes of bittersweet, dark, and milk chocolate.

From coffee and spices to chiles and fruit, CB&B’s online class Adding Flavors to Beer _shows you how to complement malt and hops with flavors that flagrantly violate the _Reinheitsgebot. Sign up today!