CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Brewing is both an art and a science. If you don't think so, just talk to one of the many artisanal craft brewers who attended the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference held recently in Chicago.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend and to do just that. It seems as if every day one of these imaginative artisans finds a new way or a new twist to make his or her next beer a quaffable masterpiece or at least a performance piece that is worthy of discussion.
I always enjoy walking through industry exhibitions, but as a home brewer, I get an extra thrill walking by all of the stainless-steel and copper tanks at an exhibition for professional brewers. There were also countless bottle, keg and label manufacturers, grain suppliers and hop growers who entice you by the large piles of fresh hops cones they have poured out on the table. Every time I walked by the table I wanted to pull a Tony Montana ("Scarface") and just bury my face in the resinous, aromatic mass of hops.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a chocolatier from San Francisco showing custom-formulated chocolates. TCHO Chocolates manufactures chocolate from cocoa beans selected to fit a certain flavor profile. I tasted three flavor variations: a nutty, coffeelike profile from Ecuadorian beans; a bright citrus profile made from beans from Madagascar; and an almost smoky flavored chocolate made from Peruvian cocoa beans. The contrast among them is amazing!
Jeremy Wanamaker of TCHO was happy to talk about their efforts to help brewers achieve the best results when brewing a chocolate beer. First, all brewers should not actually use chocolate, but instead opt for nibs -- roasted cocoa beans that are very coarsely ground like coffee.
"Finished chocolate has too much fat and oil, which could harm head retention in the beer," Wanamaker said. "Nibs have some essential oils, but not in such quantities as to affect the beer's foamy head," he added. The average recommended dosage to achieve the presence of the chocolate in beer is about 1 pound of nibs per barrel (31 gallons) of beer.
I asked how TCHO became involved in providing advice and chocolate to the craft-brewing industry. Wanamaker pointed out that he is a home brewer as well as a chocolatier. He used to work part time to help a friend at a homebrew supply store and word just got around. I guess it happened much like the craft-beer industry itself, with roots that can be traced back to a homebrewer's garage or basement in most cases.
There are a few beers and brewers of note who employ some form of chocolate to enhance the dark malt flavors in their beer. Young's Double Chocolate Stout is a classic, along with Rogue's Chocolate Stout. I also noticed that my friends over at Elevator Brewing, in Columbus, Ohio, made the list of 2009's 10 best chocolate beers with Elevator Chocolate Stout, as rated by the U.S. Open Beer Championship held in Atlanta.
We all know the saying "Beer is Food," but we can now also say "Beer is Dessert!"
For more on the craft of beer, see Rich Ireland's "Beers to You" blog at thegazz.com.