Spoiler alert: there is no chocolate involved in this article, nor is there any in chocolate malt. Chocolate malt is, in fact merely a type of malt that shares some flavor characteristics with you guessed it, chocolate. Used at a small percentage (usually 10% or less) and primarily in brown ales, stouts and porters, chocolate malt is a useful specialty malt in the brewer’s toolkit.
Drum roasted to create a dark colored malt (which then lends its color to finished beer), chocolate malt has a mellow burnt flavor that accompanies the coffee and cocoa flavors that come from Maillard reactions created during the roasting process. Overall, chocolate malt is slightly less dark than black malt and roasted barley and has a more level, rounded quality with less bitterness and astringent qualities. For reference, it’s about twice as dark as brown malt. There are versions that differ, however: pale chocolate malt, darker English versions, chocolate rye malt, chocolate wheat malt and so forth. All hold similar characteristics on slightly different spectrums.
When used in brown ales, chocolate malt is the star–it stands out. Other specialty malts used alongside in a brown ale recipe can introduce nutty, toasty and caramel-like flavors that play nicely together. Used in porters and stouts, chocolate malt helps temper black malt and roasted barley flavors to create a rich and roasty robust experience. Sweeter stouts may call for a bit more chocolate malt along with a higher percentage of crystal malts to bring out some dessert-like qualities, while a big robust porter’s profile may stay more restrained, highlighting more of the bitterness from roasted barley.
And of course on the opposite side of the beer style spectrum, chocolate malt can be used in tiny amounts to simply change the color of a beer without adding too much other flavors. This is tricky, though–balance is key.
Chocolate malt can be so strikingly cocoa-like, that some “chocolate beers” skip adding actual chocolate, which can have some additional challenges as an ingredient in the brewing process. It’d be a rare occurrence to see a chocolate stout or porter without any chocolate malt, however. There’s a widening arena of beers brewed with chocolate malt and/or actual chocolate: chocolate and coffee beers, stouts with cocoa nibs added, stouts with other spices like cinnamon, liquorice or fruits like cherries or berries. “Everything is better with chocolate” isn’t technically the truth, but chocolate malt gets along very well with a variety of other specialty malts and additions.
It turns out that we love the flavor of cocoa in many ways–not just as a sweet treat wrapped in foil, but in a hot mug in the morning, in celebratory desserts, and intoxicating beverages, with or with chocolate itself. There are so many ways to appreciate these flavors throughout your day.