One thing that I think draws people to brewing, both as a hobby and a career is the chance to express your creativity. Last year I started off the spring brewing season with a mocha milk stout. I am a hop-lover at heart, but I think that brewing a wide variety of styles is fun. It is also more rewarding for those around me who lack my allegiance to humulus lupulus. I was also really interested in playing around with new ingredients like chocolate and coffee. The result was one one of my better beers, and a recipe I look forward to trying again.
The departure point for this beer was a regular stout, a beer that should be strong, roasty, and dark. To this we would add milk sugar (lactose), coffee and chocolate. The lactose would make the beer sweeter and creamier, while the coffee and chocolate would add more bitterness. Making beer is already a balancing act of sweet malt vs bitter hops, but here I was adding a few more players into the game. I wanted to be really careful to keep every flavor in harmony. It would be easy to have one flavor out of balance and so wreck the beer.
There are a lot of ways to add chocolate to beer, but the easiest for me was to use unsweetened bakers cocoa powder. It is important to get powder that is just chocolate, no sweeteners or other chemical fluff that can do strange things to your beer. Though even the cocoa powder comes with a downside, it really darkened this beer and made it look almost muddy. While stouts may look black, usually they are a deep dark red. It’s true, next time you drink a Guinness, hold it up to the light. You can look right through it.
The chocolate and lactose powders both went in during the boil, along with the malt extract and hops. I had steeped some specialty grains for this one, some heavily roasted barley malt to give the beer that nice toasty flavor that you get with stouts. Though the bulk of the fermentable sugars were coming from malt extract. Lactose is not a fermentable sugar, the yeast won’t touch the stuff so it adds a lot of sweetness to the final product. That sweetness is counteracted by the chocolate, which in its purest forms is quite bitter, and to a lesser extent the coffee.
I did a lot of research about adding coffee to beer, and the best way to do it is to cold brew some high quality low acid coffee. If you just make a regular pot of coffee and throw it in then your beer will taste like old, stale coffee. Anybody who has spent time in a waiting room drinking coffee that has been in the pot for 12 hours knows exactly the sort of flavors I am talking about, and you do NOT want them in your beer. Luckily, steeping coffee grounds in the fridge overnight will yield a stable, intensely flavored bit of coffee that is perfect for adding to the beer. The coffee is added at bottling, so it never gets heated.
The mocha milk stout was a complex and complicated beer but it worked out great in the end. It had a lovely coffee aroma with a hint of dark chocolate. The mouth feel was very smooth, the lactose made it nice and creamy. It was very flavorful, with the chocolate, coffee, milky sweetness and regular roasted toasted stout flavors too, and there was just a quick bite of hops at the very end. All in all it was a delicious and balanced beer that was a lot of fun to drink. The first bottle was cracked open at our hanami party last year. Hanami is when groups of friends relax under the cherry blossoms and enjoy good food, good drink and good company. It is a celebration of the end of winter, the coming of spring, and the transitory nature of life. What a great thing to drink to.