The Main Reason Chocolate Beer Can Be Deceiving

You're sitting at a bar, looking over the drink menu for what to get tonight. Most of it is the usual whiskey, vodka, and maybe even a few cocktails here and there, but the one that captures your attention is something called "chocolate beer." 

While chocolate beer may sound like it has origins as some overpriced "inspired IPA" in a fancy bar, the truth is that the combination of chocolate and liquor may actually be much older than we first thought. Reuters tells us that, in 2007, an anthropology/archaeology study by Cornell and Berkeley revealed that the pre-Columbian Mesoamericans actually used a sophisticated fermenting process to create a bitter drink made of cacao beans — not unlike the modern fermentation process for beer. Of course, the chocolate beer of the ancient Aztecs was far different than what we know beer and chocolate to be today, but the idea of chocolate-infused beer still remains a popular, if not interesting, combination. America's oldest brewery, Yuengling, has collaborated with chocolate mogul Hershey's on more than one occasion to produce a "Chocolate Porter" beer that comes around every so often for a limited time.

But does chocolate beer taste like chocolate?

There's a difference between chocolate beer and chocolate-flavored beer

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, while some beers may have chocolate notes or aftertaste, these beers may not have any cocoa or chocolate in them at all, such as certain stout beers. According to Homebrew Academy, this is caused by a particular blend of dark roasted barley which, when fermented and brewed, has a similar taste to the chocolate. While "true" chocolate beers may be brewed with cocoa powder (or in some cases cocoa butter), these types of beer only have a chocolate taste from the brewing process and aren't "chocolate beers" as they are infused with a chocolate-like flavor.

Brewer's Union also tells us that a certain kind of malt known as a "chocolate malt" also doesn't have any chocolate at all. The reason it's called chocolate malt is that the malt's dark color and somewhat bitter taste remind people of chocolate. Another malt, a black patent malt, is also described as having a chocolate flavor, despite having no ingredients that would make it a true chocolate beer.

Then how is a real chocolate beer made?

Chocolate ingredients are added at key parts of the brewing process

According to Chocolatour, a brewer can add real chocolate to their beer at any point in the brewing process. This could be anything from introducing cocoa powder into the mashing process or adding milk chocolate into the fermenting process. Some brewers even age their beer on cocoa nibs, or broken-up cocoa beans, to help get that rich chocolate taste. The aforementioned Hershey's Chocolate Porter is made with Hershey's own cocoa powder and syrup, says Food & Wine.

You may have also heard about something called chocolate liquor. Contrary to its name, this type of liquor has no alcohol in it whatsoever.  It's just a term for the base ingredients of chocolate when the chocolate is melted down, or the pure liquid form of chocolate. Chocolate liquor can be added to beers and other alcoholic drinks but is more or less an unsweetened form of melted chocolate by itself.

So, although chocolate beer isn't exactly a glass of beer with chocolate syrup mixed in, chocolate and beer make a fascinating and delicious combination that has been popular from the ancient Mayans to Hershey's chocolate. Now, if only someone could get on beer-flavored chocolate bars.