Every Christmas my wife and I make cookies to give to friends and family. One of our favorite cookies to make is our Mexican Hot Chocolate cookie. This is a crisp, chocolatey cookie which is covered in a cinnamon and hot chile sugar dusting.
We wanted to replicate the ideas of this cookie into a beer that we could give out for Christmas. Our local home brew shop, CO-Brew, offered the ability to brew a ten gallon batch on site.
We teamed up with our friend Holly of Sweetheart Brewing to work on a recipe for this beer. Holly and I decided on an imperial, sweet stout with a base of Maris Otter, some carafa III to make it black without being too bitter or roasty, chocolate malt, caramunich for some sweetness and body, and oats to thicken it up. We also threw in a full two pounds of lactose. We’d give it a bump of magnum towards the start to give it enough bitterness to balance the sweet, but otherwise hops were not a concern in this beer. A simple English yeast seemed the natural choice.
As far as how to get the flavors of chocolate, cinnamon, and chile into the beer, we went around in circles. We heard several times that chocolate extract was no good, so we nixed that. I know that nibs are often preferred, but this was going to be a great, big beer, so I wasn’t sure they’d do enough. I figured in the boil was the right place for the cinnamon, but heard that doing it too early could lead to a stick-like taste in the beer. Chile is also a wild card, since batches of chile vary in heat. After much discussion, we decided to put it all in at the same time in secondary. Several people suggested finding a mix that already had these flavors in balance, so we wouldn’t have to do as much guess work for ratio. My wife and I went to the local Savory Spice Shop, and sure enough, they had a Mayan hot chocolate mix of cocoa, cinnamon, and chile, with no added sugar or other ingredients. We tasted it, and it was exactly what we wanted. We waited until three days before bottling and brought it to the shop for the brewers to toss it in. I added about two ounces of cocoa nibs as well.
- 24lbs 4.7oz Maris Otter
- 2lbs 11.8oz Caramunich III
- 2lbs 11.8oz Chocolate malt
- 2lbs 11.8 oz flaked oats
- 1lbs 11.4oz Carafa III
- 2lbs lactose
- 8oz Savory Spice Shop Mayan Cocoa mix
- 2oz Savory Spice Shop cocoa nibs
These were all mashed in on the beautiful system at the shop which, unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you everything about, because it isn’t mine. It’s a continuous recirculation system, with electric heaters, a bunch of pumps, and it’s really nice. We held a 152 degree mash of 11 gallons of water for an hour, fly sparged with 7 gallons of 170 degree water, boiled for an hour with 1.35oz of magnum added in at the start of the boil, and threw in 2 lbs of lactose at flameout. The brew house’s plate chiller took the temp down in about seven minutes. It got split into two five gallon buckets, which each took a minute of pure O2 through a diffusion stone and pump, and then got a packet of S-04 sprinkled in to each. We wished them well and bid adieu for a few weeks.
Three weeks later I dropped off the cocoa mix and nibs.
Two days later we bottled the full batch in to 48 bombers and took them home.
My wife is an artist, so she got to work making a label. We wanted an image of a lady in a sombrero, enjoying a big mug of hot chocolate, with a chile ristra and some Christmas in the image. The sort of thing you’d see on the wall at a Mexican restaurant. She came up with the art, and I put it in to a label template. I ordered some printable labels, which I won’t link here, because it was near impossible to get them to print right. The guys at Kinkos ended up giving us a bunch of free product and not charging us for their attempts to print on the labels we brought because it was so impossible.
Most of the feedback we got was good. Several people reported gushers, which made me worry that the beer didn’t finish before we got it bottled, but I never had this issue. A lot of the chile powder made its way into the bottle, but settled out with the yeast when cold conditioning, so as long as consumers knew the homebrew rule to stop pouring at the shoulder or when you see yeast trying to sneak out, it came out fine. People overall seemed to like the beer, but perhaps they were just being kind to their friends.
As of this writing I’ve made 18 beers, and I’d place this one right in the middle. Here’s why:
- The stout itself is fine. No problems there. Its the right thickness, darkness, good stout flavor. It came in under the ABV we predicted, which either means the efficiency of the continuous circulation system at the brewhouse was less than anticipated, OR the beer wasn’t finished when it went in the bottle, which would explain why some people had gushers. It poured with a big thick head, but,
- The head immediately disappeared. I’d read a lot of success stories using cocoa powder, but almost all of those people had used a highly processed commercial powder. We used a more “natural” source, and I think that led to quite a bit of fat still left in the powder. This fat formed a visible oil slick on top of the beer, and killed the head almost as quickly as my orange oil beer. And yet, there was hardly any cocoa flavor in the beer. I think it was overwhelmed by the malt and by
- The cinnamon in this beer was overwhelming. It’s a great big mouthful of cinnamon. You can hardly taste anything else.
- The chile is actually right where I want it. There’s a subtle, sneaky little heat, and I wouldn’t change anything about that.
If I had to do it again, I’d ditch the powder entirely and just wing it on ratios. I’d put four cinnamon sticks in the boil at 3o minutes. I’d put four ounces of cacoa nibs in the secondary for a week. Then I’d put one halved serrano chile in each bucket.
I don’t hate this beer, but frankly I’m disappointed in it, wish we didn’t have ten gallons of it, and am not happy that this is the first Brios Brewing beer that many people ever got to taste.