Brewing with Cocoa Nibs


By Eugene J. Arlotta

Theobroma Cacao



Chocolate has been around for possibly 5,000 years. The Aztecs made a non-sweetened drink using cocoa beans. Today, brewers like to get a chocolate flavor in their beer by adding cocoa nibs. It’s grown in the fruit from the Theobroma Cacao tree. When the fruit is cut open, the cocoa bean is exposed. It’s then removed from the fruit and left to ferment under banana leaves. Then it’s roasted after which the bean is crushed to separate the nibs from the hulls and used to make chocolate, and of course added to beer.

Cocoa Nibs

Different Chocolate Spices

Cocoa nibs are an ingredient in chocolate. It comes from the inside of the cocoa bean and is used by many brewers to get a chocolate flavor and aroma in their beers. Cocoa nibs add mouthfeel to the beer. They’re not actually chocolate but contribute to a chocolate flavor to beer. When purchasing chocolate nibs, try to purchase the best quality you can. Also, keep in mind the country of origin. For example, cocoa nibs from Ghana will have a different flavor than cocoa beans from Ecuador. Ground nibs can add flavor but can result in a stuck sparge, clogged siphon tubes, etc. Actual chocolate is limited to the boil itself, otherwise you are risking more clogs. Also, the cocoa butter in chocolate, besides making a mess, like most oils, affects foam formation and head retention. Chocolate extract is another way to add chocolate flavor. It comes in several different types. Extracts that are oil- and alcohol-based don’t mix well in water, so try and find a water based one that can go into the boil, primary, or secondary. According to manufacturers, you can use about 4 oz for five gallons. If added to the bottling bucket or keg, you can get the right amount by tasting. Cocoa powder is cocoa nibs processed into a powder form. This is done by pressing it, in order to get rid of the fat. Although, long boiling reduces the flavor and does not dissolve well in the wort. Of course, we can always add to our grain bill some chocolate malts. These malts are not actual chocolate, but have a chocolate flavor. These malts,of course, would go into the mash. For 5 gallons about 4- 16 oz will contribute some chocolate flavor. Remember the more of these malts you add the darker it makes the beer. Besides chocolate flavor, chocolate malts can contribute some coffee notes. It is a good idea to use chocolate  malts in addition to chocolate nibs at various points of the brewing process.

Ways to Brew with Cocoa Nibs

Cocoa nibs can be added to the cold or hot-side of the brewing process. Like with a lot of spices, one must always be aware of the possibility of bacterial contamination.  When adding to the mash or boil this is not an issue. But, when adding to the boil chocolate nibs should be added late in the boil to avoid bitterness.  When adding to the primary, do it late in the fermentation process, so alcohol levels build up. I usually like to add nibs as well as other spices during the secondary when alcohol levels are higher. (See my recipe about adding cocoa nibs.)  The amount to add is something I have found varies. Some say 4 oz. is a good starting point, but I find it needs to be more if you want a good flavor. I prefer 8 oz to start, but it depends on what kind of chocolate character you are trying to achieve in your craft beer.


*Eugene's Winter Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout

(5 gallons/19L, all-grain)

OG: 1.069

FG: 1.017

IBU: 42.7

SRM: 36.6

ABV: 6.9%


Grain Bill

10.5 lbs-2 Row Malt

7.5 oz-Black Patent Malt

3.7 oz - Crystal 120 L

14.9 oz - Chocolate Malt

14.9 oz- Flaked Oats

14.9 oz- Rice Hulls



1oz- Magnum (12% pellets) Boil 60 minutes (German)

1 oz- Fuggle (4.5%) Boil 20 minutes


Other Ingredients

10 oz.- Cacao Nibs

4 oz. - Peanut Butter Natural Flavoring

0.25 tsp- Irish Moss



1 pkg.- Imperial Darkness Yeast (A10)


*Mash at 152 degrees for 60 minutes or until converted

*Mash out at 168 degrees for 10 minutes

*Boil wort for 60 minutes

*Add hops at appropriate times during boil

*Add Irish Moss 10 minutes left in boil

*Chill and add yeast

*Cocoa Nibs should be added to the secondary. To prepare for this I like to place the cocoa nibs in a muslin bag and then in a  mason jar. The mason jar should next be filled with a neutral inexpensive vodka covering the nibs and which a lid is placed on the jar.  The cocoa nibs should remain in the jar for approximately seven days at room temperature. Right before the beer goes into the secondary you can place the contents of the jar, of course vodka and all, in the secondary. Allow for up to one week of contact time in the secondary and then bottle or keg. If the nibs stay in contact for more than two weeks harsh tannins carried in the nibs can begin to leech.

*Peanut flavoring can be added to the bottling bucket and taste.

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