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Cacao Nib Extract - The Drew Way

Cacao Nibs add a wonderful rich earthy roasted chocolate character to a beer, but getting the dose and timing right is a bit of a trick! Here's Drew's method of making a simple tincture with nibs and vodka. It's fast, cheap and fool proof!

I'm a big fan of tinctures for doctoring just about any beer and making new fantastic flavors. Chocolate is a favorite of brewers, but the problem is always how to get it in the beer without all the fat and other bits. Some folks like adding cocoa powder to the boil kettle, others like adding German Baker's Chocolate to various parts of the process. Others still like using chocolate flavored coffee syrups. I've tried them all and can't say I find them to right for me or easy to use consistently. (ok, except the syrups).

A few years back, thanks to Gregg Van Citters and his Chocolate Porter Recipe, I started using Cacao Nibs in my chocolate beers.

Cacao nibs are essentially chocolate before grinding and conching. They're the seeds of the Cacao plant, removed from the pod, fermented and roasted (some are sold raw). To make chocolate, you grind them into a liquidy paste, add sugar, change the cacao to cocoa butter ratio and conch for stablity. They're not as sweet as prepared chocolates with a bitter, earthy chocolatey flavor that I think works better in a beer than sweet chocolate. 

The problem is the bitter nature - cacao (and chocolate) contains tannin and other alkaloids that simultaneously are good for you and terrible tasting. Hence the sugar in prepared chocolate. If you soak cacao nibs as a secondary addition, you have to be Johnny on the Spot to avoid extracting too many of these alkaloids. Too many and your beer is harsh. (I've done this before and rescued it with a 750ml bottle of cheap Raspberry liqueur - the beer was actually really awesome with that addition). The magic point seems to be about 2 weeks.

The idea with the extract then is to rapidly create a small concentrated tincture that can be carefully controlled for bitterness. It's easy to do and works like a charm. Bonus - you can get in a stage of de-fatting to remove the cocoa butter from the extract and your beer.

Basic Cacao Nib Tincture

For about 6 oz of extract (usually enough for 10 gallons)

  • 6 oz Vodka (something decent, but not too expensive - avoid yer "Popov" vodka!)
  • 3 oz Cacao Nibs (I prefer roasted)
  1. Mix the vodka and cacao nibs in a tight sealing jar like a jelly jar or mason jar. Shake every day, several times, for 4 days. 
  2. Strain the nibs out of the dark extract. Discard
  3. Place the extract in the freezer overnight.
  4. In the morning, carefully scrape out the fat cap of cocoa butter and discard. Remove any floaty bits and then store the extract on the shelf for approximately a year.

The Bomb Cacao Nib & Vanilla Tincture

This is my favorite version of the stuff. Vanillan is an important component of chocolate flavor and helps convey "sweetness" without actually being sweet and cloying. It takes a few days longer, but it's worth it.

For 6 ozs

  • 6 oz Vodka
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, split and scraped
  • 3 oz Cacao Nibs (roasted is better)
  1. Mix the vodka and vanilla bean (and parts) in a tight sealing jar like a jelly jar or mason jar. Shake every day, several times, for 7 days. 
  2. Add the nibs for another 4 days, continue to shake
  3. Strain the nibs and vanilla out of the dark extract. Discard
  4. Place the extract in the freezer overnight.
  5. In the morning, carefully scrape out the fat cap of cocoa butter and discard. Remove any floaty bits and then store the extract on the shelf for approximately a year.
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