It will soon be Valentine’s Day, so it’s about time for our female readers to search out some special chocolaty treats for the significant others in their lives—is it only in Japan where this is a day for women-to-man giving only? A bit chauvinist, no? And don’t get me started about giri-choko! But whether it’s out of debt or out of love, who wouldn’t love to receive chocolate beer for Valentine’s day? There are plenty of them, both domestic and imported, to choose from.
For the most part, chocolate beers are made from stouts and porters, which is quite natural because these seem to go well with chocolate in terms of both color and flavor. Less common but equally fitting are dark lagers, especially doppelbocks, and dark wheat beers.
I must clarify one important point, however. Some so-called “chocolate” beers actually contain added chocolate flavor, but a great many others do not. In the first type, cocoa power or chocolate extract is usually added. Whole chocolate is rarely used because the oil in it causes difficulties in brewing. But many chocolate beers contain no such additives: their chocolaty flavor is achieved solely through the use of malts, usually some combination of Chocolate, Crystal, Munich, and Brown malts. While the former probably better fit the stereotype of a Valentine present, the latter beers are often more impressive, since they achieve similar results without additives. But of course there are great examples of both.
Two beers stand out as the “grandfathers” of this style, Youngs Double Chocolate Stout from England, and Rogue Chocolate Stout from the US, both with added chocolate, and both dating from the 1990s. Youngs is a perfectly crafted beer wherein bitter roasted malts balance the sweet, milk chocolate flavor. Rogue Chocolate Stout, developed by no other than Sapporo’s own beer guru Phred Kauffman for sale in Japan as Chocolate Bear Beer, is rich and chocolaty, with milk and vanilla notes as well, and a solidly bitter finish. Both beers are widely available in Japan.
There are now many Japanese-brewed chocolate beers as well. The first was Baeren’s Chocolate Stout, dating from 2005, which is rich and roasty and uses no chocolate. Neither do the various chocolate stouts made by Sankt Gallen. Their Imperial Chocolate Stout is remarkable for its hoppy bitterness as well as rich chocolaty malts. Last year they surprised us with a Mint Chocolate Stout, and this year comes Smoked Chocolate Stout, which I can’t wait to try. Kinshachi makes both an Imperial Chocolate Stout and an Imperial Chocolate Weizen, which are interesting to compare. Also high on the list of “Choco Beers” sans chocolat are Fujizakura Heights Chocolate Wheat and Shonan Chocolate Porter.
If you want a Japanese craft beer with added chocolate flavors, you’ll have to look a bit harder. The most famous is probably Shimane Chocolat No. 7, which is strong and rich and gets better with 1-2 years of aging. Others include Iwate Kura’s Chocolat Stout, which also uses cocoa, and Hakone’s unique Chocotto Ichigo, with both chocolate and strawberry flavors added.
As with American pumpkin brews at Halloween, chocolate beer for Valentine’s Day has become a solid brewing tradition in Japan, though it is one that can divide people. Many beer lovers find chocolate beers (especially those with additives) far too sweet and syrupy, and for sure, some beers go too far in that direction. But it’s great that we have the chance to try so many different good ones as well, both with and without added chocolate. I’ll take a less sweet example alongside a slice of homemade chocolate cake.
by Mark Meli
All Beer Styles articles are written by Mark Meli, author of Craft Beer in Japan.
This article was published in Japan Beer Times #21 (Winter 2015) and is among the limited content available online. Order your copy through our online shop or download the digital version from the iTunes store to access the full contents of this issue.