Here's an idea. Forget about truffles for V-Day, and instead consume chocolate in beer form with a loved one. We've been noticing a lot of chocolate beers coming to market, some brewed with actual chocolate (like cocoa or nibs) or "chocolate malt," a dark-roasted malt that tastes a lot like chocolate. Or both. We blind-tasted nine chocolate beers, and were pleasantly surprised that we liked something about each of them (especially after our gluten-free beer taste test was such a bust). Full disclosure: Some of these beers were mailed to us by the breweries, but we promise it didn't bias us!
Sonoran White Chocolate Ale
Zach Schroeder, the brewmaster of this Scottsdale, Arizona, brewery, is allergic to chocolate. Instead, he brews this filtered American wheat ale with vanilla. By far the lightest beer of our tasting (which was dominated by stouts), it was balanced, with a strong vanilla smell that had a hint of Nestlé Quik milk chocolate–y sweetness. A few tasters found it too light for their liking ("Watery," said one), while others liked its easy-drinking quality and 4.7 percent ABV.
Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock
This chocolate bock was a favorite for its balanced toasty malt flavors with a hint of molasses and caramel. Dark amber in color with a relatively light 5.8 percent ABV, it's made with roasted malts and German hops, then aged with cocoa nibs, including some from San Francisco small-batch chocolate maker TCHO.
Young's Double Chocolate Stout
This British stout is extraordinarily smoky, calling to mind a German rauchbier. Almost black in color, it's brewed with both chocolate malt and actual chocolate. Despite its hearty roastiness, it won't knock you out with its 5.2 percent ABV.
Rogue Chocolate Stout
This deep, dark stout was first released in the U.S. in 2001 for Valentine's Day. It's brewed with "natural chocolate flavoring," but the chocolate smell and flavors are pretty subtle compared to the toasted malt and hop flavors. Some tasters appreciated that it was "bitter, dry, not sweet!," while others found its bitterness off-putting, calling to mind burnt coffee.
Bison Organic Chocolate Stout
The only organic beer in our tasting, this Berkeley, California, brew was much lighter in body than other stouts in the tasting, with a strong aroma of Nestlé Quik. But the flavor was all about dark roasted malt, rather than chocolate.
Harpoon Chocolate Stout
This writer's favorite of the tasting smelled distinctly like chocolate-covered banana, or as another taster put it, "glorious chocolate banana bread." The Boston brewery makes this limited-edition beer with dark malts and some actual chocolate, which tasters felt really came through in a "chocolate egg cream" or "hot fudge in my beer!" way.
New Glarus Chocolate Abbey
This small Wisconsin brewery with a major cult following makes this chocolate beer similar to an abbey-style double. Unlike any other beer in the tasting, this "very limited edition" brew's flavor comes from its (Belgian) yeast, which was spicy and aromatic and, as one taster put it, "delicious with complex vegetal notes." Chocolate notes were subtle and well balanced. One of the favorites of the tasting.
Lips of Faith Series Cocoa Molé
This Mexican hot chocolate–esque beer from Fort Collins, Colorado's New Belgium is brewed with cocoa, cinnamon, and three types of chile peppers: ancho, guajillo, and chipotle. It had a definite earthy, savory dried-chile aroma and flavor. The chile heat threw some tasters, who found it "medicinal." Others enjoyed this 9 percent ABV ale for its hint of brown sugar and "nice, weird, savory" quality.
Sam Adams The Vixen
Another chocolate-chile combo, this beer from Samuel Adams is actually based on the chocolate bock previously described here. For the limited-release Vixen, which comes in a 22-ounce bottle, the company added cinnamon along with smoky ancho and chipotle chiles. It tasted noticeably sweeter and more alcohol-y than the other beers (not surprising given its 8.5 percent ABV) and reminded tasters of a sweet Belgian double or imperial-style dark ale. People liked its "mildly tingly, soft feel." Definitely a sipper for dessert, not a quaffer.