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Chocolate Malt: The Barley of the Gods


If you’ve been drinking porters and stouts this winter, then give a nod to the Mayans and Aztecs. The royalty of these cultures were the first to embrace chocolate by drinking it, and chances are, some of your favorite porters and stouts were brewed with chocolate malt, providing a hint of one of the world’s most famous drinkables and edibles.

When it came to liquid chocolate, the Mayans and Aztecs preferred consuming the foam, perhaps because it was easier to drink the slightly bitter substance this way in the absence of sugar. Although the Aztecs used some additives for flavoring, both cultures were known for repeatedly pouring or beating their chocolate drinks to create a foam head before sipping it right off the top.

So if that chocolatey Russian Imperial Stout you’re drinking with its nice foam head makes you feel like a member of the upper crust, maybe there’s something universal involved.

After the English Reformation, chocolate imported from the New World was drunk before coffee and tea started to dominate the hot drink scene in what became known as coffee houses. The English, like those across the water, were looking to chocolate for the effects of theobromine (food of the gods, directly translated) and caffeine, each a stimulant. On both sides of the Atlantic, the societies that endorsed the drinking of chocolate – or other caffeine-laced drinks – were flirting with the abandonment of what had made their societies strong. Their cultural ethic favored steady work and sobriety, not sitting and sipping stimulants or ingesting an aphrodisiac, a reputed quality of theobromine.

These days, American and European cultures have learned to live with the "work hard, play hard" ethic. Should that porter or stout happen to also put you in the mood for love as Valentine’s Day approaches, forget about the feeling being sourced from any chocolate malt on three counts. First, theobromine has only been confirmed as a good accompaniment to caffeine. Second, chocolate malt is made from barley, which doesn’t have these ingredients or any other known stimulants – unless malted and brewed with hops! As importantly, there’s not much chocolate malt, which has a rather dry taste, in grist bills. Much of the flavor comes from other dark malts on the bill or roasted barley that is highlighted by the chocolate.

Photo Courtesy of Briess Malt & Ingredients Co.