Eric Parkes creates amazing flavors inside Aeronaut Brewing in Somerville, Mass., but he’s not a brewer — he’s a chocolate maker. Parkes runs Somerville Chocolate just across the hall from the brewhouse, and the smells of the brewery have influenced his chocolate. He was largely unfamiliar with the brewing process before moving into the facility, and his senses were immediately intrigued.
“I would get these amazing aromas wafting into my shop,” he explains. “I asked what it was, and they said it was mostly the hops when they would add them to the boil. I asked the brewer to give me some, and he recommended a few varieties.”
That relationship has led to several chocolate bars infused with hops, and Parkes isn’t the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker working with beer’s most buzz-worthy ingredient. Hop-infused chocolate is now more than just a curiosity — it’s becoming a new avenue for exploring the ingredient’s nuances.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Making Chocolate & Adding Hops
Chocolate is made from the fruit of the tropical cacao tree, and craft (or “bean-to-bar”) chocolate focuses on quality and variety in the same way craft beer distinguishes itself from macro beer. Additionally, the big candy companies are known to use cacao tainted with human rights abuses, but most craft chocolate makers source their cacao ethically. They form relationships with farms and brokers who pay a fair price and ensure workers have been treated fairly, and they seek to highlight the unique terroir of cacao from different regions of the world.
These distinctions are similar to the variations between hop varieties, and Parkes has used several different methods for combining the two in bar form. His most successful method has been a simple air infusion. “Chocolate will absorb flavors from things it’s stored near,” says Adam Dick of Dick Taylor Chocolate in Eureka, Calif. “Leave chocolate next to stinky cheese in the fridge, and it will end up tasting like it.”
Dick Taylor’s recent Vanilla Citrus Stout bar was made by aging finished chocolate bars in airtight plastic totes for several weeks with whole cone Cascade hops. Parkes has found the same process to be successful, particularly for bars with more delicate chocolate profiles.“If you want the hop aromas with no bitterness, you do an air infusion,” he explains. “That’s the cleanest smell.”
Parkes sources cacao from Finca Elvesia in the Dominican Republic, a variety with an assertive fruitiness. He’s found hop varieties with tropical and citrus notes tend to work best with this origin, such as Mosaic, Citra, and Galaxy. The finished bar has the unmistakable tea-like flavor of a freshly steeped hop infusion with subtle citrus and tropical notes balanced against the deeper berry and dark chocolate notes of the cacao.
Tyler Cagwin of Nostalgia Chocolate in Syracuse, N.Y., also uses an air infusion. Cagwin is a craft beer fan, and he became friends a few years back with Chad Meigs, founder of The Bineyard hop farm nearby. The first time he ever touched a hop cone was on his visit to the farm to select a variety for his Hop Aged bar.
“Tyler wanted something very specific,” says Meigs. “It was right during harvest, and we untied a bunch and stuck our faces in them and did some rub and sniffs with the cones. He didn’t know varieties, but he knew the aroma characteristics.”
Cagwin had recently started working with Kokoa Kamili cacao beans from Tanzania and wanted something that would work well with that origin’s cherry notes. “I felt that origin would pair extremely well with pine and citrus, so we settled on Chinook hops,” he explains. “I got some airtight containers and put down a layer of hop cones, then a layer of bars, and did that for four layers, then sealed it up for three weeks. When I pulled them out, I felt like we were there.”
Dick created his bar in collaboration with local Eel River Brewing, crafting a chocolate that would match the flavors of its Vanilla Citrus Stout.
“Since we were trying to emulate their Milk Stout, we created a milk chocolate using cacao from Fazenda Camboa in Brazil,” he says. “We were really happy with how it turned out.”
Bringing Beer & Chocolate Together
“I am a craft beer girl, and I love hoppy beer,” says Sara Ratza of Ratza Chocolate in Tarpon Springs, Fla. “As a beer fan and a former barista, a lot of my bars are drink-inspired.”
When she decided to use hops in a bar, Ratza wanted to incorporate the hops themselves, not just their aromas. She’s a certified western herbalist and uses herbs and botanicals in many of her bars.
“As an herbalist, I take the plant and grind it into a powder form and put it directly into my machine [for grinding chocolate],” she explains. “I just add enough to get a note of the hops and not have them take over.”
The hop character in Ratza’s Hopped Citrus bar leans more toward grassy alpha acid bitterness than the juicy fruitiness of the air infusion method. This serves as a reminder of hops’ long history as an herbal remedy, dating back to St. Hildegard of Bingen’s writings about the plant in the 12th century. Ratza sources her hops through an herbal supplier who doesn’t specify varietal.
All of these makers noted the popularity of their hop bars with beer fans, and how well these have served as a gateway into craft chocolate for folks unfamiliar with the category as more than a childhood treat. “I’ve had beer-loving friends try it, and they were blown away by it,” says Cagwin. “A lot of chocolate folks who aren’t beer people pick up the piney and citrus notes, and it reminds them of Christmas or another experience.”
“Hops are the sexy ingredient of beer, and it turns out you can hop pretty much anything,” says Meigs, who is interested in pursuing other avenues beyond beer for the hops he proudly grows. “Tyler’s opened up this world for me.”
Peel back the wrapper on one of these bean-to-bar chocolates, and open up a whole new world of hop flavor.
Five Hop Chocolates to Try:
Somerville Hops Infused Dark Milk Chocolate
This 65 percent dark milk chocolate bar made with Dominican Republic cacao carries the tropical and citrus aromas of trendy hops like Citra, Mosaic, and Galaxy in a luxurious and creamy chocolate body.
Nostalgia Hop Aged 70% Dark Chocolate
This 70 percent dark bar made with Tanzanian cacao incorporates the aromas of Chinook hops grown just down the street at The Bineyard hop farm. It features notes of orange peel, pine needles, and cherry cordial.
Dick Taylor Vanilla Citrus Stout
This 55 percent milk chocolate is made with Cascade hops and orange essential oils. It emulates the flavors of Eel River Brewing Vanilla Citrus Stout with its creamy, chocolaty, and lightly tart orange Creamsicle-like flavors.
Ratza Hopped Citrus
Tarpon Springs, Fla.
This 80 percent Belizean cacao dark chocolate is made with whole hop flowers and orange peel, and showcases hop bitterness tempered by sweet citrus.
French Broad IPA Caramel, Nougat & Peanut Bonbon
French Broad Chocolates collaborates with Burial Beer every spring on a set of beer-infused bonbons. This IPA-infused treat combines the juicy tropical hop notes of Burial’s Rationality Shall Run Its Course Hazy IPA.