African Drinking Chocolate | 1840 Brewing
Brewers take inspiration for their beers wherever they can find it. Regional specialties, something from their youth, or food and drinks from other cultures (Mexican cake remains a popular one) come tumbling into the bottle and mash tun. Early on, those beers demanded drinking. Today that landscape has changed, with beers like that released every week from a majority of breweries. So a brewery really needs to knock one out of the park not only to get noticed but to make a name for that beer. That leads us to 1840 Brewing’s African Drinking Chocolate.
1840 Brewing does a Drinking Chocolate series which so far includes Mexican, Italian and African. Each uses the same imperial stout base but the adjuncts change a little bit. In African’s case, 1840 Brewing found a West African Hot Chocolate recipe online. Going off that, African Drinking Chocolate gives off those label scare vibes with brown sugar, honey, milk sugar, cinnamon, cacao nibs and vanilla being added. (The online recipe 1840 found contained rum, so the barrel-aged version of African Drinking Chocolate sat in rum barrels for 14 months.)
10 years ago this would’ve sent everyone up to Milwaukee with lines out the door on release day and an assured day-of sellout. Now there’s probably something very close sitting on my local beer store’s shelves. So African Drinking Chocolate needs to stand out a bit. This reviewer rewards a balance of flavor and something not cloyingly sweet. Let’s dive in!
African Drinking Chocolate pours black with two fingers of khaki brown head. The head comes off as something akin to the foam on hot chocolate, looking creamy and delicious. Swirling it a bit, the head sticks to the glass a little then slowly and beautifully returns to the beer. That head eventually dies down and some brown highlights show up. Beautiful looking stout.
Immediately – heck even when I opened the bottle – two things dominated. The cinnamon comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up, while a big bitter chocolate supports that cinnamon. Some brown sugar shows up if you dig a little deeper, while a hint of honey sweetness appears as well. It smells like a kitchen that has all the ingredients to make a pastry of some sorts – a pie or cake – but it’s not put together and done yet. Each of the components stands out a bit from the others. Digging really deep yields some raisins and figs. For some reason, taking a break from smelling it and then coming back gives me some brussel sprout or green bean notes to it. Maybe I broke my nose…
Despite both the 6 ingredients listed on the label and the aroma, one thing clearly stands out when you drink it – bitter chocolate. It starts and finishes the sip off, leaving the finish to be an almost dry affair. It would appear that two of the listed additions – milk sugar and honey specifically – serve the mouthfeel more than anything else. As with a majority of 1840 beers I’ve had, the carbonation helps the beer out, never being carbed too low to make the beer feel heavy on the tongue. Things move, but some of that biter chocolate stays behind.
And that bitter chocolate moves across the tongue smoothly. A slight vanilla spike happens near the end, but it’s barely noticeable. Besides the bitter chocolate, the cinnamon shows up the most along with some roasty coffee notes. Must be the malt! Both the smoothness and bitter chocolate make this a joy to drink. Despite being 13% ABV, I easily and enjoyably finished off the 500 mL bottle with no issue whatsoever. That chocolate note also makes the beer finish somewhat dry, thus again assisting in a fast bottle finish.
While having 6 ingredients on the label, a majority of those either help with the mouthfeel or don’t really show up big at all. The cacao nibs and cinnamon are the stars. All other adjuncts either don’t show up enough or are so well balanced they just blend in with the base beer (vanilla, for example). The cinnamon never gets to be too much, the beer isn’t sweet, and everything’s smooth. Easy drinking and one I would definitely purchase again. Don’t sleep on 1840 Brewing’s stouts. They’re sneaky good and definitely not helping with my label scares!