Julie Rodriguez

I love chocolate. Whereas most people have bowls of fruit in their kitchens, I have a bowl full of chocolate bars. I once went to the Theo chocolate factory store in Seattle and tried to spend $400 on a custom assortment before my girlfriend threatened to leave me (the most I could get away with was $40). At night I dream of chocolate sheep.

So naturally, when I noticed a new liquid cacao called Cholaca in my local supermarket, I got excited. Real excited. And when I heard that some breweries were using Cholaca in their beers -- I just about lost my damned mind.

I also reasoned that if breweries were throwing Cholaca into beer, I should be able to, too. What if I could make the beer in my fridge even better?

So I’ve decided to stage a (very unscientific) experiment in which I’ll pour Cholaca directly into five different types of beers. Perhaps I’ll create some delicious new beer cocktails. Perhaps all attempts will fail. There’s only one way to find out.

What the heck is Cholaca?

But first, before I get my hands dirty with sweet, sweet chocolate (cue drool), I figure I should know a bit more about the intriguing new product I’d be employing. So I met with Cholaca owner Ira Leibtag in the Boulder, Colorado, coffeeshop Ozo, where I sipped on an iced coffee with Cholaca and almond milk. The concoction had me vibrating pleasantly -- and not just from the caffeine. I learned that in addition to being a rich, chocolatey add-on to any drink, cacao (especially in this format) gives you a real steady buzz. It felt like a nice, smooth boost of energy, which feels very different from chugging an energy drink before flying in a wingsuit over a mountain. You know, like one does.

So how does Cholaca -- with its two simple ingredients, cacao and water -- differ from what you get in a regular chocolate bar? “One two-ounce shot of Cholaca has the equivalent of ten Hershey bars-worth of cacao,” says Leibtag. Cacao is thought to have antioxidants up the wazoo, so that’s not a bad thing. But even better than that? It tastes like chocolate. Not like a sugary chocolate bar you buy for a buck in the supermarket, but chocolate. This is the difference between a cup of gas station coffee and a pourover made from carefully roasted single-origin Ethiopian beans. (And like many single-origin cups, Cholaca is also fair-trade and works with Ecuadorian farmers to produce organic cacao.) This is some next level stuff.
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Why breweries love Cholaca

As Leibtag tells the story, he was doing fine selling his Cholaca to coffeeshops and natural food stores when a few local breweries asked if they could get some of his liquid cacao for their beer. One such brewery was Oskar Blues, which has now been using Cholaca for its Death by Coconut porter for three years. Cholaca provides the “intense pure liquid cacao flavor” that the brewery brags about in its description, and it’s a lot easier for the brewers to brew with Cholaca than cocoa nibs. “[Nibs] created such a mess, [Oskar Blues] didn’t want to make it anymore,” Leibtag explains. “Nibs are challenging. And our chocolate is a far higher quality.”

Just think about how many breweries use chocolate in their porters and stouts -- especially during the winter. In the past year, breweries (not coffeeshops!) have provided Cholaca with the majority of its sales. Hell, your favorite beer might use Cholaca and you might not even know it! More than 100 breweries are using it now -- everyone from Pennsylvania’s Tröegs Brewing (for their Chocolate Stout Nitro) to Denver, Colorado’s Ratio Beerworks (for their Chocolate Orange Belgian Tripel)!

Time to experiment

In order to determine which styles of beers go best with Cholaca, I figured that the cheapest, most time-efficient way to experiment at home would be to pour the stuff directly into some of my favorite beers. Of course, I also thought Leibtag would tell me that my plan was nuts; instead, he told me that this is basically what breweries are already doing. He didn’t think it was all that crazy!

And so -- like a kid home alone after school, bent on squeezing a big bottle of chocolate syrup into everything from o.j. to seltzer water to almond milk just to see what tastes good -- I’ve purchased a bunch of beers to go nuts with the Cholaca.

Alpine Beer Company Windows Up IPA

7% ABV (Alpine, CA)

How I think this is going to taste: Gross. But I’ve got to give it a shot!

Tasting notes: This is a delicious West Coast IPA. It’s fragrant, with tropical fruit and plenty of piney hops on the nose,. It tastes a lot like grapefruit, among other delicious citrus fruits. And when you throw some chocolate in the mix… it’s…kind of okay? Maybe? While hops and chocolate are a great pairing, the grapefruit isn’t a great pairing for the chocolate, which pretty much tramples over all that this beer has going for it. Well, crap.

credits:"Julie Rodriguez"

Breckenridge Brewery Summer Pils

5% ABV (Littleton, CO)

How I think this is going to taste: I honestly have no clue. But Germans do all sorts of weird stuff to their beer, and this is a German style. So maybe it’ll taste great…?

Tasting notes: Breckenridge uses Cholaca in its Chocolate Orange stout, which is a much more obvious match for liquid cacao. The pils, on the other hand, is summery and crisp on its own -- but you know what’s weird? It kind of works with the Cholaca! Granted, the chocolate finish overpowers the beer’s other, more subtle floral, grassy flavors. So I might as well have just mixed it with seltzer. Maybe not the perfect match….

credits:"Julie Rodriguez"

Weldwerks Brewing Co. Hefeweizen

5.5% ABV (Greeley, CO)

How I think this is going to taste: Having just mentioned the Breckenridge Chocolate Orange Stout being a good fit, I think the orange notes from the Hef might similarly play nicely with the Cholaca.

Tasting notes: I’ve got good news and bad news. Bad news: by adding Cholaca, you lose the crisp, refreshing parts of this magnificent hef, which has won silver medals at the Great American Beer Festival and the U.S. Open Beer Championship. Good news: Oh baby, those cacao and orange flavors are delicious together. I think I’d put away a few pints of this if it weren’t 90 degrees and humid outside right now.

credits:"Julie Rodriguez"

Schlafly Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout

10.2% ABV (St. Louis, MO)

How I think this is going to taste: I have high hopes. This is exactly the type of beer that’ll benefit from a burst of chocolate. I’m guessing you can bank on loving Cholaca mixed into any barrel-aged imperial stout. Cacao can be best friends with caramel, bourbon, and vanilla notes. I’m just hoping it won’t overpower the subtle notes of the beer...

Tasting notes: Wow wow wow wow wow. This is a big beer (10.2% ABV!), so it typically does have a tiny alcohol burn as it goes down. But the sweet Cholaca covers that up -- and even more importantly, the bourbon-barrel and chocolate notes dance together on your palate like... well, like those good dancers on that ABC dance show where b-list celebs do the cha-cha. credits:"Julie Rodriguez"

Rogue Dead Guy Ale

6.8% ABV (Newport, OR)

How I think this is going to taste: Dead Guy is a classic, and one of the first craft beers I ever drank. It’s a take on the German Maibock, and its requisite malt character should pair nicely with chocolate. I mean, some brewers do use chocolate malts in their beers...

Tasting notes: In a few of the previous cases, the Cholaca overpowered the beer and turned it into something I wouldn’t necessarily recommend. But not here. I almost want to call up Rogue and ask them if they can can this stuff with Cholaca in it! As predicted, the chocolate plays nicely with Dead Guy’s malt backbone. Based on this pairing, I’d recommend pouring a smidge of Cholaca into any malt-forward brew. Hell, I’d recommend pouring a smidge of it into any beer just to see what happens. We could all afford to have more fun with the beer we’re drinking. And this experiment -- especially this pairing -- was hella fun.

credits:"Julie Rodriguez"


Note: Breckenridge Brewery is a member of The High End, owned by Anheuser-Busch.