In my quest to brew a chocolate stout, I read that bourbon soaked cacao nibs can unleash an oaky spiciness that should lend nicely to this style of beer.
Cacao nibs are basically raw chocolate, pieces of cacao beans that have been roasted, hulled and prepped to the point where all that there is left to do is process them into bars. The chocolate-making process involves grinding up the cacao into a thick paste to which extra cacao butter, sugar, milk and other flavorings are added.
Nibs, on their own, taste vaguely similar to roasted coffee beans. Nibs are a bit crunchier than coffee beans, since some coffee beans can become quite delicate after roasting, but give primarily the same textural effect when covered in chocolate. Cacao nibs are always found in small pieces, rather than coffee bean-sized pieces. The flavor is slightly nutty and, while there are definitely some chocolate notes in there, they are primarily going to contribute texture and a hint of bitterness (the same as raw cocoa powder). Some beans will have a more complex flavor, but generally coffee beans will have a more interesting taste on their own. Cacao nibs do serve to draw out darker notes in chocolate, which is why they are such a popular addition.
My plan is to soak 4 oz of cacao nibs in 5 oz of bourbon (Jim Beam!) for two weeks, and then dump the cacao/bourbon concoction into my secondary until I’ve reached my final gravity.