Move over peanut butter, chocolates got a new sidecar now (just kidding, we love you, please don’t go)
by Jenn Ward
There seems to be a natural affinity between chocolate and alcohol. They pair well, they mix well, and they hit that perfect spot satisfying both sweet and bitter. There are so many ways to enjoy them together, so let’s explore the several categories that they play together in.
Liqueurs: Chocolate liqueurs are that all-in-one approach, where you don’t need to do more than scoop ice cream into a bowl or put ice in a glass. There are a million of them out there, but here are some of the more interesting ones:
Deadhead Dark Chocolate Rum – Deadhead rum, made in Mexico, can be found easily on the shelves in between all of the other glass rum bottles. The shrunken head is attention grabbing to say the least. But the spirit inside is just as attention grabbing, in a good way. Then they upped the stakes with the Dark Chocolate Rum. It’s the same rum, given an infusion of slow roasted cacao. Surprisingly it strikes a balance between lightly sweet rum and bitter dark chocolate.
Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao – Tempus Fugit has a reputation of making the best liqueurs in the business, always rich in flavor, true to centuries old recipes, and without all of the extra additives that other companies utilize. Their Creme de Cacao is no different. Distilled from raw cacao, macherated with roasted cacao and whole vanilla beans, this liqueur hits the spot between semi-sweet and dark chocolate perfectly.
Xicaru Pechuga Mole Mezcal – This one is not a liqueur at all, but a full liquor. And it goes to show just because chocolate is involved, doesn’t mean that it has to be sweet. Pechuga mezcals are different from most spirits out there, because they have a piece of meat hanging in the distillation pot. In this case, whole chickens, dressed up in a mole sauce that takes two days to make, are added to the still. The resulting flavor and nose are an amplified mezcal, still a bit smokey and vegetal, but also hints of dark chocolate and warming spices.
Wines: Speaking of interesting, wine with chocolate already in it is definitely not typical. Much like liqueurs, this is as easy as opening the bottle and pouring the contents into a glass. You won’t find super complex vino with a bunch of tasting notes, but you will find a fun, delicious glass to sip:
Red Decadence Chocolate Wine – Hailing from Washington state, this red blend has a nose that is all dark fruit, blueberries, plums, and black cherries with a whiff of baking chocolate. On the palate, it’s a liquid truffle.
Cocoa Di Vine – Born in California, this one is fairly straightforward, red wine and chocolate, but does bring a touch of caramel and vanilla to the party. Personally, I love this one on vanilla ice cream.
Chocovine Chocolate Wine – Not wanting to be left out, the Netherlands brings us this concoction of French Cabernet Sauvignon, and fine chocolate and cream both from Holland. Put all together, this is like fondue in a glass, just add fruit slices on the side.
Bitters: When most folks hear bitters, they think of Angostura, the classic seen at every bar. While these are similar, in that you only use a small amount in your cocktails, the flavors are wildly different. These are not for drinking on their own, but instead for bringing your cocktail into the realm of desserts. A few dashes is all you really need:
Dashfire Mole Bitters – Again, just because it’s chocolate, doesn’t automatically mean sweet. This bitter also combines classic mole spices to bring chocolate, heat, and bitter to your drink. Try it in your next Tequila Old Fashioned or Mezcal Margarita. It also plays nicely with bitter orange flavors such as Aperol and Campari.
Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters – Based in Seattle, Washington, Scrappy’s puts out a range of bitters, from Aromatic and Orange to Lavender and Firewater. Sourcing organic cocoa nibs from Seattle chocolatier Theo, and a simple idea of no artificial ingredients or shortcuts, this bitters is like having liquid dark chocolate at the ready. Try it in your next Manhattan or Rum Old Fashioned.
Woodford Reserve Chocolate Bitters – From the distillers of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, comes a full line of bitters all built around the main flavors found in their whiskey. Hitting that balance between milk and semi-sweet, this is a great bitter for transforming things even outside of cocktails. Try a few drops in your morning coffee or added to brownies for more of a chocolate oomph!
Booze in Chocolates: The holiday staple. Little chocolates, sometimes in the shape of bottles, filled with liquid goodness ranging from gin, rum, whiskey, and more. Or the ever popular truffles made with booze folded into the confection. The best part? No glassware to clean up afterwards:
- Sugarfina – Makers of all sorts of new school confections, their line of booze filled chocolates use spirits from well known brands like Aviation Gin and Casamigos. Can’t decide on which one to get? Snag their four piece Top Shelf Cordials bento set for a little of everything. (https://www.sugarfina.com/top-shelf-cordials-4-piece-candy-bento-box)
- Trader Joe’s – I’ll let you in on a secret. I wait every year for the Boozy Little Chocolate Truffles box to come out. With four different spirits, Scotch, Gin, Navy Rum, and Prosecco, each in a different chocolate (milk, dark, and white), and at just the right size, I’ve been known not only to give these boxes to others, but also to treat myself. Sadly, they only come out around the holidays and disappear right after New Year’s Day.
- Mariette’s – In the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose, is Mariette’s Chocolates. While their techniques are traditional, their flavors are anything but. With a good assortment of boozy truffles, from Grand Marnier to Kahlua, you can quickly fill up a custom box for you or a friend. And they ship anywhere in the US! (https://www.mariettechocolates.com/our-chocolates/)
Pairing: Sometimes the classics call. Having chocolate next to your glass does give a greater degree of control over the level of sweet, bitter, and booze you are enjoying. Here are some general pairing ideas, but these are not hard and fast rules. Enjoy what calls to you:
- White Chocolate – Reach for your dessert wines, Moscatos and Rieslings, cream sherry, fruit liqueurs, smoky Scotch, lighter or more citrus driven gins, blanco tequila, aged rum, rhum agricoles, fruity sour beers, lambics, and hoppy IPA’s
- Milk Chocolate – Good old amicable milk chocolate, goes with just about anything. Pour a glass of semi-sweet wines like Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, minerally rosés, molasses based rums, spice driven gins, Mezcal, crisp Belgin style beers, and Pilsners
- Semi– or bittersweet Chocolate – To balance the bitterness, bold, tannic wines are called for, as are Bourbons, aged Tequila, drier rums, brandies, Japanese whiskey, Amari or other potable bitter liqueurs, ales, and saisons
- Dark Chocolate – Good pairings include fruit driven red wines, tawny ports, mint or coffee liqueurs, Mezcal, vodka, Irish whisky, stouts, and porters.
Pair either like with like (sweet with sweet, bitter with bitter), or contrast flavors (sweet with bitter or spicy). Both ways will give you a new appreciation for both what’s in your glass and what’s on your plate.