Inside the Luxurious Rise of Chocolate Cocktails
America loves cocktails, and it loves chocolate. So, with both products experiencing growth, why not put them together? The result has been an evolution of chocolate martinis, chocolate Manhattans, and numerous cocktails featuring products that range from chocolate-infused spirits and chocolate liqueurs to chocolate nibs and Oreo cookies. Not surprisingly, “chocolate bars,” which feature chocolate cocktails and chocolate desserts, have popped up around the country.
But putting chocolate and spirits together takes planning. “Not everything works,” says Pam Williams, founder and lead instructor of Ecole Chocolat, a chocolate-based cooking school with headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, and an office in San Francisco. “You are looking for flavors that complement each other.”
An issue with using chocolate is that it has a high fat content, which can create mixing issues with many other liquids. It can be grainy when liquids are added. “So what many do is use a chocolate liqueur, like crème de cacao, to bring that hint of chocolate,” Williams says. “You can also do your own chocolate liqueur by taking chocolate nibs, which are the cocoa beans shattered to pieces, and steep them in a spirit like vodka.”
Bitter chocolate is often preferred when developing cocktails, because a sweet chocolate may provide too much sweetness. Cocoa powder sometimes works, but unless the drink is something like a brandy alexander or the cocoa is a well-milled variety, there will be some grittiness, Williams explains. “It’s OK in a milkshake, but if you don’t have another fat component like ice cream, that hint of grittiness can be off-putting,” she says.
For The Up Room bar in Chicago’s The Robey hotel, chocolate plays a role in a couple of the most popular cocktails created by bar manager Tim Hollingsworth. “I have a culinary background, so my approach to cocktails comes from that culinary angle,” he says. “When it comes to chocolate, it takes a whole lot of tastings to figure out how you want to use it.” The Up Room’s cocktail Worms in Dirt takes its cue from the dessert of the same name. It employs gummy worms from confectioner Dylan’s Candy Bar as both a garnish and to create a syrup to use around the rim of the glass so Oreos can stick to it. The cocktail is largely a mudslide, made with not only crème de cacao but homemade Irish cream that has cocoa powder, too.
But perhaps the most popular cocktail at The Up Room is the From Islay with Love, which uses crème de cacao along with two scotch varieties from the island of Islay, as well as dry curacao, lemon juice, crème de menthe, orange bitters, egg white, and simple syrup. “The egg white calms down the peatyness [of the scotch] and lets the chocolate and mint shine through,” Hollingsworth says.
At Bailey’s Chocolate Bar in St. Louis, the name says it all. “Chocolate is in almost every drink we make,” owner David Bailey says of the establishment, which also features desserts, cheese boards, flatbreads, beer, and wine. “It is something we work hard to perfect, but we also want to make sure we offer variety for our guests.”
Of the 10 martinis on Bailey’s cocktail menu, several employ vodka, including the Signature that has vodka steeped with chocolate nibs, Irish cream, and chocolate ice cream, then blended and served in a martini glass. Cocktails utilizing other spirits include the Mexican, which features dark chocolate and coffee liqueurs and tequila, and the Rocky Road to Dublin that turns chocolate ice cream, Irish whiskey, and walnut liqueur “to the consistency of a milkshake,” Bailey says. There is also a Mocha Manhattan that includes bourbon, bitters, and dark chocolate and coffee liqueurs.
“You want to think of the flavor profile of what you’re creating, so a highly herbaceous gin probably doesn’t mix,” Bailey says. “But you can get pretty creative. Remember, chocolate is either dark and rich or lighter and sweeter, so you need to adjust the liquors.”
Balancing chocolate and alcohol is key to making a great chocolate martini, explains Irem Eren, wine director and events manager at New York’s AYZA Wine & Chocolate Bar. The full-service restaurant features six chocolate martinis. “If it’s too sweet, it can be overwhelming,” she says. “Normally we prefer to use dark chocolate, because milk chocolate is too sweet and too heavy.” Vodka is a perfect spirit for chocolate because it has a neutral flavor, but whiskey also works well, “especially bourbon aged in old casks that have a chocolate note.”
One of the restaurant’s signature cocktails is the Chocolate Manhattan, with chocolate- infused bourbon, sweet and dry Vermouth, and Angostura bitters, “which complement the sweetness and balances out [the taste],” she says. For the cocktails utilizing vodka, AYZA offers a Classic Chocolate Martini, which combines vodka with cocoa di vine, a chocolate wine, with dark and cappuccino truffles. The Espresso Chocolate Martini has vanilla vodka, Kahlua, chilled espresso, and crème de cacao. To finish each decadent drink, Eren tops the cocktails with pure dark chocolate shavings.