Pairing a nice red wine and fine dark chocolate is a common and delicious way to enhance the flavors of both treats. What might surprise you is that chocolate and alcohol have a history together that stretches back to some of the oldest civilizations. Early indigenous groups in both North and South America used chocolate as a fundamental part of religious practices. Chocolate alcoholic drinks have come a long way since.
The History of Pairing Chocolates with Alcohol
The majority of historians agree that nailing down an exact date for the invention of chocolate is pretty much impossible. Conjectures can be made based only on archeological evidence - but the evidence stretches back pretty far.
Both the Aztec and Mayan cultures revered cacao, the plant that produces the cacao bean from which chocolate is derived. In 2007, archeologists uncovered evidence of cacao use dating back over 3500 years. In North America, discoveries in Utah suggest that indigenous peoples in the area were using cacao by the end of the 8th century C.E. Aside from charting the age of chocolate, this information also suggests that there was “international” trade even between pre-industrial civilizations.
But So is Alcohol
The original cacao drinks were described by one Spaniard as being extremely bitter. It was only once the chocolate was taken to Europe that sugar was added to it. And remember that Utah discovery? What archeologists found was residue from the rind of the cacao bean. In creating cacao powder, cocoa powder, or chocolate, it is only the bean that is of any use. The early Utah natives, however, let the rind ferment and used it to create an early form of alcohol.
So it seems that pairing chocolates with alcohol isn’t a new idea. But, unlike our chocolate-loving forebears, we have so many choices now, how does one decide?
How to Choose Your Chocolate and Alcohol
Numerous experts have weighed in on this question, and most agree that if you’re going to pair chocolate with a spirit of some sort, don’t cheap out! A bar of higher-end chocolate and liquor will bring out each others’ flavors, where the cheaper of both will drown individual flavors in too much sweetness. And don’t use filled chocolates. For the perfect pairing, a plain bar of chocolate and an unflavored liquor is preferred.
Milk Chocolate and Rum
A well-aged rum and nice milk chocolate are paired perfectly. Rum is created from caramelized sugar or molasses, and it develops a caramel nose and flavor during the aging process. Well-crafted milk chocolate will also carry these flavors, especially if not overburdened with sugar. Also, make sure that you are serving your rum, or any alcohol, at room temperature. Cold on the tongue keeps you from appreciating the flavors in your pairing.
Nutty Chocolate and Whiskies
If your preference runs toward bourbon, rye, or scotch, chocolate-containing, or infused with, nuts are your go-to. Some whiskies have both scents and flavors of walnut or almond, two nuts that pair wonderfully with smooth chocolate. The flavor of chocolate and nuts in the bar enhances the nut flavors in the whisky.
Fruity Chocolate and Mezcal
Mezcal, like its cousin tequila, is often paired with citrus fruits as a way to bring out the particular flavors and highlights of the beverage. So pairing mezcal with fruity chocolate just makes sense. Tangy flavors, such as citrus, dried cherry, or dried blueberry are enhanced by mezcal’s smokiness and tartness, while the sweetness in the chocolate is enhanced by the slight bitterness of the alcohol.
White Chocolate and Gin (or Tequila)
The name “white chocolate” is a bit of a misnomer. White chocolate is made by removing the cocoa solids from the chocolate-making process, leaving only the “cocoa butter [an oil] and sugar.” However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be mixed with alcohol. The floral scents present in both gin and tequila bring out a flavor in white chocolate that is missed when the cocoa is present.
To Cocktail or Not to Cocktail
Experts are divided on this question. Some assert that mixing chocolates with alcohol that is already in a mixed drink simply introduces too many flavors to the mix. But chocolate experts Lindt suggest a few cocktails that, in their estimation, pair quite nicely with chocolate. With Lindt chocolate, specifically. One suggestion is the “Berry Basil Smash,” a combination of basil and strawberry flavors that pairs well with salted dark chocolate.
Cutting Out the Middleman: Alcohol-Filled Chocolates
A bite of chocolate and a sip of liquor is not the only way to enjoy the combination of these two tasty treats. And while most liquor-filled chocolates “taste like sweet, waxy cough syrup,” there are options available for those who want one-stop convenience in their chocolate and alcohol pairings. High-end chocolatiers, including the official chocolate company of the British royal family, are creating flavorful truffles that balance all of the notes found in chocolate and alcohol.
One thing to be careful of with alcohol-infused chocolates: don’t eat them expecting to get drunk. It is possible, but the amount of sugar and chocolate you will consume to get drunk will most likely leave you feeling horrible in comparison to simply drinking.
Blending Chocolate Alcoholic Drinks
If your preferences run completely on the liquid side of things, you can still enjoy the combination of flavors in some creative cocktails or infused spirits. A chocolate martini can be prepared in several ways, using vodka and any of a variety of chocolate liqueurs. With a white chocolate liqueur, it’s possible to make a stunning and flavorful white chocolate martini.
And for the purist, both high-end distillers and high-end chocolatiers offer a wide range of chocolate liqueurs. Both Godiva and Mozart are well known for their chocolate, and both offer exclusive liqueurs that will satisfy even the most discerning palate. Distillers such as Ballotin infuse their spirits with chocolate flavors, coming up with such odd-but-intriguing pairings as peanut butter chocolate whiskey.
For the connoisseur of chocolate and alcohol, there are so many options that demonstrate the ways that pairing the two is an excellent way to enhance your enjoyment of both.