When I see the words "chocolate cocktail" or "chocolate martini" on a menu, I'll often launch into a (ok, yeah, obnoxious) tirade against hiding the taste of liquor in cocktails and serving 1,500-calorie, alcoholic sugar bombs topped with whipped cream. Then, once I stop emitting sparks, I'll order one anyway. I love a spiked chocolate milkshake like it's family.
But it wasn't until I started experimenting with cacao nib infusions that I understood the cocktail possibilities of a chocolate liqueur, or creme de cacao. Cacao nibs are pieces of cacao beans that have been roasted, so they're basically like unsweetened chocolate before it's made into chocolate. Delicately sweet with a hint of bitterness, a homemade chocolate liqueur made with cacao nibs is like an expensive dark chocolate bar in my drink instead of like a jigger of Nestle Quik.
What's Available to Buy
Godiva is the chocolate liqueur authority—they have dark, milk, and white chocolate flavors along with caramel and mocha. Their dark chocolate version is the most flexible for mixing and, when used judiciously, works well in dry, spirit-forward cocktails as well as more sugary creations. The rest of Godiva's liqueurs, while delicious, are exclusively for dessert drinks, in my opinion.
Mozart Black Chocolate has a higher cacao content for more of a bitter chocolate bite. It also performs like a champ in dry and sweet drinks, but those who don't like super dark chocolate won't be a fan and will probably like the original formulation better.
Bols, Hiram Walker, Marie Brizard, and DeKuyper all make creme de cacao, which is essentially also chocolate liqueur. They're a little easier to find than the Godiva and Mozart, and are available in both dark and white versions. What's the difference between dark and white creme de cacao? Just the color—dark is brown; white is clear. White creme de cacao comes in handy when adding brown to your drink would make it look unappetizing.
Store-bought chocolate liqueurs can be hit-or-miss in flavor, and the nicer ones can end up putting a dent in your budget. But the real reason to make your own is that you can customize it.
When you buy a chocolate bar, you can choose the experience you'll have. Is today an 80% cacao Madagascar dark chocolate day, or are you craving a Hershey's milk chocolate bar? You can do the same thing with your DIY chocolate liqueur by deciding how much sugar you want to add to your infusion. I like to add vanilla, but you could go with a cinnamon stick or some almond extract. Maybe get a little creative and try some lavender or chiles?
You can also play around with the spirit base. Instead of the neutral vodka, you could go all out with a whiskey or rum. In my book, I even did a quick infusion of coconut rum and cacao nibs (hold the sugar) for an easy chocolate-coconut liqueur. If you love chocolate, you'll never get tired of playing with flavors for chocolate liqueur.
You'll often see recipes for creme de cacao that call for cocoa powder. These make a liqueur that tastes good if you drink it right away, but it turns nasty when stored and doesn't mix particularly well. So cacao nibs are worth the extra effort and wait.
You can enjoy your new creation without getting too complicated. Just shake half an ounce of you chocolate liqueur with ice and 2 1/2 ounces of vodka or rum. Strain into a cocktail glass and enjoy! It's also nice mixed with bourbon, garnished with a maraschino cherry and perhaps a splash of the juice from the jar.
For a more complex drink, try the Averna Buena, which combines tequila, amaro, and chocolate in a sophisticated way.
You can even make an (almost) totally DIY Grasshopper using your chocolate liqueur and homemade creme de menthe along with some cream. The recipe's easy: just add one ounce of each element to a cocktail shaker full of ice, shake, strain, and serve.
Chocolate liqueur is also dessert magic: pour it on top of ice cream or cake and you'll see.