Questionable Tastes TM_BZ_CACAO_FI_002

Separating the Crème

Chocolate liqueurs generally make Valentine's Day the Worst Cocktail Day of the Year. But there are exceptions.


It must get a little desperate in the marketing departments of booze companies after Christmas and New Year’s Eve. How else to explain the mix of half-baked party ideas and strange events that fills up my inbox every winter?

I know it must be January, for instance, when I receive invitations to three Robert Burns Night suppers as part of the Scotch distillers’ annual marketing campaign. Here’s what I can say about Burns Night (it was January 25, by the way): It settles once and for all the burning question “Does haggis really pair with Scotch?” Yes, but only if you’re a whisky or two in the bag, wearing a kilt and reciting a poem, in Scottish, entitled “Address to a Haggis.”

After Burns Night, I view the NFL conference playoffs with dread. As I watched Seattle hold off San Francisco in the final seconds this year, I couldn’t help but picture some poor mixologist stressing out about whether his Super Bowl cocktail would contain, say, Campari and Goldschläger (for the 49ers) or, say, blue curaçao (for the Seahawks).

As it turns out, a Denver/Seattle Super Bowl was a boon for blue curaçao. Still, did we really need to celebrate the Broncos with a mix of blue curaçao, vodka, and orange soda? Was it important to cheer on the Seahawks with a 12th Man Margarita or a Seattle Swizzle (the latter with citrus vodka, peach schnapps, pineapple juice, sour mix, and blue curaçao)? Does the world really need a Bronco-tini?

But the Super Bowl passes quickly in the world of booze, and before you know it, the public relations people have moved on to Valentine’s Day. Or as I’ve taken to calling it, the Worst Cocktail Day of the Year.

Valentine’s Day is when the chocolate martini still, inexplicably, hogs the spotlight. For 11 months out of the year, I blissfully almost never hear a word about, or think about, chocolate-flavored vodkas and liqueurs. Then, right about the time Punxsutawney Phil pokes his head out of a hole in the ground, I get the full-court press from Godiva liqueurs. Once year, I even received a Godiva-flavored vodka.

Still, I thought perhaps I was being unfair to this category; I like real chocolate well enough. So, not too long ago, I underwent a tasting of chocolate liqueurs. I planned to immerse myself in their cloying little world. And I resolved to come up with a Valentine’s Day chocolate cocktail that didn’t make me gag.

I gathered what chocolate liqueurs I could find on liquor store shelves. Mostly that meant different brands of white and dark crème de cacao, but I also grabbed the Godiva line, as well as a product called ChocoVine (“The great taste of Dutch chocolate and fine Cabernet wine”).

Readers, I tried. I really did. But I won’t pretend: By and large, this category just isn’t for me. What conclusions did I draw? I can tell you that I preferred the regular Godiva liqueur to white Godiva liqueur (which looked like milk and smelled like vanilla). I would describe ChocoVine as tasting like spiked Yoo-hoo. And I can advise you to avoid most dark (or brown) crème de cacao, which is usually full of caramel coloring.

Here’s my advice on the matter: Stick with white crème de cacao from good-quality brands such as Marie Brizard or Drillaud, both which are high enough proof (around 50) to add something when you mix them in a cocktail – which is the only way I would ever drink crème de cacao or any other chocolate spirit.

But what cocktail exactly? A million-dollar question.

Just about the only classic cocktail with a touch of chocolate flavor that I generally recommend is the Alexander, calling for two parts gin or brandy, one part cream and one part white crème de cacao, shaken and served with grated nutmeg on top. I’ve also enjoyed experimenting with pear, apple and other fruit liqueurs in an Alexander. But the occasions that call for an Alexander seem rather limited, and for whatever reason it just doesn’t say “be my valentine” to me.

So, as I often do, I scoured the old-time cocktail books, looking for crème de cacao recipes. In a useful though rather obscure 1917 guide by bartender Hugo R. Ensslin, simply titled Recipes for Mixed Drinks, I ran across an odd formulation called the Perpetual Cocktail. It called for both dry and sweet vermouth, flavored by dashes of both creme de cacao and Creme Yvette.

Crème Yvette, of course, is the pinkish-purple, violet-berry liqueur that was once a bar staple but disappeared from the market sometime in the 1960s. For years, it had been the Holy Grail of my liquor-store archaeology quests. Then Cooper Spirits returned the old family recipe to liquor shelves in 2009.

Anyway, the Perpetual — with pretty Crème Yvette and chocolaty crème de cacao — had Valentine’s Day written all over it. I decided to take it a step further by replacing the sweet vermouth with pink Martini Rosato vermouth. I also increased the presence of the two liqueurs.

The result: a floral, garnet-colored, slightly spiced, not-too-sweet, not-too-strong cocktail with just a pleasant hint of chocolate. I therefore wish you a Perpetually Rosy February 14.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to check my e-mail. Valentine’s Day will soon pass, and I’m sure that Presidents’ Day-themed drinks will start rolling in any moment now.

Perpetually Rosy


This is a Valentine’s Day variation on the Perpetual Cocktail, found in Hugo R. Ensslin’s classic 1917 guide, Recipes for Mixed Drinks. In this version, sweet vermouth is replaced by rosato (or pink) vermouth such as Martini Rosato, the most widely available brand.

For the crème de cacao, always use white, not dark. Look for good-quality brands such as Drillaud or Marie Brizard. Crème Yvette is a violet-berry liqueur that recently returned to the market after disappearing a half-century ago. You could substitute crème violette for the Crème Yvette, but the result will be more violet than rosy. For an even fuller-flavored version, substitute Lillet Blanc for the dry vermouth.


2 ounces dry vermouth, preferably Noilly Prat
2 ounces rosato (pink) vermouth, preferably Martini
1 ounce Crème Yvette (see headnote)
1 ounce white crème de cacao


Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the vermouths, Crème Yvette and crème de cacao. Shake well, then strain into two chilled cocktail (martini) glasses.

Serves 2

The Alexander


The Alexander is a versatile drink that every home bartender should break out in the wintertime. It can be made with gin or brandy, or experiment with other spirits.

Some cocktail purists insist that a Brandy Alexander should actually be called a Panama. Ignore them.


1½ ounces gin, cognac or other spirit
¾ ounce heavy cream
¾ ounce white crème de cacao
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish


Fill a mixing glass two-thirds full with ice. Add the gin, cognac or Belle de Brillet, then the heavy cream and white crème de cacao. Shake well and strain into a martini glass. Sprinkle with nutmeg.

Adapted from Imbibe! by David Wondrich (Perigee Trade, 2007)

20th Century


This cocktail, according to author Ted Haigh, was named for the futuristic redesign of the 20th Century Limited train. This drink is sort of like a Corpse Reviver No. 2 that calls for white crème de cacao instead of Cointreau (and also without the dash of absinthe).

Haigh calls the 20th Century an “uncommon” mix of flavors, with tangy lemon followed by “an ethereal sense of chocolate” as the aftertaste. “It’s an amazing experience you won’t want to miss,” he writes. It’s a weird cocktail all right.

The original 20th Century recipe calls for ¾ ounce of lemon juice, which is way too much for me. I also found that if you wanted more chocolate flavor, an extra quarter-ounce of crème de cacao didn’t hurt. Also, be absolutely sure to use white crème de cacao in this cocktail. In fact, steer toward white crème de cacao in all cases. The brown or dark crème de cacao is generally full of caramel coloring.


1½ ounces gin
¾ ounce Lillet Blanc
½ ounce white crème de cacao
½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Twist of lemon peel, for garnish


Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Add the gin, Lillet Blanc, crème de cacao and lemon juice. Shake well, then strain into a chilled cocktail (martini) glass. Twist the lemon peel over the drink to release its essence, then drop it in as a garnish.

Adapted from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh (Quarry Books, 2009)

21st Century


An agave-based take on the 20th Century (above). You could call this a margarita variation, in which crème de cacao steps in for triple sec. Meehan calls for Siete Leguas tequila. Always always always use white crème de cacao.


2 ounces blanco tequila, preferably Siete Leguas
¾ ounce white crème de cacao
¾ ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Pernod, to rinse coupe


Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled, Pernod-rinsed coupe.

From Jim Meehan of PDT in New York

Photos by Julia Silva

Jason Wilson is the author of Boozehound: On The Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits and the wine series Planet of the Grapes. He previously wrote the drinks column for the Washington Post, which has won awards for Best Newspaper Food Column three times from the Association of Food Journalists. Wilson is director of the Center for Cultural Outreach at Drexel University, which also publishes The Smart Set. He is series editor of The Best American Travel Writing, was previously the food columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @boozecolumnist


  1. Yes! The world really does need a Bronco-tini! A delicious classy drink to support Peyton and Company. It made it’s rounds to many parties world wide among a few bars to boot! Even though we got our asses handed to us, we are not bitter, just happy that we were filled up on some delicious vodka concoction. We needed it! I’m still in mourning!

  2. RJR says:

    There is hope for brown creme de cacao. The Tempus Fugit brand is awesome. Perfect in an Alexander, and it worked in a 20th Century too, tho I don’t care much for that drink.

  3. There is also hope for white creme de cacao. Last year, Sound Spirits Distillery in Seattle released their Depth Cacao, a clear liquor made with organic cocoa nibs from a local chocolatier. It’s not technically a creme liqueur, however, since it lacks the appropriate amount of added sugar . It is, however, still appropriately (and deliciously) sweet; I can say from personal experience it works well in the 20th Century Cocktail. I’m excited to try the 21st Century cocktail and compare!

Leave a Reply