Questionable Tastes TM_QT_HCHOC_FI_001

Chocolate, Hot. Spiked or Not.

Hot chocolate variations, from family-friendly to adults-only


Take Your Child To Work Day gets a little dicey when one’s work involves writing about spirits. I can’t exactly take my two boys — 11 and 9 — out to a professional tasting or to interview the hipster mixologist at the latest, greatest cocktail bar. (“Daddy, why does that man with the weird mustache keep talking so much about mezcal and his homemade bitters?”) Besides, it’s a little boring for them to watch the writing part: Boys, go sit over there and play a game on your phone while your old man bangs out his column. I’ve not even let my children read my book, Boozehound, not that they’d have the slightest interest in it anyway.

Still, over the years I’ve found a few age-appropriate ways for them to join in. I’ve written, for instance, about their love of mocktails, using fresh fruits and juices. That mocktail column actually received a ridiculous amount of negative comments, which probably made me even more gun-shy to involve them in anything remotely drinks-related.

But a couple winters ago, I traveled with Wes and Sander to Brussels, where we spent three days gorging on frites, mussels, and of course chocolate. During that cold trip, all of us had a sort of hot chocolate epiphany. We’ve been trying ever since to create our own perfect version at home. What could be more innocent than that?

What’s fascinating about hot chocolate is the sheer number of variations. Bitter or sweet chocolate? Mexican or French style? Cocoa powder or ganache? Whole milk or heavy cream? Sea salt or spices? A pinch of ancho chile? A little bit of butter? Marshmallow or whipped cream?

We tested several different methods and techniques, as you’ll see below. As a rule of thumb, however, I was mildly surprised to find that the more expensive, darker, higher-cocoa-percentage didn’t always work best in a hot chocolate. In plenty of recipes, the sweet Mexican chocolate was superior, though you have to stir really well so you avoid a certain gritty texture. Also, when recipes call for cocoa powder, you’d be hard-pressed to beat old Hershey’s Natural Unsweetened.


Of course, as the kids were enjoying their unadulterated chocolate, I had an ulterior work motive. I was separately spiking mine with all manner of spirits, experimenting with the perfect boozy hot chocolate.

I’d consulted a bunch of bartender friends, and it was amazing how often green Chartreuse, absinthe, and tequila or mezcal kept popping up as suggested pairings. To anyone who’s been skiing in the French Alps, the idea of green Chartreuse and chocolate isn’t a big surprise. For years, the Verte Chaud has been a popular aprés-ski drink.

The agave spirits seemed logical, considering the Mexican-hot-chocolate connection. In my own testing, I was also surprised to find that kirsch, spiced rum, and Branca Menta also worked well. But of all the spirits, absinthe was the biggest surprise. Like the green Chartreuse, its high proof and herbal quality balanced the thick, rich chocolate.

In any case, spiked or not, these chocolates will be crowd pleasers for all ages.

Green Lantern


Verte Chaud – green Chartreuse and hot chocolate — is a popular après ski drink in the French Alps. This version adds a little tequila and spice to light your lantern. Meehan recommends Ibarra brand Mexican chocolate, but this also works well with the Columbia Room Hot Chocolate (below).


5 ounces Mexican hot chocolate
1½ ounces añejo tequila
½ ounce green Chartreuse
1 dash Cholula hot sauce
Pinch dried ancho chili


Combine all ingredients in a heatproof mug. Garnish with a pinch of dried chili.

From Jim Meehan at PDT in New York

Columbia Room Hot Chocolate


This may be the perfect hot chocolate to spike. Created by Matt Ficke, it was originally designed to take a shot of absinthe, but it works with many different spirits. One of our favorites was Branca Menta, Fernet Branca’s minty cousin.


2 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
3 ounces Mexican sweet chocolate, chopped
Absinthe or other spirit (see below)


In a saucepan, heat the milk, cocoa powder, and salt, whisking constantly to combine until the mixture comes to a boil.

Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate, whisking gently until it’s completely melted. Makes 5 servings.


To spike:
Pour, while hot, into warm mugs, and stir in ¾ ounce of absinthe or other spirits.

Some suggestions: green Chartreuse, kirsch, mezcal, spiced rum, Fernet Branca, or Branca Menta.

From Matt Ficke at the Columbia Room in Washington, D.C.

Fever Dream


This is a versatile recipe that can be used with numerous spirits: Some favorites include bourbon, mezcal, kirsch, or Fernet Branca. But the best of all may be a quality spiced rum such as Matusalem Classico from the Dominican Republic, Foursquare from Barbados or Chairman’s Reserve from St. Lucia. If you don’t have demerara syrup, just use simple syrup.


6 ounces Pouring Ribbons Hot Chocolate (below)
1 ounce spirit of your choice
½ oz demerara syrup
1 dash Angostura bitters
Dollop Chartreuse-spiked whipped cream (below)


Combine spirits in heatproof mug. Top with hot chocolate. Garnish with green Chartreuse-spiked whipped cream and cocoa powder.

From Shannon Tebay at Pouring Ribbons in New York

Pouring Ribbons House Hot Chocolate


This hot chocolate recipe uses ganache, which prevents a gritty texture and adds richness.


5 heaping tablespoons chocolate ganache (below)
16 ounces whole milk, preferably organic


In a saucepan, heat the milk until just below a boil, then immediately reduce heat. Add the ganache and whisk well. Serve hot, in a mug. If desired, add your favorite spirit, or garnish with a marshmallow or the Chartreuse-spiked whipped cream.

From Shannon Tebay at Pouring Ribbons in New York

Pouring Ribbons Chocolate Ganache

TM_QT_HCHOC_AP_016For the ganache, Tebay recommends using Mast Brothers Brooklyn Blend chocolate, which has 74% cacao. In tests, we found we preferred using a slightly sweeter chocolate, around 65%.


1 part heavy cream, preferably organic
1 part chopped chocolate


Bring heavy cream to a boil and pour over chopped chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute, then gently stir until emulsified.

From Shannon Tebay at Pouring Ribbons in New York

Chartreuse-Spiked Whipped Cream

Pouring Ribbons is well known for its vintage Chartreuse collection, and so spiking the whipped cream with it seems like a no-brainer. Be sure to use green Chartreuse and not yellow.


200 milliliters heavy cream
50 milliliters green Chartreuse
50 milliliters simple syrup
Pinch of salt


In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, whip together all ingredients to medium peaks. Use to dollop hot chocolate drinks, such as the Fever Dream.

From Shannon Tebay at Pouring Ribbons in New York

Vince’s Petite Hot Chocolate


Possibly the richest, thickest, most decadent (and absolutely delicious) hot chocolate we’ve tasted. Stipo calls for Valrhona 75%, but we found Scharffen Berger 70% worked well too. Pour about 3 ounces into an espresso cup and serve this after a meal in lieu of dessert. Or better yet, spike it: Add about a half ounce of green Chartreuse to about 2½ ounces of hot chocolate. Ooo la la!


½ cup (100 grams) 70-75% chocolate
2 cups (450 grams) whole milk
½ cup (130 grams) unsalted butter
4 teaspoons (30 grams) white sugar
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground dried ancho chili


Put all ingredients in a pot, stirring and simmering constantly at a low temperature until it reaches the consistency you desire. To serve, pour 3 ounces into an espresso cup. The final yield will depend on how much you reduce the liquid while cooking, but the above recipe should make approximately 10 espresso cup portions.

Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or orange zest, and a pinch of sea salt.


From Vincent Stipo at Vernick Food + Drink in Philadelphia

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. Oh man, chocolate and tequila sounds so potent and strangely delicious!

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