Chocolates and Valentine’s Day go together like, well, chocolates and Port. And while that’s a tried-and true pairing, higher-octane spirits can also provide a fantastic backdrop to let chocolate shine.
According to Megan Giller, author of a forthcoming book about American chocolate, barrel-aged spirits like whiskey or aged rum echo the natural vanilla and caramel richness found in many chocolates. Lighter spirits like gin can help bright fruit flavors really pop, she says. There are, however, limits to chocolate pairings.
“Cocktails do not work with chocolate, unfortunately,” says Giller. “There are just too many contrasting flavors, and a lot of cocktails are served cold, which mutes the flavor of the chocolate and doesn’t melt the chocolate in your mouth.”
Pour those high-quality spirits straight, she advises, and skip the ice.
Pair milk chocolate with: Rum
Whether in bars or bonbons, rich milk chocolate is a natural companion to aged rum. If your chocolate is a rung or two above a Hershey bar, you’ll find plenty of butterscotch and caramel that echo the same flavors in good aged rum. Runner-up: a dry Curaçao (orange liqueur). “Orange and chocolate is a classic combination,” says Giller. “This is just a different form of it.”
Recommended rum: Caña Brava Reserva Añeja, $45 (92 points)
Pair nutty chocolate with: Bourbon, rye or Scotch
For chocolate that has naturally nutty flavors, like single-origin bars from Central America or Venezuela or nut-studded confections, whiskey is your best bet. Look for bottlings with hints of walnut or almond. “The chocolate picks up the notes from the nutty spirits and just takes it to the next level,” Giller says.
Recommended whiskey: Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, $19 (93 points)
Pair fruity chocolate with: Mezcal
Dark chocolate often has fruity notes that range from raisin to dried cherry, blueberry or citrus. Mezcal plays up that brightness, which lets the fruitiness shine through. This surprising combination works best with a lightly smoky mezcal.
Recommended mezcal: Los Amantes Mezcal Joven, $50 (94 points)
Pair white chocolate with: Gin or Tequila
Without the cocoa solids used in dark or milk chocolate, “it’s all cocoa butter and sugar,” says Giller. That means the floral notes found in gin or blanco Tequila work well to perk up white chocolate.
Recommended gin: Citadelle Gin, $25 (94 points)
No pairing required here, as these confections are infused with or influenced by spirits.
Look for edgy flavors like Yuzu Gimlet and Bullet Run Bourbon alongside nonalcoholic bonbons. Flavors change frequently. (batchpdx.com, $28/box of 12)
Designed to hang off the rim of your favorite glass, Chocolate Sidecar comes in multiple flavors and designs. Each piece is handmade with Belgian chocolate, with options including milk or dark chocolate, and flavors such as citrus, strawberry and mint. (www.chocolatetext.com, $29.50/box of 15)
Hudson Valley Bourbon Dark Milk
For those who prefer bars to bonbons, this limited-edition bar is made from roasted cocoa nibs aged with staves from Tuthilltown Spirits’ Bourbon barrels. (tastefruition.com, $12/2.12-ounce bar)
Neuhaus Liqueur Chocolates
These dark chocolate truffles are filled with name-brand spirits, including Glenfiddich Whisky, Cointreau, Smirnoff Vodka and Remy Martin Cognac. (neuhauschocolate.com, $39/box of 20)
Roni-Sue Cocktail Collection
A former bartender, Rhonda “Roni-Sue” Kave offers cocktail-inspired truffles in flavors like Green Fairy (Absinthe), Dark & Stormy and Margarita. Rose liqueur-infused “Roni’s Roses” also make a special appearance for Valentine’s Day. (roni-sue.com, $26/box of 12)