Valentine's Day: Does It Have to Be the Worst Cocktail Day of the Year?

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

"I'm a sucker for chocolate but sweet, candy-ish drinks are definitely not my thing."


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The sheer quantity and depressing badness of Valentine's-themed drinks that are pitched by liquor marketers this time of year is enough to put off even the most romantic of us.

This week in the Washington Post, drinks columnist Jason Wilson gives a glimpse of the kinds of supposedly bibulous bilgewater that's promoted by liquor marketers each February in the lead up to what he terms "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. This year, I even received a Godiva-flavored vodka."

I've received all kinds of odd Valentine's Day drink pitches, including one for a cocktail "guaranteed" to enhance late-night amour, and a press release for a moonshine-soaked cherry that made up for in tasteless double entendre what the product lacked in genuine appeal.

As Wilson notes, many Valentine's Day drink suggestions include the use of chocolate-flavored spirits or liqueurs, and this is where things usually go off track (assuming they were ever on the right track to begin with). Chocolate is a beautiful flavor when properly delivered, but most often when the flavor appears in the cocktail realm, it's the kind of chocolate with a chemically saccharine, tooth-achingly sweetness.

I've written before about bartenders who are trying to rescue the flavor of chocolate from this candy mess, usually by making their own infused spirits and liqueurs using toasted cacao nibs and dark rum or whiskey. Wilson explores the commercially available types of chocolate booze, and the results are depressingly slim.

While a red wine-and-chocolate mix called ChocoVine tastes like "spiked Yoo Hoo," and other liqueurs came across equally unpalatable, there were a few alternatives.

The white crème de cacao from Marie Brizard is one of the better commercially available chocolate liqueurs, and Wilson also recommends the variety from Drillaud. Austria-based Mozart has a range of chocolate liqueurs primarily available in Europe but with some limited U.S. distribution, including a Black Chocolate liqueur that has the ponderous bitter tang of a high-cacao confection, and a Dry version that's surprisingly lean and spare with the sweetness.

I'm a sucker for chocolate but sweet, candy-ish drinks are definitely not my thing. Instead, I like to lace a crisp cocktail of aged tequila and an orangey Italian amaro with a light trace of crème de cacao, or add a touch of chocolate bitters to a drink based on dark rum, with a little sweet vermouth and a dash of vanilla liqueur.

There are several drinks that incorporate chocolate in good fashion and that would be suitable for serving during a Valentine's Day cocktail hour; these are a couple of my favorites. What are some of yours?