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Elements: Chocolate Bitters

Bitters have long been a cocktail staple. As early as 1806, in order for cocktails to be deemed as such they were to consist of liquor, sugar, water, and bitters, and the essential ingredient once appeared in a multitude of styles. “We went through a period where we had tons of bitters on the market,” says Sother Teague, author and beverage director of Amor y Amargo in New York City. “With the cocktail revolution, a lot of bitters started to repopulate.”

And while spice-accented aromatic bitters and citrus styles have long held sway, this recent rise of the cocktail renaissance has seen chocolate bitters step front and center. The first stirrings came with the debut of Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters in 2007, inspired by the flavors of Mexican cuisine. Other brands such as Fee Brothers, Scrappy’s, and The Bitter Truth soon followed, and with the arrival this past autumn of Angostura Cocoa Bitters, from the Trinidad-based producer, the approach shows no signs of slowing down.

What’s the allure of chocolate bitters? “People love chocolate,” says Gary Crunkleton, owner of The Crunkleton in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. “The cocktail renaissance has taken off, cocktails are huge, and everyone’s making them at home these days. So I can see how chocolate bitters would fit into people’s cupboards easily because of everyone’s appreciation for chocolate.”

But don’t expect chocolate to mean dessert. “Even though people largely think of chocolate as a sweet thing, cacao nibs are quite bitter,” Teague says. Most chocolate bitters are made with cacao nibs, without the sugar that transforms the flavor into sweet chocolate. “A couple of dashes of [chocolate bitters] into a cocktail will bring a slight hint of bitterness, but with that familiar note of cacao.”

This flavor makes for an amazing secret weapon in classic cocktails, such as the Manhattan or Old Fashioned. “You can change the entire drink by just changing that one ingredient,” Teague says. And while dashes can add new directions to stirred cocktails like a Negroni or Boulevardier, Crunkleton likes using chocolate bitters in shaken citrus drinks. “It cuts the acidity and gives the drink more depth and complexity,” he says.

With the continued rise of cocktails, drinkers are open to fresh ideas combined with unexpected components, Teague says. “Bitters are the seasoning that holds the soup that is your cocktail together,” he says. “If bitters are the seasoning and more varieties are available, that means my spice cabinet is wider with more options.”

Chocolate Martica

This simple variation on a Death & Co modern classic from 2007 was one of the first to tap chocolate bitters’ flavor potential.

1 oz. Jamaican rum
1 oz. Cognac
1 oz. Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
1⁄4 oz. maraschino liqueur
2 dashes chocolate bitters (Bittermens Xocolatl Mole recommended)

Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: cocktail

Stir all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled glass.

Created by Phil Ward, Death & Co, New York City

Mezcal Sour

Chocolate bitters balance lime’s tartness in this silky mezcal cocktail.

1 1⁄2 oz. mezcal
3⁄4 oz. simple syrup (1:1)
1⁄2 oz. fresh lime juice
1⁄2 oz. ginger syrup
1 fresh egg white (pasteurized, if you prefer)
2-3 dashes chocolate bitters

Tools: shaker, strainer
Glass: Old Fashioned
Garnish: several drops of chocolate bitters

Shake all of the ingredients with ice until chilled and the drink is foamy, then strain into a chilled glass and garnish with several drops of bitters atop the drink’s foam.

Ginger Syrup: In a blender, combine 1 cup each of fresh, chopped ginger, sugar, and boiling water. Blend until smooth, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Gary Crunkleton, The Crunkleton, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

The Casualty

This winter-perfect recipe from Amor y Amargo matches chocolate’s depths to the flavors of Scotch whisky, an Italian amaro, and a French aperitif.

1 1⁄2 oz. blended Scotch whisky
3⁄4 oz. Amaro Montenegro
3⁄4 oz. Byrrh
2 dashes chocolate bitters
Tools: barspoon, strainer
Glass: coupe
Garnish: orange twist

Stir all of the ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled glass. Twist a piece of orange peel over the drink, then use as garnish.

Created by Chris Elford, Amor y Amargo, New York City

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