A cocktail true to the spirit of Valentine's Day

By Jason Wilson
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 1:08 PM

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 in-box 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 Jan. 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 Pittsburgh hold off New York in the final minutes this year, I couldn't help but picture some poor corporate mixologist stressing out about whether his Super Bowl cocktail would contain, say, dark rum (for the Steelers) or, say, creme de menthe (for the Jets). I just thanked God that the Colts (think blue curacao) had already been eliminated.

Did we really need to celebrate the Steelers by layering coconut vodka and chocolate liqueur in a "low ball glass" or cheer on the Packers with a cocktail glass full of green apple vodka and cinnamon schnapps?

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. This 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 a couple of weeks ago, I decided to do 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 creme 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) creme de cacao, which is usually full of caramel coloring.

Here's my advice on the matter: Stick with white creme 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 creme 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 creme 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 creme 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.

Creme 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 Creme Yvette and chocolaty creme 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, which arrived on our shores from Italy last year. 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 Feb. 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

Wilson is the author of "Boozehound: On the Trail of the Rare, the Obscure, and the Overrated in Spirits" (Ten Speed Press, 2010). He can be reached at jason@wjasonwilson.com.

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