The Cocoa Smoke cocktail. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

A few years back, I bellied up to the bar at Daikaya one evening while Lukas B. Smith (now of Dram & Grain and Secret Monkey Social Club) was behind the stick. It was my first time there, and I was suffering from my usual end-of-workday decision fatigue. I’d heard good things about his drinks, so when he asked what I wanted, I just asked him to make me something good.

“What do you usually drink?” he asked.

“Negronis are my go-to,” I told him, which was enough to get him rustling up a delicious concoction with Cynar and rye: a perfect ad-lib.

Later, after we’d shot the breeze and established some rapport, I teased him. “So what would you have made me if I’d said I usually drink chocolatinis?”

Smith slid into a sort-of-amused thousand-yard stare and thought for a long moment, then replied confidently, “I would have made you leave.”

Pity the poor chocolatini, arch-enemy of cocktail and language purists everywhere, beloved of corporate-chain bars where cocktails are sweet, brightly colored and trademarked. Pity the chocolatini, that mix of vodka, chocolate liqueur and half-and-half, and sometimes Irish cream and chocolate syrup. (As a viewing of the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski and Eli Roth will demonstrate, the recipe for effective horror may vary.)

Pity the chocolatini. But don’t pity it enough that you actually, you know, drink one.

I’ve been thinking about the chocolatini because Valentine’s Day is approaching and, with it, the menace of the chocolatini, gussied up for flirting with a floating rose petal or perhaps even a bauble from Jared dangling gooily from its rim. (If your intended sinks your engagement ring in a chocolatini, get a gemologist to check the stone.)

Also, I’ve been thinking about chocolate, because although everyone else seems to view the turn of the year as an opportunity to become a better person — participating in Drynuary, dropping pounds and prepping for a 5K or K2 — the combination of cold and little sunlight does not bring out my most aspirational behavior. Unless you consider “Sybaritic bear preparing for hibernation” as ambitious. If I could spend all of winter wrapped in a blanket eating brownies and fried potatoes draped in melted cheese, I probably would.

And I still don’t drink chocolatinis.

Women have, or are purported to have, a strange relationship with chocolate, frequently depicted as somewhere between sisterly support and mad, goatish lust. Check the commercials, where we ecstatically place morsels of chocolate between our glistening, dewily parted lips or roll around in silky brown sheets that turn into swaths of chocolate. Check the memes: “Chocolate is to women what duct tape is to men: It fixes everything!”; “There is nothing better than a friend, unless it’s a friend with chocolate!”; and “What matters that silly 78 cents to every dollar a man makes when there’s chocolate?” (I may have invented that last one. Still, if I took over St. Peter’s gatekeeper gig, chocolate marketers would be joining cosmetics and jewelry marketers in The Hot Place, where the “Every kiss begins with K” jingle would play eternally on a scratchy PA system.)

Still, I like chocolate as much as the next right-thinking human, and so, this Valentine’s Day, I want it to escape the chocolatini cliche. This is an ingredient that was once used to worship the gods! It deserves more mature companionship than the Irish cream and chocolate syrup with which it has been forced, for years, to dance an abominable sugary jig. We live in an age of artisan chocolate — heck, even artisan chocolate forgeries! — and artisan cocktails, and yet the chocolatini hangs over us, making us fear to put chocolate in a glass lest the result be something best served at TGI Fridays.

The Chocantonic. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

I’ve spent hours playing around with chocolate cocktails, working with Tempus Fugit’s vanilla-touched creme de cacao and Godiva’s chocolate liqueur, and a balanced, sophisticated cocktail can indeed be made with them. Indeed, I recently pestered Smith for a serious answer to the chocolatini question, and he said he might have offered his Pleasure Dome, a mix of rum, creme de cacao, Carpano Antica vermouth, Coca-Cola syrup and smoked paprika, whipped into an eggy flip. Now that is a drink to seduce a chocolatini-lover onto more serious cocktail turf.

If you’re experimenting with chocolate and booze, think about how opposites attract. What you want is not sweet-on-sweet, but sweet-on-something-else, something that complements and complicates the chocolate: a note of herbs or fruit or spice, something bitter or tart or even salty. Try, for example, a touch of smoky Islay Scotch and fernet with chocolate liqueur and a base of rye, bringing out the bittersweet component of the chocolate. Work with the complex notes in a good sherry, providing contrast with its tartness and complement with its nuttiness. Chocolate, mezcal and chilies are a spicy, booze-forward duet in the Cocoa Smoke. And for a surprisingly bright highball, recall how well chocolate and citrus pair up when you try the Chocantonic.

We should be using chocolate in drinks, but in a way that takes it beyond the cloying froth it too often settles at. For Valentine’s Day, chocolate deserves the spice of rye, the smoke of mezcal, the strange botanical kiss of gin and the bittersweet embrace of amaro, a word that is so close to “amore.” It deserves to be sipped by dewy, wanting, hungrily parted lips —

Stop me. I’ve seen too many chocolate commercials.

Print, scale and rate the Cocoa Smoke and Chocantonic in our Recipe Finder:


1 serving

Chocolate and gin is a pairing that could be quite vile, but here the two are drawn together by Earl Grey tea (which is flavored with bergamot, a citrus fruit) and a splash of orange juice. The combination makes for a surprising and tasty highball.

Tempus Fugit’s creme de cacao or Godiva Chocolate Liqueur will work here. We used Fever Tree tonic.

MAKE AHEAD: The tea can be brewed and cooled in advance.

Tempus Fugit’s creme de cacao is available at Ace Beverage in the District and online.

From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.



1 ounce creme de cacao (see headnote)

1 ounce Old Tom gin

1 ounce brewed, cooled Earl Grey tea

1/2 ounce fresh orange juice

Tonic water (see headnote)


Fill a highball or Collins glass with ice.

Stir together the creme de cacao, gin, tea and orange juice in a mixing glass. Pour it over the ice, then top with tonic water. Give a gentle stir before serving.

Nutrition | Per serving (using 4 ounces tonic water): 230 calories, 10 g protein, 28 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 20 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 20 g sugar

Recipe tested by M. Carrie Allan and Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions to

Cocoa Smoke

1 serving

The power trio of chocolate, the grassy smoke of mezcal and ancho chili pepper liqueur makes for a heady, sexy sip.

We like Tempus Fugit’s complex creme de cacao for the chocolate component, but Godiva Chocolate Liqueur will also work. Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao and Ancho Reyes are available at Ace Beverage in the District and online.

From Spirits columnist M. Carrie Allan.



11/2 ounces mezcal

1/2 ounce creme de cacao (see headnote)

1/2 ounce ancho chili liqueur (see headnote)

3 dashes chocolate bitters or Aztec chocolate bitters

Twist of orange peel, for garnish


Fill a mixing glass with ice, then add the mezcal, creme de cacao, ancho chili liqueur and bitters. Stir for 30 seconds or until the mixture is chilled, then strain into a cocktail (martini) glass.

Twist/express the orange peel over the surface of the drink. Run it around the rim, then drop the peel into the drink.

Nutrition | Per serving: 180 calories, 5 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

Recipe tested by M. Carrie Allan and Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions to