Chocolate & Gin
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine...” Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in Casablanca, 1942
Gin may be one of the trickier spirits to pair with chocolate, but it can be done, and it can be done well. Welcome to my virtual gin joint where we will explore how to do this with happy results, but first, a little bit about gin…
Gin is a neutral grain spirit often made from barley and blended with wheat and rye. Other agricultural products, such as grape, sugar, and molasses also may be used as part of the base. When grains are used, they are milled and made into a mash with hot water. Enzymes in the barley break down the starch and leave behind a fermentable sugar water known as malt. After fermentation, the liquid is distilled.
Gin is essentially a flavored vodka, but in order to be distinguished as gin, juniper berries must be included during the distillation process. In fact, the “predominant flavor” of the spirit is required to be juniper berry. Other common botanicals may be incorporated into gin during distillation such as coriander, citrus peel (bitter orange, lemon and grapefruit), angelica root and seed, orris root, licorice, bitter almonds, nutmeg, cinnamon and anise.
A liquor known as Genever was produced during the Middle Ages and it is believed that modern gins originated from it. In French, the word genévrier translates to juniper. Amsterdam in the 1600s was home to many gin distilleries, and drinkers of the spirit touted it as a remedy for gout and indigestion. It became ever more popular during the Thirty Years’ War when British soldiers fighting on Dutch land seemed to display a bit more bravado after imbibing “Dutch Courage.”
By the 18th century, London was caught up in “The Gin Craze” and people began crafting their own sweetened versions of this spirit at home, known as “bathtub gin.” British soldiers and colonials recognized that gin had another advantage besides the obvious...it could skillfully mask the bitter flavor of the antimalarial compound, quinine (a precursor to synthetic hydroxychloroquine). Gin continues to be extremely popular and can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or as a component of a tasty cocktail. Pro tip: pair it with chocolate, not hydroxychloroquine!
Here are some different types of gin as well as some recommendations for chocolates to pair with them...
London Dry Gin
It originated in England but is now produced all over the world. London Dry is the quintessential gin and what you’ll typically find in a gin and tonic or martini. Beefeater, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire are well-known brands. For sure, juniper is the dominant flavor, but some London Dry gins boast bright citrus notes, as makers may steep fresh or dried citrus peels in the alcohol prior to distillation. A London Dry gin has no artificial flavoring. All flavors come from botanicals.
Plymouth gin is produced by a single distillery that is one of the oldest in the U.K. The bottle depicts an old fashioned ship, which is quite fitting, as it was a favorite drink of the British Royal Navy who requested their very own higher-proof version of it. Not surprisingly, it was named “Navy Strength.”
Plymouth has more astringency than London Dry, and the citrus notes are more pronounced. Roots of Angelica and orris impart an earthy flavor that you won’t find in London Dry.
This was the street name for that “bathtub gin” I mentioned before. While it was not highly regarded at the end of the 18th century, it is now considered a good gin. It may be distilled with licorice, and have some added sugar in addition to botanicals. Several varieties are aged in wine barrels and have a caramel color. Others are clear. Old Tom gins typically have a rich flavor.
This is the original Dutch style of gin. Though it contains juniper berries, the predominant flavor is more malty. Some varieties may have added flavors of clove, caraway, ginger and nutmeg. You won’t find citrus notes in genever. Genever is even richer in flavor than Old Tom, and more similar to a robust whiskey.
This traditional spirit from the 17th century is flavored with sloe berries. Native to England, sloe berries are harvested in the fall and taste like astringent plums; however, when they are combined with sugar and steeped in gin, they create a nutty, sweet, yet tart, red liqueur.
In England, it is common to drink sloe gin with champagne during the holidays. In the U.S., sloe gin drinkers tend to enjoy it in cocktail format. High quality sloe gins have gin as the base alcohol and contain notes of plum, raisin and almond, without artificial flavoring.
I’ve identified a few chocolates (many of them with added infusions or inclusions), that would pair harmoniously with the gins. Some of them are currently in my collection while others I’d have to special order for you. Let me know if any of the special order bars pique your interest!
A London Dry Gin would be complemented by Fruition’s Marcona Almonds with Dark Chocolate, Olive Oil, Rosemary and Honey. An outstanding choice would be Qantu's Route De La Soie (Silk Road) 70% Dark Chocolate Bar. White chocolate would also be lovely alongside a juniper-forward gin. Castronovo White Chocolate Bar Infused with Lemon Oil and Lemon Salt is the one I highly recommend.
Plymouth Gin or a London Dry that is infused with citrus would be beautiful with Marou’s Kumquat Bar 68% Dark Chocolate (special order). This exquisite, fruity chocolate bar made from Vietnamese cacao includes dried kumquat. I’ve surprised some of my subscription customers with samples of this bar and it has been incredibly well-received. The Castronovo White Chocolate Bar could also pair nicely.
A barrel-aged gin would be lovely alongside a milk chocolate with caramel notes. I suggest the Chapon Fevory 58% Dark Milk Chocolate Mini Bar which contains finely ground nibs for some divine texture and crunch in an otherwise silky-smooth bar.
With a sloe gin, the fruit-forward, yet delicate Qantu Gran Blanco 70% Dark Chocolate Bar would be a total winner.
How to savor chocolate with gin:
Some people prefer gin on the rocks, but don’t be afraid to enjoy it neat, particularly when tasting it alongside chocolate. Ice numbs the palate and is not something I recommend as an accompaniment to any beverage you’ll be sipping with nibbles of chocolate. However, let your judgement be your guide. This is all about your pleasure.
Gin’s intense flavor could overwhelm the delicate nuances of fine chocolate, so instead of tasting the spirit and the chocolate simultaneously, you may want to take a sip of the gin first and then move on to a taste of chocolate once you’ve swallowed and fully registered the flavors of the gin on your palate. Allow at least 10-20 seconds for this to occur. Use this time to engage in chocolate appreciation and anticipation. Admire every aspect of the bar, both wrapped and unwrapped. When you are ready to taste the chocolate, proceed mindfully, appreciating the melt and ensuing flavor arc. You can just keep playing it again, Sam, until you’re elegantly satisfied.
Gin and chocolate, like Casablanca’s Bogart and Bergman, are capable of memorable magic together. I wonder if those star-crossed lovers might have enjoyed a very different future had they thought to pair chocolate with spirits in that fabled gin joint. Try some of my suggested pairings in their honor and let me know how you like them (cue the music) “as time goes by.”