Excerpt from Wall Street Journal

A wooing cup for Valentine’s Day, by Eric Felten (published feb 2009)

The Chocolate Martini has finally run its course. A bellwether of the fad for sweet, candy-flavored drinks served in Martini glasses, the Chocolate Martini started turning up at bars here and there a little over a dozen years ago and then hit its stride by 1998, when it was all of a sudden everywhere. Many were the Valentine’s Days in the years since for which the Chocolate Martini was recommended as a felicitous accompaniment. Thankfully that particular dark age has passed, but it does mean we’ll need to find another wooing cup.

The first stab at a Chocolate Martini goes back nearly a century. In 1915, New York confectioner Greenfield’s offered, in addition to its famous “chocolate sponge,” a selection of candies inspired by cocktails, including a Chocolate Roman Punch. Its Chocolate Martini could be had for 50 cents a pound.

Dylan Cross for The Wall Street JournalDolores Cocktail
2 oz Spanish brandy (or any brandy)
½ oz dark crème de cacao
½ oz Cherry Heering

Stir, stir, stir with ice and then strain into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry. The drink is also good over ice in a rocks glass.
When the Chocolate Martini emerged as an actual drink, it was still candy. Or as sports essayist Roger Angell has put it, a Chocolate Martini “makes you feel like a grownup 12-year-old.” And that’s the way the drink was invented — as a goof by a couple of adults acting “like a pair of kids.” That’s how Elizabeth Taylor described her high jinks with Rock Hudson on the set of “Giant,” where they relieved their boredom with pranks and Chocolate Martinis.

In June 1955, Ms. Taylor was on location out on the scorching prairieland of Marfa, Texas, and she was none too happy. For starters, she was in the scorching prairieland of Marfa, Texas, not exactly the most pampered of environments. But beyond the heat and the dust, she wasn’t getting along with co-star James Dean, who had an exasperating habit of breaking off scenes in midtake whenever he was unhappy with the unfolding performance. Ms. Taylor wasn’t thrilled with having to do her scenes umpteen times to suit Dean’s method-acting methodology. But mainly she clashed with director George Stevens, chafing under his unvarnished criticism.

Ms. Taylor was plagued with illness throughout the production — a blood clot in her leg, a pinched sciatic nerve — and when she wasn’t calling in sick, she was on the set in a wheelchair. It has been suggested that her symptoms might best be explained by a massive case of hypochondria (and a passive-aggressive strain of the ailment at that). But whatever the cause of her fitful health, it can’t have helped that she and Hudson were getting regularly plastered on their new invention, the Chocolate Martini.

It’s worth noting that their Chocolate Martini was a rather more interesting concoction than the version of the drink that was standard over the past decade. The modern Chocolate Martini is generally a simple mix of vodka and chocolate liqueur. Hudson and Ms. Taylor mixed their vodka with Kahlúa coffee liqueur and Hershey’s chocolate syrup, making what might have been called a Mocha Russian.

Though chocolate liqueur might seem like a very European conceit (it is about the only indigenous potable available in postwar Vienna in Graham Greene’s “The Third Man”), spiked chocolate has a long history in the U.S. The 1830 “Cook’s Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Directory” included a recipe for Chocolate Wine that would be much reprinted in 19th-century cookbooks. Start with a pint of sherry or a pint and a half of port. Put it in a pan over a low flame and dissolve into the wine 4½ ounces of chocolate powder and six ounces of sugar.

Now there are plenty of off-the-shelf chocolate spirits available in the States, the newest of which are holdovers from the Chocolate Martini era — chocolate vodkas. Avoid them.

There is a cream chocolate liqueur branded with the visage of Mozart, and it’s not at all bad, in a cold cup of cocoa sort of way. It is certainly preferable to the thin taste of the mint-chocolate liqueur Vandermint. But the dominant premium brand of chocolate liqueur is Godiva, which comes in both a regular dark crème de cacao-style, and in a creamy white variety. The most versatile of these two, for cocktail purposes, is the former. The question is whether it is better than the various brands of the basic chocolate liqueur, crème de cacao.

Compared with the offerings of most of the standard cocktail-mixing liqueur brands — Bols, Hiram-Walker, DeKuyper — Godiva is clearly superior, in that it actually tastes like chocolate. But the French liqueur house Marie Brizard makes a crème de cacao that is every bit as intensely chocolaty as the Godiva. I find that I prefer the Brizard cacao, mainly because it has enough alcohol, at 50 proof, to cut through all the viscous sweetness. Godiva, by contrast, is barely alcoholic at 30 proof, and comes across more like a chocolate syrup than a chocolate liqueur.

But if not a Chocolate Martini (and please, let’s not), what can we make with our chocolate liqueur for Valentine’s Day? Let’s start by understanding what the fundamental problems with the Chocolate Martini were: 1) The drink usurped the honorific “Martini” for a drink that had nothing in common with the original but the glass; 2) it was a one-note wonder, dominated by a single, sweet flavor. Some bartenders looking to mix chocolate drinks are fixing this by balancing the sweet with bitter or spicy flavors. But another approach — one I decided to pursue this week — is to take a cocktail that is too sweet and dry it out by reducing the amount of sweet liqueur in the overall recipe.

I searched through a dozen old cocktail books trying out drinks that used chocolate liqueur. Then I went to the dentist. But I did find one promising obscurity, a drink called the Dolores Cocktail. In fact, there were two old drinks called Dolores, and they had nothing to do with one another. Perhaps the better known of the pair was the one made of rum, Dubonnet and dry sherry. But the other Dolores was a super-sweet chocolate-covered cherry of a drink made with equal parts Spanish brandy, crème de cacao and cherry-flavored brandy, shaken up with an egg white for a creamy consistency.

Bring down the amount of chocolate and cherry liqueurs dramatically, ditch the egg white, and you get an elegant brandy cocktail with just enough candy sweetness to make it worthy of this most saccharine of holidays.

Mr. Felten is the author of “How’s Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture and the Art of Drinking Well” (Agate Surrey). Email him at eric.felten@wsj.com.


Legal Notice   |   Log in to graphic guideline