With Christmas just around the corner, we collaborated with Dominic Jones (co-owner and mixologist at Aquarius Bar in Devon) and Sam Evans (Head of Sales and Customer Experiences at Shakespeare Distillery in Stratford upon Avon) to discuss how to use various sweets and chocolate types in Christmas cocktails. Read their thoughts, suggestions, and advice below.
First, we started by asking the experts about festive cocktail and mocktail flavours. Here’s what they said:
In your opinion, which cocktails/mocktails are the most festive?
DJ: For a classic Christmas cocktail, I'd say that a Snowball has more than stood the test of time, it's creamy, sherbet, and super easy to make. For a mocktail, I have always enjoyed playing on the Virgin Bucks Fizz; lemonade makes a great alternative for fizz, or soda water or tonic if you don't have a sweet tooth, and all of them can be made in a prosecco flute so everyone can have a ‘cheers’!
SE: My mind does always go warm - think hot toddy or a spiced rummy hot chocolate - both of which are fail safe drinks during the winter. However, one drink I love to play around with over the winter is an Old Fashioned (traditionally made with Bourbon Whiskey), but my twist is using 35ml Jester Spiced Rum with its bold rich flavour accompanied with 15ml Mulberry Gin Liqueur, a barspoon of sugar syrup and maybe even some orange bitters. Put it in a glass with lots of ice and stir, add your orange zest and wow! If you’re not a rum fan use 35ml of gin and 15ml rum. It’s the perfect winter drink for you to play around with, enjoy!
Using Chocolate in Cocktails
We then asked the experts about using different types of chocolate in cocktails. Here’s what they said:
In your opinion, which chocolate flavours are the most festive?
Dominic Jones (DJ): It doesn't get much more festive than orange flavoured chocolate – maybe this comes from the tradition of there being an orange in your stocking. Other classic festive flavours are mint and hazelnut, synonymous with Christmas evenings.
Sam Evans (SE): Whenever it gets to Christmas time I always think about Fruit and Nut, dark chocolate Brazil nuts, and chocolate coated cherries.
How can milk chocolate be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: If you like hot chocolate, spruce it up with complimentary spirits that warm the heart and soul - nutty flavours always pair well with hot chocolate - amaretto or Frangelico spring to mind. Don't forget, a cocktail doesn't have to be cold!
SE: There are lots of great chocolate spirits out there which are great to play around with in cocktails, Brandy Alexander for example, but using a bar of chocolate can be messy and frustrating to work with. Milk chocolate can be melted into a boozy hot chocolate, or melted and used to coat the inside of a glass. If you have ordered a Mudslide before you know where I am going with this.
How can dark chocolate be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: Dark chocolate has quite a strong profile for a cocktail and can overpower a spirit, unless you pair it with Baileys, so the bitterness and creaminess play off each other. However, garnishing a cocktail, like an Espresso Martini, with dark chocolate shavings is a great way to make the cocktail more decadent.
SE: Dark chocolate and alcohol have a very special place in my heart that’s hard to describe unless you just crack on and try it. Mixologists spend a lot of time finding creative, swanky, and weird ways to incorporate chocolate into drinks and it all looks very impressive. However, for you making drinks at home it’s pretty unhelpful. For me, the best way to incorporate dark chocolate into your drinks is to eat it. Think about it, a smooth buttery complex single malt scotch, a tingly warming spiced rum, a bold rich caramelly barrel aged rum. Neat scotch or rum, with slab of dark chocolate. Sip, munch, sip, munch, sip, munch.
How can white chocolate be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: Being massively sweet, white chocolate can replace a lot of the sugar content in cocktails, I'd be inclined to try it with sugar spirits like rum or tequila to really accentuate their profile. A White Chocolate Margarita combining creaminess and sweetness would be a fun riff on a well known and loved classic.
SE: Whether you’re a white chocolate fan or not I think it’s safe to say there’s a richness and sweetness that’s much stronger than milk chocolate. Because of this white chocolate can be a bit sweet or strong for a lot of drinks but one I have played around is a Grasshopper, which if you are not familiar with is basically a white chocolate liqueur, minty tasting cocktail. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend trying to mix white chocolate into drinks because of its strong over-powering nature.
How can flavoured chocolate (caramel, mint, orange, nuts, etc.) be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: This year I endeavoured to recreate the classic After Eight as a cocktail, colloquially known as the ‘Before 9’. This is a balanced pairing of fresh mint syrup, organic chocolate powder and vodka. Typically, if it works in the food world, you can recreate it in the drinks world - it's just knowing how.
SE: Nuts especially are fantastic and easy to use! Many cocktails will have sugar syrup in, a really easy way to incorporate nuts into drinks is by replacing sugar syrup with a hazelnut syrup or almond syrup particularly when looking at spiced wintry drinks. For example, you could create a Nutty Espresso Martini! Naturally when using a cold espresso shot you need some sugar to balance out the bitterness from the coffee - most espresso martinis therefore have a sugar cube in or sugar syrup in them. Replace this with a hazelnut syrup and you won’t be disappointed - it adds a toasted, earthiness to it as well as that sweet silky nutty flavour. Try it!
Orange Bitters are a great way to boost the citrus complexity in your cocktails, don’t be scared of them. Orange bitters are not as strong as angostura so you can incorporate them into drinks like a Tom Collins, White Lady, Mai Tai, and so on. A good little hack with orange bitters, if you see Cointreau/ Triple Sec in a cocktail add 2 dashes of orange bitters into that cocktail as well. It will boost the complexity and flavour.
Using orange zest as garnish is one of the easiest and best ways to boost that fresh orange aroma onto your drink. But don’t make the mistake a lot of bartenders do. Don’t slap it in your hand and start to juggle the poor thing to “release the oils” - instead, squeeze the zest with the orange side away from you over your drink. You will see the haze of oil covering your drink when you bring the drink up to your mouth. Bang! The first thing that hits you is that light, oily, fresh, natural citrus aroma!
How can chocolate be used to garnish festive cocktails?
DJ: Grated chocolate is light, so it won't sink into the cocktail, and is easy to drink. Dust grated chocolate on top or use some sugar and rim the glass with it, a little messier but very impressive.
SE: This is a super fun and easy one - grab a slab of dark chocolate, a grater and grate chocolate over the drink to garnish on a wintery foamy or creamy cocktail. For example, I always garnish my White Russians and Espresso Martinis with grated dark chocolate.
Are there any tips/considerations you can share when it comes to using chocolate as an ingredient in cocktails? Are there any types that don’t work well?
DJ: In cocktail making, stick to what is already designed to be a drink - hot chocolate powders are your friend, but remember, they are designed to be HOT, so when you are mixing them in a Boston you have to work a little harder to create your drink. Avoid using solid chocolate unless you are making a hot cocktail as this will add too much creaminess to the cocktail and it will end up being too thick, like a dessert. In terms of types, stick with what you know - if you don't like dark chocolate, don't use it.
SE: When creating cocktails obviously one of the first things you think about is the flavours, do they work? But something that people get wrong is the texture. Think about melting chocolate and pouring that into a spirit, naturally it will split, separate, and create a messy drink to look at and drink. Personally, unless it’s a hot drink I would recommend steering away from added melted chocolate into a drink.
I do have a fun tip for you to try though… get yourself a bottle of chocolate bitters. When you look at cocktail recipes with angostura bitters in you can replace them with your chocolate bitters, this can work really well in drinks like a Manhattan, but you can also add chocolate bitters into cocktails that don’t traditionally have bitters in like a Rusty Nail or Godfather - play around with it and remember the best bartender do the same and we too make mistakes. Not every drink you make will be the best one you’ve ever made but that means you’ve learnt something about that ingredient, method, or style of drink.
What is your favourite festive cocktail recipe which makes chocolate the star of the show?
DJ: ‘Before 9’ – a play on ‘after eight’, focusing on mint and chocolate flavours
- In a Boston filled with Ice add a heaped spoonful of your favourite hot chocolate powder
- Add 25ml of Mint Sugar Syrup (clear is best) and 50ml of Absolut Blue Vodka
- Shake until the Boston frosts over and you can draw a face 😊
- Strain into a martini glass
- Dust with chocolate
SE: ‘Gin Espresso Martini’ - a delicious reinvention of the classic espresso martini, replacing vodka with our gin
- Make 1 single espresso, stir in 1 tsp sugar, and allow to cool (optional to smoke the espresso)
- Combine all the ingredients (espresso, sugar, 35ml gin, 12.5ml coffee liqueur) in a cocktail tin and shake well
- Fine strain into a chilled martini or coupe glass
- Garnish with coffee beans or finely grated dark chocolate
Find out more about different types of chocolate - from milk, to dark, to white, to light - in our Chocolate Bible guide.
Using Sweets in Cocktails
We then asked the experts about using sweets cocktails. Here’s what they said:
In your opinion, which sweetie flavours are the most festive?
DJ: I don't think you can beat a toffee flavour, there is something incredibly familial about them, they're very nostalgic and I can’t think of anyone who doesn't love them, which for me is the spirit of Christmas.
SE: Most sweet flavours are very summery its fruity and citrus flavours, but I think it’s the candied orange and cherry sweets which takes us all to winter. Especially when we look at drinks, my favourite winter gin cocktail is a Martinez - 50ml Stratford Dry Gin, 20ml Sweet Vermouth and 25ml Maraschino Cherry Liqueur, stirred over ice and strained into a martini glass, topped with that gorgeous fresh orange zest! I think we all think of gin as such a summer spirit, but it also makes some of my all-time favourite winter drinks.
How can fizzy sweets be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: Typically, a fizzy sweet will dissolve or lose its fizz when near a liquid, so they’re best as a garnish, or accompaniment. Imagine a nice and festive, orange-based cocktail with a side of tangy orange sweets to add a full range of sensation and tastes whilst all staying under the same umbrella.
How can sour sweets be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: A sour sherbet would be brilliant with the classic Snowball as it will really play with the natural flavour of the cocktail.
How can hard sweets be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: I would stick to using them as inspiration rather than as part of a cocktail. I created a ‘family favourite cocktail’ called Bag 'o Sweets, inspired by my Nan’s love for blackcurrant and liquorice sweets. To create this cocktail I broke it down, making a sugar syrup from liquorice root and using blackcurrant liqueur and blackcurrant sugar syrup in the cocktail. It’s not as sweet as it sounds and is one of our best sellers.
How can jelly/gummy sweets be used in festive cocktails?
DJ: The great thing about soft sweets is they can be infused into a spirit or a sugar syrup. Just be careful of the overall flavour as it tends to be very sweet and not as fruity as you may have expected. With my liquorice root syrup, I literally drizzle it over the top of the cocktail, more as a garnish than an ingredient - but it still packs a punch and carries the flavour through. Try infusing vodka with your favourite gummy sweets and drizzle it over the top of an orange-based cocktail. It will play with the citrus of the drink and add a fun element and splash of colour.
How can sweets be used to garnish festive cocktails?
DJ: A really fun way to use a sweet to garnish a drink would be to rim the cocktail glass in popping candy, it gives a lot of excitement and theatre to the drink and won’t greatly impact the actual flavour of the drink.
Are there any tips/considerations you can share when it comes to using sweets as an ingredient in cocktails? Are there any types that don’t work well?
DJ: My main tip is not to underestimate the level of sweetness they bring to the drink. Remember to balance your cocktail with a spectrum of complimentary flavours - citrusy and sweet work best: think lemon sherbet, blackcurrant and liquorice, rhubarb and custard. Sweets are not an easy thing to replicate in a cocktail, so remember to keep it simple and to keep it fun!
SE: For someone with a very sweet tooth, get your favourite sour, fizzy or gummy sweet and leave it to soak in some vodka for a week. You will then have fun coloured flavour vodka.
*Expert advice correct as of November 2023