If you’re lucky enough to have a Valentine (or you decide to treat yourself), the odds are you’re going to end up with at least a box or two of chocolate (or at least a few Reese’s Peanut Butter hearts). Obviously, you can just mow through it all in one sitting while you binge-watch Netflix, but chocolate is even better when paired with your favorite whiskeys.
“Chocolate is really delicious paired with so many different drinks, but few think to choose a whisky to enjoy with it,” says Jesse Cyr, bartender at Foreign National in Seattle. “The robust flavors usually found in a lot of whiskies, especially Scottish single malts, compliment chocolate incredibly well.”
Liran Leibman, executive chef and beverage expert at Zizi’s in New York City also enjoys Scotch, but opts for peat-smoked variants.
“I’d go for a smoky scotch from Islay,” says Leibman. “The smoke and iodine notes really complement and highlight the cocoa, and Laphroaig has the perfect amount of smokiness. It doesn’t mask the cocoa, but it doesn’t let it become too chocolatey.”
To cast an even wider net, we asked some of our favorite bartenders to tell us the best whiskeys to pair with V-Day chocolate.
Dalmore Port Wood Single Reserve
Alex Carlin, beverage director at Infuse Hospitality in Chicago
I would pair dark chocolate with Dalmore Port Wood Single Reserve. The dark and smokey scotch benefits from aging in Port Wood and would balance with the creamy chocolate and create a luxurious and highly textured mouthfeel that doesn’t get too hot.
Rock Hill Farms Single Barrel Bourbon
Anthony Merlino, beverage director at Bergamo’s in New York City
I love to pair Rock Hill Farms Bourbon Single Barrel with dark chocolate. It’s a small batch, limited bourbon with the aromas of sweet honey, cocoa, and oak. I’d drink it chilled, neat with pieces of dark chocolate truffles on the side.
Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye
Tony Abou Ganim, master mixologist and bar consultant at Highlands in Detroit
When I think of rich, dark chocolate I think of spice to pair with it and when I think of spice and whiskey I think of Rye. The Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye fits the bill perfectly. It is a newly released whiskey from Beam Suntory which is bottled as a “Limited Edition” each year and the 2018 release was awarded Best Rye Whiskey at the SFWSC. There is a beautiful spicy-sweetness to the whiskey with notes of black pepper and baking spice – vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg, coupled with sweet touches of caramel, honey, and brown sugar.
Also, at cask strength, the higher alcohol marries beautifully with the richness of the dark chocolate.
Angel’s Envy Bourbon
Kala Ellis, bar manager at O-Ku in Nashville
Angel’s Envy Bourbon is always amazing with chocolate. They even have chocolate specially made to go with Angel’s Envy next door to their distillery. I love how the chocolate will bring out notes of orange oil in the whiskey. It intensifies both experiences.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky
Emmanuel “Manny” Pressley, bartender at Brabo Brasserie in Alexandria, Virginia
Pairing dark chocolate can be tricky. You want to go with a sweeter whiskey to interact with the bitterness of the dark chocolate. You would also want a little heat and some background hints of spices and herbs. Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky would be an ideal pairing. The notes of vanilla and cinnamon seems like the perfect enhancer for a bitter piece of dark chocolate.
James MacInnes, bar manager at KYU in Miami
When pairing food to drinks there are two predominant ideologies: You either pair with likeness or contrast. If you’re eating something sweet, however, I find the first option to be slightly more enjoyable consistently. Dalmore 18 is my pick. Known to have notes of orange, chocolate, and sherry, this robust and decadent scotch would unify flavors on multiple levels.
Darron Foy, head bartender at The Flatiron Room in New York City
Glendronach 18. This Highland single malt is fully matured in oloroso sherry butts, giving you sherry notes so thick you’d need a knife to cut through them. One of the most consistent sherried single malts on the market, the Glendronach 18 is a perfect example of the pairing ability of scotch. Muscovado sugar, toffee, Christmas cake, orange, and ginger are ever-present on the nose. Hazelnut and walnut come forth with stewed fruit and more chocolate orange notes. The finish is complex and chewy.
This whisky was made for chocolate pairing.
Maker’s Mark 46
Melissa Carroll, bar manager at Fisk & Co. in Chicago
Dark chocolate and Maker’s 46 were practically made for each other, or at least they should be. This high wheated beauty sits smooth and light on your palate and blooms just like good dark chocolate. The secondary notes of toffee and cinnamon are everything you’d want to have a complete dessert.
Kavalan Solist Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength
Maxwell Reis, beverage director at Gracias Madre in Los Angeles
I popped a bottle of Kavalan Solist Oloroso Sherry Single Cask Strength over the holidays with some dark chocolate, and that pairing was off the chain! You need a big robust whiskey to compete with the bold flavors of dark chocolate, and the higher proof of the Kavalan definitely supplies that. Plus, the sherry forward finish is a chocolate lover’s dream.
Virginia Distillery Port Cask Finished Highland Whisky
Will Witherow, bar manager at Live Oak in Akexandria, Virginia
I love to pair Virginia Distillery Port Cask Finished Highland Whisky. The touch of smoke and caramelized sugar fits perfectly. We actually do this pairing at Live Oak on our dessert menu.
Red Breast 12 Year
Christa Csoka, mixologist and owner of The Artisan’s Palate in Charlotte, North Carolina
Red Breast 12 Year. The smooth sweet flavor of this whisky pairs well with the bittersweet flavor of dark chocolate. The rich red fruits and toffee notes of the whiskey mix perfectly with the dark chocolate that coats the mouth while the complex aroma of the whiskey hits the nose just right.
Cathead Distillery Old Soul Bourbon
Cullen Wyatt, beverage director of Indigo Road Restaurant Group in Charleston, South Carolina
I would pair Cathead Distillery’s Old Soul Bourbon with dark chocolate because the creamy vanilla start and spicy finish from the Rye pairs perfectly with chocolate.
Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie
Jesse Cyr, bartender at Foreign National in Seattle
My personal choice would be Bruichladdich The Classic Laddie. This unpeated Islay single malt has several distinct flavors, two of which are sea brine and heather. A small sprinkle of finishing salt over chocolate really opens everything up, so the salty flavors in this Bruichladdich expression is an easy pair with anything cocoa related. And also, those light floral notes you get on the nose and the front palate help to enhance the chocolate and add more complexity to it.
Wild Turkey Bourbon
Bryant Orozco, bar manager at Madre Restaurants + Mezcaleria in Los Angeles
I’d definitely go Bourbon with a bar of sweeter chocolate, and Rye with a bitter, cacao heavy chocolate. Because Bourbon tends to be a little sweeter on my palate, I would go with Wild Turkey. Why Wild Turkey? Because it is accessible, and I am usually able to find it in my local liquor store.
Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye
Benjamin Rouse, head bartender at Henley in Nashville
Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye. This combination of Canadian Rye Whiskey, American Rye Whiskey, and Port wine is the perfect pairing for dark chocolate. Is has all the malty-ness from the rye and the port wine really drives those chocolate notes home.
Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon
Jill Bulmash. mixologist at Monk’s Flask in Asheville, North Carolina
Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon is a fine sipper on its own or in a stirred cocktail. Its hints of vanilla, cocoa, and spice bring out the richness and slight fruitiness that dark chocolate can have.