Tired of wine and cheese combinations? Why not give your taste buds a new lease of life by pairing chocolate and spirits.
Although not a pairing that immediately springs to mind, chocolate and gin have a surprisingly similar foundation. Gin is able to take on a dazzling array of different botanical additions, and coupled with different garnishes there’s no limit to the different flavour hints that can be expressed. And as a basic food base, chocolate can be rich, subtle or creamy, but again with the addition of countless flavours and textures, can become soft, hard, crunchy, smooth, spicy, citrusy – the list goes on.
So in the selfless, purely scientific pursuit of discovering how best to enjoy 2 of my favourite indulgences (well, maybe we enjoyed it just a little 😁), I asked the lovely Jo Summerfied from Lavandula Gin – self confessed Gin Lover, Gin Taster, Gin Drinker and all round gin enthusiast, if I could gatecrash one of her 'at home - Gin Taster Experiences’, in the hope the would she would share some of her hints and tips.
A great fun and informative evening followed, with her introducing everyone to a selection of different gins, encouraging us to smell and taste each one individually before and after the addition of water, then different garnishes and then finally different types of mixers. It's quite incredible how much flavours can be enhanced with different additions - including chocolate!
Whether a dedicated gin drinker or newbie to the gin scene, there’s so much more to be enjoyed and savoured by knowing how to bring out the best in what you are eating and drinking. Here are our personal insights into this surprisingly great pairing.
HISTORY OF GIN
Gin has been on the scene as a staple liquor since the early 17th century, where it evolved from a herbal medicine to a main stream grocery in the spirits industry. It became vastly more popular after the government imposed tax duties and import restrictions on all imported spirits including French brandy in 1688. This created a larger market for poor-quality barley that was unfit for brewing beer, but could be utilised in gin making, and in 1695–1735 thousands of gin-shops sprang up throughout England (a period known as the Gin Craze). The comparatively low price of gin resulted in it being largely consumed by the poor, resulting in a less than favourable reputation for centuries, however I think it’s safe to say it’s redeemed itself.
WHERE DOES THE NAME GIN COME FROM?
The name gin is a shortened form of the older English word ‘genever’ which was an alcoholic liquor made from distilled malt wine with added herbs - in this case juniper berriesto improve an otherwise unpalatable taste, and this is where ginderives its predominant flavour.
However it's now one of the broadest of all alcohol categories, not only flavoured with additional botanicals and herbs, but citrus peel (lemon, lime, grapefruit), spices like aniseed, liquorice, cinnamon and coriander amongst a whole host of others.
There are also gin based liquors available e.g. Sloe gin which has a lower alcohol content than gin and is traditionally made by infusing sloes (the fruit of the blackthorn) in gin, although modern versions are almost always compounded from neutral spirits and flavourings. Similar infusions are possible with other fruits, such as damsons and everyone's summertime favourite 'Pimm's No.1 Cup' flavoured with citrus and spices.
GIN & MIXERS
Another often commonly overlooked, but significant area of importance is the mixer. Rarely served neat, gin is usually consumed with a mixer, in the proportions 1 part gin to 2 parts mixer.
In the same way different garnishes can bring out the different notes in gins without overpowering flavour profiles, the clever use of mixers can also be used to complement the differing gin profiles:
Indian Tonic Water
Arguable one of the best known and most common mixers. In tropical British colonies quinine was used an effective anti-malarial compound i.e. medicinal tonic, and to aid in it’s consumption, it was dissolved in carbonated water, and gin added to mask it’s bitter taste. Hence the resulting ‘Gin & Tonic’. Quinine is still an ingredient in tonic water, but at a much smaller level and used primarily for flavouring along withMexican bitter orange.
Mediteranean Tonic Water
A lighter more floral botanical mixer, goes best with the floral gins like Tanqueray Seville. Containing less quinine than the Indian tonic, and the added rosemary and essential oils from citrus fruits and lemon thyme, produces a delicate, more fragrant floral tonic water.
Great for boosting the subtle aromas of citrus and herbaceous gins.
Containing elderflower petals distilled in an oil giving the tonic water a delicate floral sweetness which is perfectly balanced by the soft bitterness of the quinine. Pairs perfectly with fresh and floral gins and premium vodkas.
Lemonade – Sicilian / Rose
Juice and oils from the lemon peel along with cane sugar, create a sweeter but still tart and refreshing taste, once again great with most gins, but also works with vodka or on it’s own.
The rose oil in the Rose lemonade results in quite a heavy floral mixer so can easily overpower the lighter more subtle gins. However stronger scented floral gins like Bloom (containing chamomile and honeysuckle), are complemented by the rose but not overpowered by the sweetness of the lemonade.
GIN and CHOCOLATE PAIRINGS
Without doubt the easiest chocolate pairing for most gins is white chocolate. Not only is gin a good match for any delicate flavours, but the herbal notes of juniper can add a layer of depth to mild white chocolate. Hendricks is a lighter, less juniper-heavy gin, and the gentle rose and cucumber flavour profile is perfectly suited to light and creamy white chocolate. Imagine relaxing in the garden on a warm summer evening or hosting a garden party, with glasses of Hendricks and some delicious white chocolate BERRY BLISS BARS.
The stronger scented floral gins like ‘Bloom’ need a more distinct contrast in order to keep the flavour profiles of both the gin and the chocolate intact. Both white and milk chocolate can be a little too delicate, the cocoa flavour is lost and just sweetness remains. But a higher cocoa content dark chocolate like a good quality 70% or even an80% dark chocolate, can hold its own, neither overpowering or being overpowered by the gin – complementing each other perfectly.
MILK & DARK CHOCOLATE
This is probably a bit of a no-brainer in that the classic combination of ‘chocolate and orange’ is well known and for good reason - it works (jaffa cake anyone)! Heavily citrus based gins like ‘Tanqueray Sevilla’ need chocolate with a stronger flavour profile and therefore works particularly well with a dark chocolate. However, some may feel it pairs better with milk chocolate, so it’s down to taste preference - try them both out and decide on what suits you.
FLAVOURED CHOCOLATE OR DESSERTS:
We’ve directly paired some Robins and Sons chocolate with specific gins, however these pairings would work equally well with desserts with similar flavours e.g. Our Very Berry contains strawberries, raspberries and meringue, and has the same basic flavours as Eton Mess or a Strawberry cheesecake. Our ‘Dipped Oranges’ could be flavour matched with a chocolate orange gateau or even Crepe Suzette.
Here are some of Jo Summerfield's (Lavandula Gin) recommendations:
VERY BERRY – White Chocolate with Strawberries, raspberries and meringue
As mentioned earlier, white chocolate pairs with most gins, but for a real fruity burst try Puerto de Indias Strawberry Gin with its intense aroma of strawberries and a hint of juniper, combined with liquorice and subtle citrus notes.
For a citrus explosion on your tastebuds, try enjoying our succulent chocolate covered orange slices with ‘Aber Falls Orange Maramalade’ which combines sweet and bitter orange with the pine flavour of juniper. As citrus based gins work effortlessly with chocolate, and our ‘Dipped Oranges’ are available in both milk and dark chocolate, why not spoil yourself and try both.
Fresh and fruity, our Sicilian Lemon Crunch is infused with real Sicilian Lemon oil extract which pairs fantastically with Limehouse Gin and its blend of carefully sourced botanicals that balance subtle earthy tones with a hint of juniper and citrus to enhance the zingy citrus kick.
Our Mint Crackle is perfectly matched with a Mojito cocktail – the creamy white chocolate inherently works well with gin, and the natural peppermint oil extract in the chocolate, is compounded with the mint leaf garnish – unlike the random sprig of mint that might show up on a restaurant dessert plate, mint in cocktails actuallyserves a purpose: It adds a wonderful fresh aroma, and also ‘slapping the mint (as opposed to crushing it), gently releases the oils on the underside of the leaf, producing yet more aroma and flavour, which provides a contrast from the sweet and/or bitter flavours in a drink.
70% DARK CHOCOLATE WITH CHILLI
Perfect for spice lovers everywhere! Both dark chocolate and chilli are robust flavours, so you need an equally strong flavoured gin profile. Once described as the gin that ‘smells like a takeaway curry’ – with a mix of peppercorn, cubeb, cumin, coriander, curry leaf, turmeric and fenugreek, Ophir Oriental Spiced Gin cuts through the powerful cocoa undertones and balances the heat of the chilli effortlessly.