Probably my favorite type of bitters, chocolate bitters manage to be incredibly distinctive while still being highly versatile.
Falling under the Aromatic Bitters umbrella, I further subdivide chocolate bitters into two subcategories, which I will refer to as mole (pronounced mol-ey and sometimes called Aztec or Mexican) chocolate bitters and pure chocolate bitters.
While all chocolate bitters use cacao nibs as the primary bittering ingredient, mole bitters have a number of additional spices, including chilis, and pure chocolate bitters are what you might expect if you distilled the essence of a high quality bar of chocolate.
How Do I Use Chocolate Bitters?
In Classic Cocktails
Both types of chocolate bitters can lend unique twists to a drink. They shine in a whiskey cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, though I will tend to use a rye for an Old Fashioned with mole bitters to focus on the spice, and bourbon to pair with a pure chocolate bitters for the sweetness.
The Star of a Drink
They are also both strong enough flavors to easily design a drink around, and I’ll showcase some recipes with each in a moment.
Pure chocolate bitters can also be used in place of crème de cacao in drink recipes if you don’t want that extra sweetness.
Whether due to taste memory or to how they interact with our taste buds, I tend to find that drinks with chocolate bitters require less added sweetness from simple syrup or other sweeteners than would normally be expected.
Being such a great and potent flavor, a dash or two in whipped cream makes a great topping for cakes, potentially paired with orange bitters, cardamom, or mint.
What Do Chocolate Bitters Pair Well With?
Chocolate bitters pair great with dark spirits, particularly whiskey, but can also go great with rum. Mole bitters in particular also go great with tequila or mezcal.
For liqueurs, they pair well with coffee liqueur and orange liqueur. They also taste great with other bitters, such as orange bitters, cherry bitters, or cardamom bitters.
Of course, they also go well with mint, chocolate mint being one of the more famous flavor pairings out there.
How Many Options Are There For Chocolate Bitters?
Before I get to the recipes, let’s talk about the range of available chocolate bitters, because it turns out there are a lot of them at this point.
I’ve long favored Bittermens Mole Bitters as my go-to chocolate bitters, but for this article I surveyed the field and chose a set of 6 different chocolate bitters:
Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
Fee Brothers Aztec Bitters
Hella Cocktail Mexican Chocolate Bitters
Angostura Cocoa Bitters
Woodford Reserve Chocolate Bitters
Strongwater Cacao Bitters
So which ones are the best?
The Soda Water test
To taste all of these, I diluted a dash of each in 2 oz of soda water to get a sense of the flavor they would add to a cocktail
. I tasted them myself and had my wife Liz and a friend blind taste test them with me.
In the Mole group, the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters was everyone’s clear first choice, with the Fee Brothers Aztec Bitters as a good second choice.
The Hella Mexican Bitters were too mild.
In the pure chocolate group, there was a split decision between the Woodford Reserve Chocolate and Strongwater Cacao.
The Angostura Cacao bitters really don’t fit in either group, as they are chocolate paired with the traditional baking spices of Angostura Bitters.
They were good, but more mild than the others and the chocolate component didn’t stand out as much against the background of the rest of Angostura’s aromatics.
The Classic Cocktail test
As a further test, I made an Old Fashioned with each, challenging both of my tasters to pair them with the bitters I used, and to choose a favorite.
Once again, the Bittermens was the overall favorite, though the Strongwater Cacao was rated a close second, pulling ahead of the Woodford as the favorite in the pure chocolate group.
I like chocolate bitters far too much to have a single drink here, so how about four instead?
This was the signature drink at Arcadia, the restaurant and bar my wife and I ran, as well as the first cocktail recipe I ever created.
In this Manhattan riff, mole bitters combine with Solerno as the accent flavor.
5 drops 20% saline solution (you can skip this, but it’s easy to make and really makes the drink shine)
2 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
0.25 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
0.25 oz Solerno orange liqueur
0.5 oz El Mayor Reposado Tequila
0.5 oz High West Double Rye Whiskey
1 oz Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey
Stir in mixing glass with ice, strain into a cocktail
Chocolate Bitters Cocktail
It’s a boring name for a drink, but this recipe is really about letting the pure cocoa bitters shine through. It uses primarily soft, floral flavors, allowing the chocolate flavor of the bitters to dominate the drink.
6 drops Woodford Reserve Chocolate Bitters
0.75 oz Lillet Blanc
0.25 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
0.5 oz White Brandy (I use Copper&Kings Immature, but a pisco would also work well)
1.5 oz Ketel One Grapefruit and Rose
Stir in mixing glass with ice, strain into a martini glass, and mist with a spray of rose water.
Mezcal Mole Manhattan
Another Manhattan riff, this one leans fully into the Mexican flavor profile of the bitters.
3 dashes Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters
0.5 oz Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur
0.5 oz Lillet Blanc
2 oz Mezcal
Stir in a mixing glass with ice, strain into a
Sinful Valley Smash
Shifting gears to a shaken drink, either style of chocolate bitters can work here to add breadth of flavor, rather than being a focal point.
2 dashes chocolate bitters
3 large basil leaves
0.5 oz simple syrup
0.5 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz Lillet Blanc
1 oz Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Scarlet Ibis Rum
Muddle strawberries and basil with simple syrup and lemon juice in a shaker, add remaining ingredients and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a