Some writing assignments make you grit your teeth in frustration. Some melt in your mouth. And some—some are epic orchestras in sensual surround-sound, delirious climbs to dizzying peaks, the pinnacle moment of your bucket (in this case, barrel) list. Such was my task of taste-testing three whiskies with six high-end chocolates, to see which paired best. Mom, thanks for giving birth to me.
First, a few considerations: We know you like whiskey, because that’s why you’re here. Some people aren’t fans of dark chocolate, so this exercise might be merely academic to those of you. But remember, this test is in the name of science! Besides, so many pundits make claims for the glories of wine and chocolate—whiskey must have its due.
I chose three middle-tier priced (between $30 & $40 a bottle) whiskies because I wanted some straightforward and easily available representations on the spirits side. I chose six mostly high-end chocolate bars to make you think the world is going to hell, because how can a chocolate bar be $11? (And because these chocolate bars are so deeply delicious.)
- Michter’s Unblended American Whiskey – Kentucky, 83.4 proof
- Elijah Craig Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Kentucky, 94 proof
- Knob Creek Straight Rye Whiskey – Kentucky, 100 proof
- Fruition Maranon Canyon Dark Milk – 68% cacao, beans: northern Peru; production, Shokan, New York
- Dick Taylor Madagascar Sambirano – 72% cacao, beans: single-estate Madagascar; production, Eureka, CA
- Original Beans Piura Porcelana – 75% cacao. Beans: Peruvian Andes; production: Switzerland
- Ritual Ecuador Balao – 75% cacao. Beans: Balao, Ecuador; production: Park City, Utah
- Marou Bá ria 76 – 76% cacao. Beans: Bá ria province, Vietnam; production: Saigon
- Green and Black’s Organic – 85% cacao. Beans: Caribbean/South America; production: Poland
The Tasting Process
My girlfriend Alice, a supporter of all things whiskey as well as things chocolate, had the courage to join me in this experiment. All chocolates were tasted at room temperature, all whiskeys the same. Each of us had a glass of room-temperature bubbly water. We poured very generous slugs of whiskey into six glasses total, each of us getting three glasses for each style of whiskey.
Consider the escalating drama!
We started with the lowest cocoa-content chocolate and moved by degree to the highest. We each took small but taste-worthy bites of chocolate, let its glory melt in our mouths, followed by sips of whiskey with the lowest proof, then the palate-cleansing bubbly water, then another bite of chocolate, then a sip of whiskey with higher proof and on. We each had a clipboard upon which we wrote our impressions.
The results were—my goodness, this is a fine way to spend the evening! But the actual rating results were these:
Fruition – Alice chose the Michter’s as most compatible, noting the “smooth on smooth” harmony. I found the Knob Creek the best pairing—they seemed easy in each other’s arms. Both of us thought all three whiskies were good with the chocolate. Notably, the Fruition was the only bar that had some milk content, but with its deep and creamy cocoa spice, it’s nothing like a Hershey bar.
Dick Taylor – Alice thought the Knob Creek Rye was in tune with the Taylor, dubbing it “hot and good.” I found those a bit too hot, though with a great finish. I took the Craig bourbon as the winner, because the two together were sweet, smooth and buttery. Neither of us cared for the Michter’s, which for me was at soft, sour odds with the black cherries and raisin tastes I got from the chocolate.
Original Beans – But the Michter’s made a big comeback with the rare white cacao beans of this bar. We both thought the straight whiskey was a fully-in-tune partner with nice notes of vanilla and cocoa in the chocolate. The other whiskies weren’t bad, but Michter’s was better.
Ritual – Perhaps the booze was making us best friends again, but we agreed again on spirits and sweet: both of us thought the Knob rye matched nicely. Alice favored the “smooth, but very good kind of hot,” and I too was surprised by how smooth the two tasted together. Alone, the Ritual tasted quite sweet, but not cloying to me, with a great nutty flavor. Other whiskies: not bad at all.
Marou – Alice thought the “crisp and bold” Marou went just dandy with the Michter’s, with her being able to clearly distinguish both flavors when combined. I needed the 100-proof kick of the Knob to hit the high notes of what for me was the coffee and leather flavor notes in the Marou. Alice thought the Knob was a little rough here, but we both thought all the whiskies paired decently.
Green & Black’s – At 85% cacao, this is just getting to the edge of my chocolate comfort zone, but this is such a nicely balanced bar—both sweet yet astringent to me—that I can enjoy it. Alice again went for the rye, thinking it a sweet though strong complement to the bar. I loved the Elijah Craig with this, finding the two together to be very chewy in a deep, cool way. Neither of us found the Michter’s to hold up well to the big, bad bar here.
Whiskey and chocolate: yes. And a note on aesthetics: whiskey is beautiful in the glass, and so is the packaging for all of these chocolates (and several of the bars themselves have nice designs on them). Many of the packages have stories on them, and almost all bars are fair trade or have some kind of ethical sourcing, since the chocolate industry has had some evildoers.
It might be tough to find some of the bars at most stores; I was introduced to a number of them on a Seth Godin blog post, which has links. (Seth is a smart guy in so many ways, and he loves his good chocolate.)
Excepting the relatively inexpensive and readily obtainable Green & Blacks ($3.99), I bought the bars on Amazon, and they were all $10.99 each, except for the Fruition, which was $14.99. Obviously, these are an indulgence, but they are so rich, unless you are a maniac, you won’t eat a whole bar in one sitting. (Maniacs, I understand.)
And if you want to get a little further into the cacao/cocoa/cocoa butter distinctions, here’s a good primer.
Set your cabernet aside next time you get some good chocolate. Whiskey is king.
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Tom Bentley is a business writer and editor, an essayist, and a fiction writer. (He does not play banjo.) He’s had hundreds of freelance pieces published—ranging from first-person essays to travel pieces to more journalistic subjects—in newspapers, magazines, and online. His self-published book on finding and cultivating your writer’s voice,...