Used sparingly, chocolate bitters can deftly elevate a standard cocktail by imparting the beverage with rich notes of cocoa and a greater degree of complexity.
According to Mark Mentzel, bar manager of The Elk Room in Baltimore, the most prudent way to incorporate chocolate bitters involves frequent taste tests. He likens the process to building a structure with Legos and figuring out where certain pieces belong, as well as which ones refuse to cooperate. (It’s this level of consideration and ingenuity that earned The Elk Room a spot on Esquire’s 2018 list of America’s best bars, a sharp contrast to the treatment the magazine gave to the Alexander in 1934.)
Start with one dash, and taste as you go,” he said. “And don’t be afraid to try the bitters on their own. You have to know what you’re working with.
With chocolate bitters, less is often more. A profound impact can certainly still be found in the absence of overwhelming chocolate flavors, as is the case for the Precious Coral cocktail on The Elk Room’s seasonal menu. Rather than trying to hog the spotlight, Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters find purpose in supporting a castmate — the true headliner, an herbal liqueur known as génépy.
Despite their lack of aggression, the bitters are as important to the drink as any of the other components, from the bison grass vodka to the cranberry that helps to create the namesake coral color.