How to Pair Gin and Chocolate
Last year I did a lot of exploration and experimenting with pairing gin and chocolate. It’s something I had previously avoided as it’s really not easy find a good match, mostly because the strength and powerful flavour of gin can easily overpower the subtlety of single origin chocolate. Also, if you add a cold and fizzy mixer to the gin, that can make it even less compatible with deep and rich chocolate. I really convinced myself that the two things were never going to match.
Then I met Frankie from Southward Distilling in Wellington, and I was so excited about her unique approach to gin that I decided to ask her about hosting some tasting sessions. We did a lot of testing - it was REALLY hard work - and over time we discovered that some things worked beautifully together.
When you’re pairing gin and chocolate, I recommend starting with a sip of gin and then waiting at least ten seconds before tasting the chocolate. If you put both things in your mouth at once, it won’t end well. As for the chocolate, be sure to taste slowly, letting the chocolate warm up in your mouth and experiencing the flavour journey as it melts. I usually chew a few times and then move it around my mouth as it melts. You can find more in-depth chocolate tasting advice in my Chocolate Tasting Notebook.
As some of you already know, The Chocolate Bar specialises in high quality craft chocolate made in small batches with rare types of cacao. The chocolate we sell is complex and nuanced like fine wine, and some of that subtlety can be lost when pairing with gin. We found that flavoured bars are much easier to pair with gin than plain single origin bars. That’s not to say that the base flavour of the cacao isn’t important - it absolutely is - but added flavours are usually more of an equal match to the gin botanicals, and create a more harmonious pairing.
I’ve put together these pairing suggestions for you, using a handful of bars from our collection. I’ve recommended a style of gin, rather than a specific product, as everyone will have access to different shops and distilleries. I recommend sipping the gins neat but if you do want to add a little mixer, I’ve given you a suggestion for each gin.
1. Traditional juniper-forward gin with Shirl + Moss Hazelnut, Orange & Sea Salt
Dry and juniper-forward gins are generally the hardest to pair chocolate with. I recommend something not too dark, with a big added citrus flavour. The Shirl + Moss Hazelnut, Orange & Sea Salt bar is perfect - the orange flavour is really bold and the hazelnuts, which are ground up with the cacao, make it really light and creamy.
Suggested mixer: East Imperial Old World Tonic
2. NZ native botanicals gin with Juan Choconat Unroasted 76%
We’re starting to see more and more New Zealand distilleries using native plants to infuse their gins. With its refreshing peppery flavour, kawakawa is particularly perfect for making distinctly Kiwi gins. Kawakawa pairs really well with zingy flavours like citrus, passionfruit or raspberry. The Juan Choconat Unroasted 76% is a plain dark chocolate made with unroasted cacao, but you won’t believe how bright and juicy it is. Flavour notes of lemon and raspberry make it a great chocolate to pair with NZ native gin.
Suggested mixer: East Imperial Yuzu Tonic
3. Citrus-infused gin with Marou Kumquat 68%
Citrus-infused gins seem to be very popular at the moment and there are some amazing creations out there. It’s an obvious suggestion but I recommend pairing a citrus gin with the Marou Kumquat bar, which contains dried kumquats and a fruity Vietnamese cacao. It’s a mouthwatering chocolate and perfect to nibble alongside a nice cold sipping gin.
Suggested mixer: Six Barrel Soda Lemonade (just a dash)
4. Barrel-aged gin with Wellington Chocolate Factory Raspberry Milk Chocolate
Barrel-aged gins tend to be a little more mellow, deep and rich. The type of barrel that’s doing the ageing will dramatically affect the flavour, and this pairing suggestion is for something like a Pinot Noir barrel. The Wellington Chocolate Factory Raspberry Milk Chocolate is perfect for this, with a huge raspberry flavour and a fruity Peruvian cacao to back it up. The caramel note from the added milk tends to complement the depth from the barrel ageing.
Suggested mixer: Earl Grey tea (thanks to Frankie for introducing me to this!)
5. Red fruit infused gin with Miann Strawberry White Chocolate
White chocolate is usually easier to pair with gin as it’s not so deep and rich. A bright and tangy bar like the Miann Strawberry White Chocolate is absolutely perfect, and you’ll find this chocolate matches well with a lot of different gins. It’s particularly delicious with red/summer fruit infused gins, of which there seem to be a million options these days!
Suggested mixer: East Imperial Grapefruit Tonic
6. Sloe gin with Foundry Chocolate Kilombero Valley, Tanzania 70%
Sloe gin is an absolute dream to pair with dark chocolate. The lower alcohol content and increased sweetness make it much easier to find a perfect match. Most plain, single origin dark chocolates will taste pretty good alongside sloe gin, but I strongly recommend you try the Foundry Chocolate Tanzania 70%. This bright and fruity bar, made with cacao from Kokoa Kamili in the Kilombero Valley, is one of the best single origin bars being made in New Zealand. The fruitiness is really elevated when you taste it with a good quality sloe gin, and in turn the chocolate adds some depth and richness to the gin. Super yummy!
Suggested mixer: just sip this one neat. Trust me.
Lastly, if you prefer your gin and chocolate all in one, I highly recommend you check out the new Limited Edition Cacao Gin from Islands Gin, which is infused with cacao from Miann Chocolate Factory.
I hope you find this blog piece interesting and useful. It is intended as a loose guide - play around at home and see what great pairings you can discover. It’s a great way to share delicious things with friends!
Photos 3 and 6 courtesy of Du'plessis Kirifi (@thefirstset)