Still life: Dave Broom on bringing back digestifs with the help of chocolate

Other: People

For those who didn’t make it to his seminar at Imbibe 2010 Dave Broom explains how a few clever chocolate matches could breath life back into the digestif

Funny thing, drinking habits. I’m of the age where I not only remember when the drinks trade Did Lunch, but that an evening out with friends (or even family) ended with the offer of a post-prandial snifter. It rounded the evening off, allowed you to sit back, digest, finish conversations, make plans. Everyone left happy. These days, the shutters are brought down at the end of a meal with a mint, a cup of coffee (now, there’s a sensible thing to do at 11pm) and the call for a taxi. The evening ends on a flat note.

I fully understand why the digestif faded away – the combination of drink driving and the inexorable rise of vodka – but surely the landscape has changed? If no-one is driving then surely there is no harm in having a short post-meal, and if aged spirits are on the rise then why are they not being offered? Restaurateurs are missing a (profitable) trick by not actively promoting the after-dinner drink. 

One way to seduce the diner into a glass to go with their ‘waffer-thin mint’ is by pairing the spirit with chocolate. Aged spirits work better with chocolate than wine (it’s to do with the alcohol cutting through the fat as well as lower levels of acidity and tannin) while chocolate itself is a sure-fire way to gently introduce a new consumer (especially a female one) to the spiritous world, as well as introducing an element of theatre to the proceedings. In other words, it’s a win-win.

I recently worked with the lovely folks at Rococo to work out a few simple pairings – please note these are but suggestions. First up was a match between El Dorado 12yo and Valrhona Manjari, a 69% cocoa solid chocolate which allowed the deep rich rum to open up its dense black heart – out came cassis, cedar and a velvety melding of flavour. Zacapa 23 Solera was matched with a 65% chocolate with added basil and lime which gave a lift to this thick treacle, espresso, black cherry flavoured rum as well as a dazzling complex finish. 

Whisky too can work: caramelised almond chocolate with Yamazaki 18yo gave the sweet nuttiness that is missing from Japanese whiskies, adding to this single malt’s complexities. Johnnie Walker Blue Label was finally tamed by bringing in milk chocolate which added to the smoothness of this palate-driven blend. The link however was the grains of Anglesey sea salt in the chocolate which brought forward the smoky sea-shore accent.

A wilder experiment was matching Martell XO with Rococo’s white chocolate and cardamom. The white chocolate seemed to both calm and spread out the big beeswax and violet flavours, while the cardamom was the perfect accelerant for the spiced finish. Finally, Santa Teresa Rhum Orange – as sweet and citric a rum liqueur as you could wish for, was offset by Rococo’s Grenadan 82%. If El Dorado was flavours working in harmony, this was them working in opposition. Inexpensive, fun and profit making. Give it a shot.

What I’ve been drinking…

A quick cruise round the Imbibe 2010 show brought a few newbies to the attention of my nose. Feu de Joie XO for example – a Borderies based liqueur macerated in almond and wild cherry and bottled at 32%abv. A handy weapon and alternative to Chambord. (RRP £29.95/70cl, Distilled Spirits Ltd, 07770 450 523)

The spiced rum market continues to grow. Incidentally, I significantly prefer the new Sailor Jerry formulation, but any SJ drinkers who I’ve come across are vehemently opposed to its lower sugar levels. Given this logic, I reckon they’d hate the new Elements 8 Spiced which is a spiced rum for the discerning drinker. Plenty of clove and honey on the nose before a chocolate note emerges, cut with sweet citrus. The taste is hugely spiced – lots of anise and ginger. Have it in a Dark n Stormy. (40%abv, RRP £29.99/70cl. Elements 8, 07867 806347)

Sticking with rum, I got the following pair from Luca Gargano’s Gerona-based firm, Velier, but I daresay you’ll be able to track them down. The first, PMG, is a white agricole from the Bielle distillery in Marie Galante which has been made in collaboration with the king of fruit spirits Gianni Capovilla (of whom more soon). Now I know that white agricole is hardly the UK’s best selling rum style, but I reckon if you treat it like cachaça you could be making some interesting drinks. This isn’t overly vegetal – it occupies a flavour world where plantain, green banana and pineapple vie with wet clay. The palate is peppery but with good fruitiness. Worth a look.

A must-stock however is the second bottling, a 22yo, 52%abv Caroni from Trinidad. One of the forgotten distilleries of the Caribbean, Caroni made wonderful heavy (or heavy for Trini) rums. It’s now closed, so stock is going to be increasingly hard to get hold of. This is an absolute belter that seems to occupy a space closer to cognac than rum: cedar, tobacco, pollen, macadamia nuts, walnut shell. Only a sweet, stewed citrus character gives the game away. The palate is scented and waxy with lots of clove and geranium. Coconut finishes things off. Highly recommended. (for more info contact

Where I’ve been drinking…

An embarrassment of great bars to report on this issue. A delayed trip to Amsterdam meant that I‘ve only now just managed to get to Door 74 which is as classy a speakeasy joint as its already legendary status suggests, but then I spent three days at 69 Colebrooke Row so figured I should really report on some of the crazy potions emanating from Tony C’s lab (distilled Buckfast anyone?). If you haven’t been, go, if only for the synchronised vertical shaking and the fact you can get a drink by blowing a duck call – at least it worked for me.

Then I headed to Edinburgh for a meeting in The Vintner’s Rooms in Leith. This is one of the Scottish drink trade’s legendary haunts, which sits beneath the SMWS club rooms. Having not been for a number of years I was expecting to find the same old crepuscular cavern. Instead I walked into a bright, spartan, space with bottles lining the whitewashed walls. Whisky bottles. There’s unusual.
I looked closer. Rare whisky bottles. I scanned again. Really rare whisky bottles: 1,200 of them, mostly from between the 1950s and 1970s. It’s the open collection of collector Guiseppe Begnoni of Bologna who bought the site a few months back and represents the finest collection of rare whiskies available to try in the UK – and at extremely fair prices. 

Every whisky nut should make a pilgrimage here as soon as they can – any old spirit hound should as well, as the collection of old Italian liqueurs is unsurpassed. It’s enough to make me move back to Edinburgh just to be close. 

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