Valentine’s Day. Sure, we all know it’s just something dreamed up by Hallmark to sell cards, but at least it’s a bit of fun in February, otherwise known as the worst month of the year (at least for those of us in the northeast). There’s nothing wrong with celebrating your relationship with the person you love, after all, so why not embrace the spirit with a trio of delicious drinks?
As long-time readers know, I like to avoid cloying, syrupy cocktails. One of the principal goals of this article was to create drinks that aren’t the typical over-sweet, under-boozy dessert drinks you find at bad restaurants. No Mudslides or Chocolate Martinis here. Just classic-style cocktails that follow certain flavor profiles. Specifically: those that evoke classic Valentine’s candies.
Whether you’re reading this on Valentine’s Day, or some other time, these drinks can be put together with a minimum of effort. Two of them do require simple infusion, but they use common, easy-to-find ingredients and only require a few minutes of prep, max. We think it’s worth the effort, and we bet the special lady in your life will too.
As always, liquors in parentheses are what I used in these particular drinks, and are included as suggestions, not hard-and-fast rules. Let’s get to it!
Our first drink’s theme is “chocolate and spice” and I think this drink really executes on that well. I strongly recommend using Carpano Antica Formula here — it’s got a great blend of spices that really accentuate the chocolate flavor of the crème de cacao without making it cloying. The Galliano rinse also adds a hint of vanilla.
If you don’t have Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters from Bittercube, you should get some, but Angostura will also work fine!
- 1.5 oz. Rye (Old Overholt)
- 1 oz. Brandy (E&J XO)
- .75 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Carpano Antica)
- .25 oz. Crème de Cacao (Hiram Walker)
- Dash Aromatic Bitters (Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla)
- Rinse Galliano
Rinse a chilled cocktail coupe with Galliano and discard the excess. Combine other ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into rinsed cocktail coupe. Garnish with two Luxardo maraschino cherries.
Cinnamon hearts and maple crème … two common Valentine’s candy flavors, melded here in delicious harmony. Rather than using cinnamon-infused simple syrup (since I’m using maple syrup as a sweetener already), I decided to infuse some vodka. This is a really easy step, and though you can also just buy pre-infused cinnamon vodka, you shouldn’t fear it. But beware! The vodka can get really spicy. As a result, I advocate infusing for a mere twenty-four hours and then cutting it 50/50 with regular vodka.
This drink definitely delivers a whomp of cinnamon flavor, so if that’s not your thing then it’s probably best avoided. If, like me, you’re a fan, then give it a shot. It’s delicious!
To make cinnamon vodka: break a cinnamon stick into roughly six or seven pieces. Add up to eight ounces of vodka (if using more, add another cinnamon stick), cap, and store four twenty-four hours. Strain, and mix with an equal amount of regular vodka. Keeps indefinitely.
- 2 oz. Cinnamon Vodka (Reyka)
- .75 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Noilly Prat)
- .5 oz. Spiced Rum (The Kraken)
- .25 oz. Dark Maple Syrup
- Dash Aromatic Bitters (Angostura)
Combine all ingredients in a pint glass over ice and stir thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a cinnamon stick.
In this drink, we’re using a very small amount of Crème de Cacao to wrap the much larger quantity of ingredients that bring vanilla flavors, much like how the classic candy contains a large amount of vanilla crème enrobed in a thin layer of chocolate. The result? The liqueur actually enhances the vanilla flavor, instead of masking it.
This is the most decadent drink on the list, using a full ounce of light cream and three quarters of an ounce of sweetener. The result is a little like a bourbon-spiked vanilla milkshake. If you’ve ever had one of those, you know as well as I do that that’s a very good thing!
This drink uses another infused liquor; this time we’re enhancing bourbon’s natural vanilla notes by running the tip of a knife along the length of a vanilla bean (to expose the fragrant seeds) , dropping the whole thing into six to eight ounces of whiskey, and letting it infuse for at least two days. If you’re short on time, you can achieve a similar effect by using regular bourbon and adding two or three drops of vanilla extract (but no more!).
- 2 oz. Vanilla Bean-infused Bourbon (Buffalo Trace)
- 1 oz. Light Cream
- .5 oz. Simple Syrup
- .25 oz. Crème de Cacao (Hiram Walker)
- Dash Aromatic Bitters (Homemade. Sub Angostura)
Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice and shake thoroughly. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish by grating nutmeg over the glass with a microplane grater.