Wednesday, December 9, 2009

dun dun dun dun

This post mentions some free stuff. Check out the free stuff policy here.


The Mozart Distillery in Salzburg has given me a bottle (well, two bottles, and a glass, and a neck extender, and a list of cocktail recipes) of their new Mozart Dry to play around with, and the first thing you want to note is that this chocolate spirit is 80 proof -- the same as most base liquors -- and unsweetened.

Let's back up and talk about cocktail structure so that you get why that's a big deal.

There are plenty of drinks, and some of them are even good, that are just "let me dump this alcoholic thing into this non-alcoholic mixer."  Rum and Coke, gin and tonic, the Screwdriver, the Mimosa, the Dark and Stormy (Goslings Black Seal rum and ginger beer).  These are generally highballs, like a one-time favorite of Yrs Truly, Scotch and soda.  But I don't want to get too much into the "this is a flip, this is a highball, this is a cobbler" cocktail nomenclature, because I don't find it very instructive or useful except in looking at historical context, which is way beyond our scope right now.

Cocktails, if they involve more than a shot of something alcoholic in a glass of something that isn't, are generally built around a base liquor (or "base spirit").  What base liquors have in common is that they are unsweetened or minimally sweetened (they may retain some sweetness from the ingredients fermented to make them, as in the case of brandy), and they're around 80-100 proof (40-50% alcohol).  Some whiskeys come stronger than that; a number of rums come at 151 proof, but are used in combination with other lower-proof ingredients (or for fratboy horseshit).  

Typical base liquors include whiskey, brandy, tequila, rum, gin, and vodka.  Recent years have added new options to the American bar -- mezcal, shochu, cachaca -- and there are some subtypes within the categories (applejack is "apple brandy," for instance).  Many cocktail bar menus will be divided into categories according to base liquor, rather than other criteria (sours etc).

The other major alcoholic ingredients in cocktails are bitters -- which may be the same proof as base liquors or higher, but which are (by law) considered "non-potable," meaning they're too damn bitter and strong-tasting to drink, so you use them a few drops at a time, the vanilla extract of the bar -- and liqueurs.  Liqueurs include potable bitters like Campari and Aperol, fruit liqueurs like creme de cassis, and things like Kahlua, maraschino, amaretto, creme de violette, etc etc.  They're sweetened -- usually too sweet to drink straight; I can get through a glass of Campari because of the bitterness, but most people wouldn't want to -- and they're usually about half the proof of a base liquor.  (Absinthe is a notable exception.)

You need a base liquor, or something like juice or soda water, in order to create a cocktail -- you can't just mix a bunch of liqueurs together, or the result will be too sweet and syrupy.  Good liqueurs are fantastic and transformative -- people who turn their noses up at cocktails because they're hardline about drinking their liquor straight up are really missing out.  While a Boulevardier may cover up the whiskey more than they'd like, a whiskey sour just accentuates good whiskey, and an Old-Fashioned or Sazerac is almost entirely whiskey with a little sprinkle of something else, like cooking your steak with a little herb butter.

So that's the really, really interesting thing about Mozart Dry: it's a base liquor.

Base liquors give you a shit ton of options.

Think about it, every other chocolate-flavored alcohol product I can think of is sweetened, oftenly highly so -- a lot of the creme de cacao on the shelves is like Hershey's syrup mixed with cheap hooch.  You may as well make that at home.  There are some good cream liqueurs -- I've got nothing against cream liqueur -- but for me, those are dessert drinks, I don't particularly use them in cocktails.

Mozart makes a number of chocolate liquor products, and Mozart Dry is the first item of its kind that I'm aware of: an unsweetened chocolate spirit, a chocolate distillate as they call it.  Cocoa beans are mixed with high-proof alcohol (the higher the proof, the more flavor the alcohol extracts) and barreled for two months while the sediment settles out.  The final product is perfectly clear -- which makes it all the more surprising when you open the bottle and smell premium chocolate.  

That's when things get a little ... unusual: Mozart "sound-mills" their products by storing them in stainless steel tanks affixed with loudspeakers that play Mozart's music for 24 hours before the liquor is bottled.  Hey, whatever works.  The company has a page devoted to their sound milling, but you may have to go through the front page and enter your birthyear and whatnot.

As you can see from the level of the bottle, I've played around with Mozart Dry a bit.  The lack of sweetener gives you a lot of flexibility, and as the company notes, it takes well to acidity.  I had a few very nice drinks using Mozart Dry and unsweetened cranberry juice and a little liqueur of one or another type to balance out the cranberry, but you have to be careful to keep the cranberry from overwhelming the rest (this is true of using unsweetened cranberry juice in general).  A couple of the recipes on the web and included by the company pair Mozart Dry with Campari, which leapt out at me, so this was the first real home run I came up with:

Unnamed Mozart Dry cocktail

1 oz Mozart Dry
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Canton ginger liqueur
1/2 oz Sazerac 18 year old rye whiskey

Rye and ginger of course go well together, and the ginger and Campari provide the sweetener here.  It's a nice, nice drink.  It's very cool to see chocolate acting as a participant.  I'm sure many people will come up with "chocolate-covered cherries" and "chocolate truffle" cocktails with this, sure, but the chocolate flavor of Mozart Dry is layered enough, developed enough, that it is much more interesting when you let it play with other flavors instead of just being accented by them.

Other successful combinations, without photos:

A Mozart Dry Sazerac: Mozart Dry, a dash of absinthe, a dash of Peychaud's bitters, a little lemon juice and sugar;

Mozart Dry, Wasmund's single-malt whiskey, Creole Shrubb orange liqueur, and St Germain elderflower liqueur.

This is a go-to bottle.  This could definitely become a staple in my bar.


  1. Sounds promising -- what does a bottle cost, any idea? I am a little reluctant to give my money for such sound-milling nonsense. Reminds me of H2Om, the world's first interactive bottled water.

    I've occasionally infused alcohol with strong dark chocolate, which makes a delicious cocktail base as well. I wonder how the two compare.

  2. I haven't been able to figure that out -- I'd be comfortable paying the same price as, say, a good bourbon or imported liqueur. If it's closer to tequila prices, it'd be a rarer purchase, especially since it's a base liquor -- so unlike a bottle of Chartreuse, it's going to glug away one or two ounces at a time.

    What's interesting is how well-developed the chocolate flavor is -- which I guess isn't surprising, in that it isn't like dealing with citrus, where you can get a lot of flavor from the rind but lose out on the acidity, etc. The nose especially is just like unwrapping a seven dollar chocolate bar.