Whether steamingor chilled, served in a coffee mug or cocktail glass, dessert drinks are a fun way to cap off dinner or indulge in a sweet treat at the bar. These libations frequently include a dose of chocolate, coffee, cream or caramel flavors, but bartenders are finding that many favorite desserts can reinvented in cocktail form.
“Dessert cocktails should be the shadow of the dessert that inspired them,” says Nathan Foster, food and beverage outlets manager for The Thoroughbred Club bar at the 440-room Belmond Charleston Place Hotel in Charleston, SC. “Reminiscent and clearly defined, but not as substantial.”
The Thoroughbred Club’s Chocolate Martini ($13) combines Stolichnaya vanilla vodka with Godiva white chocolate liqueur, Godiva dark chocolate liqueur and half and half, garnished with cocoa powder. The cocktail offers deep chocolate flavor and richness, says Foster, but it isn’t nearly as heavy as a slice of chocolate cake.
The Cookies, Coffee and Cream ($14) combines vanilla- and cinnamon-infused Wild Turkey American Honey bourbon with Kahlua and half and half, served in a glass rimmed with crumbled Benne wafer cookies. Benne, similar to a sesame seed, is a local delicacy: Benne wafers are produced only by Charleston’s Olde Colony Bakery. “Our inspiration for our newest dessert cocktail was to continue with a focus on infusions and to use the unique local ingredient,” says Foster.
The Thoroughbred Club’s Clydesdale cocktail ($14) mixes cinnamon- and vanilla-infused Wild Turkey American Honey with dark crème de cacao and half and half, garnished with sprinkled nutmeg. Foster says guests typically order either a dessert drink, or a simple cordial with a plated dessert.
At Poste Modern Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C., the 37-seat outdoor Winter Lounge keeps guests toasty with a patio heater, blankets and warming, dessert-style cocktails. The Holy Mole ($14) adds Milagro Silver tequila to spiced hot chocolate, garnished with house-made whipped cream; Appleton of my Eye ($14) mixes Appleton VX rum with a house-made, salted-caramel cider.
“You definitely need at least one sweet dessert cocktail for that person looking to indulge their sweet tooth,” says lead bartender James Nelson. “I like to use flavors that are normally associated with dessert—coffee, chocolate, caramel—so people feel more at home ordering them.”
Chocolate reigns supreme at the aptly named Lulu’s Chocolate Bar, a 65-seat dessert restaurant and bar in Savannah, GA. “Our purpose in life is to create a community of adventurous self-indulgence,” says co-owner Janine Finn.
Popular sips at Lulu’s include the Chocolate Mint Martini ($10), with Godiva white chocolate liqueur, white crème de cacao and vodka, served in a dark chocolate-rimmed glass, and the Chocolate Chili Martini ($10), with Crave chocolate chili liqueur, vodka, Lulu’s sipping chocolate sauce, dark crème de cacao and a splash of cream.
Liquifying the classics
Drinks inspired by beloved desserts appeal to guests who prefer to eschew the plate in favor of the glass. At Shooter’s Wood Fire Grill, a steakhouse and bar in Rapid City, SD, bar manager Dan Balisco’s Key Lime Martini ($8) mixes Tanqueray Rangpur gin, Midori melon liqueur, Skyy Infusions ginger vodka, lime juice and heavy cream, served in a glass rimmed with graham cracker crumbs.
Red Light Cocktails & Dessert Bar, a 27-seat dessert restaurant in Washington, D.C., offers spirited dessert sips such as the Cake Shake ($11), which blends a red velvet cupcake with homemade ice cream, dark rum, velvet falernum and cocoa bitters. The Dude ($11) whips vodka, rum, Cognac and mole cacao bitters with an egg cream crafted by cocktail consultants (and Red Light partners) Ari and Micah Wilder.
Rhumbar at The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas has a seasonal winter cocktail called the Rhum Brulee. The drink, which sells for $12, combines Rumchata rum cream liqueur, Mount Gay XO rum, Cointreau and a dash of mole bitters.
Crave Dessert Bar, a 76-seat, small-plates and dessert restaurant in Charlotte, NC, features several liquid versions of crowd-pleasing meal enders. The Tiramisu Dream is made with Smirnoff Caramel Kiss vodka, Frangelico, butterscotch and Bailey’s Irish Cream; while the Adams Apple Crisp has Old Smokey Apple Pie Moonshine, apple brandy, agave and thyme, topped with prosecco. The Thin Mint cookie-inspired Girl Scout cocktail mixes Three Olives Chocolate vodka with chocolate mint and Rumple Minze.
All drinks on the Sippable Desserts section of the menu are priced at $11. Guests tend to order these cocktails along with one of Crave’s signature desserts—some of which are also booze-infused, says director of marketing, events and catering Stefani Hasty. “We try to fuse alcohol in our desserts and in our drinks to create a sinful evening for late-night enthusiasts.”
The bitter truth
Despite their name and connotation, dessert drinks don’t have to be overly sweet, says Finn of Lulu’s Chocolate Bar. Tart, floral and spicy are also great flavor profile options for after-dinner cocktails. Adding a bitter note to a dessert libation can help to temper overt sweetness and provide wider appeal.
Lulu’s Plum Blossom Martini ($10) mixes Pearl plum vodka with Monin violet syrup and a splash of lemon juice; the Citrus Rose Martini ($8) has vodka, grapefruit juice and Monin rose syrup, and a sugared rim. “Use quality ingredients and be creative—the drink is only as good as what you put into it,” Finn says.
Poste’s Maple Bourbon Toddy ($13) mixes Maker’s Mark bourbon with black tea, maple syrup and house-made charred cedar bitters, garnished with a maple lollipop. The Not Your Average Cup O’ Joe ($13) uses house-made vanilla vodka, espresso, Frangelico and Kahlua, with an espresso-sugar rim.
“Amaro has come into fashion big-time with dessert drinks,” notes Nelson. “It gives the drink an added kick of spice without making the cocktail cloyingly sweet.” He uses amaro in sips like the My My My Amaro ($11), which mixes it with Myers rum, Kahlua and orange bitters, topped with coffee and garnished with an orange twist.
The salty-sweet combination is still hot. Adam Seger, mixologist and master sommelier for iPic Entertainment’s movie theater restaurants and bars, created a drink called Hot Buttered Salted Truffled Rum ($13). He makes a batter with butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and coarse salt, heaps a few spoonfuls into a mug and tops it with high-quality dark rum and dark chocolate chips or chunks.
IPic’s Mocha Martini ($13) also gets a sprinkle of salt: house-made, double-chocolate liqueur is topped with double espresso and served in a glass with a salted mocha rim. “I get my inspiration for dessert cocktails from pastry chefs, who are blurring the lines more and more by using salty, spicy and savory flavors to create new dessert flavor frontiers,” says Seger.
Finn has witnessed an uptick in salted caramel-based dessert drinks, as well as those with spirits other than vodka as a base—including rye and gin. Lulu’s Savannah Bourbon Bellini ($9) mixes Woodford Reserve bourbon with Stirrings peach liqueur, topped with cava and served on the rocks.
Simple and seasonal
When considering adding dessert cocktails to a menu, Foster suggests starting simply. “Coffee drinks remain popular and are very easy to add—many simply involve adding a spirit to your brew.”
He also recommends learning a few classics, like the Cognac-based Brandy Alexander, and looking for opportunities to tie in seasonal and regional flavors.
“If you are just beginning to add dessert drinks to your menu, you are also going to have a clientele that is just discovering them as well,” Foster notes. “If their first experience is delicious, they will be back again.”
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter or Instagram @kmagyarics.