Happy National Black Forest Cake Day!
Even after I’ve typed the title of this post and I’ve looked at it several times, I can’t help but smile. Some of these national holidays are downright silly, I realize that, but when the occasion being celebrated involves chocolate and cherry flavors, that’s enough of a reason to make a cocktail! For those of you who’ve never had it, Black Forest cake is a delectable combination of chocolate cake layers, cherries, and whipped cream. It is originally from Germany where Kirschwasser, a clear spirit made from sour cherries, is added to the cake, and the same type of cherries are used on top or in between layers in place of dark or maraschino. There were several different directions I could go in with this cocktail, but I really wanted it to be a darker drink that was served old-fashioned style, rather than a dessert in a glass, or a some kind of a martini. My 2 main spirits that I would be building the drink around were Cherry Heering, a Danish liqueur created in 1818, and créme de cacao, also a liqueur that has also been around forever that adds chocolate flavor to cocktails (and also a hint of vanilla) without being horrendously sweet. In order to choose which base spirit I wanted to use, I made the drink 2 different ways, using Elijah Craig small batch bourbon for one, and Old Overholt rye for the other. I’m usually a rye whiskey girl all the way, but in this case I surprised myself by preferring the bourbon. It had the right amount of warmth and spice to work with the Cherry Heering, and a hint of vanilla that complemented the créme de cacao. Prepared this way, the drink was just another old-fashioned, that tasted fine but was not quite where I wanted it to be. Whenever I find myself in this spot, I reach for the bitters, and so that is exactly what I did here. I tried 4 different varieties and was truly amazed to find that I liked DRAM Apothecary’s lavender lemon balm the best in this cocktail, where they effectively pulled out the cherry and chocolate flavors, rather than burying them in more spice. Remember that when you’re figuring out what bitters to use in a drink, contrasting flavors might seem unconventional, but sometimes they are the absolute best way to go. To finish things off I added just a 1/2 barspoon of the liquid in the jar of Luxardo cherries that I was using as a garnish, and I also rimmed my glass halfway around with a blend of hibiscus sea salt and grated dark chocolate. I love a bit of salt with chocolate and the hibiscus helped bring up the cherry flavor even more. The end result was still an old-fashioned type of cocktail, but with enough nuances of chocolate and cherry to bring the cake to mind without being over-the-top sugary and sweet. I couldn’t find a historical reason why someone decided that there needed to be a national holiday to celebrate Black Forest cake, but chocolate can be so fabulously inspiring that most people won’t question anything done in its honor. Enjoy today – find a way to raise a glass or have some cake!
Black Forest Cocktail
2 oz Elijah Craig bourbon
½ oz Cherry Heering
½ oz Crème de Cacao
2 dashes DRAM lavender lemon balm bitters*
Rim an old-fashioned glass half way round with hibiscus sea salt** and dark chocolate shavings. Add all the ingredients to a mixing glass and stir with ice until cold. Strain and pour into the prepared glass over 1 large cube. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry on a cocktail pick and add ½ to 1 full barspoon of the cherry liquid in the jar to the drink. Enjoy!
*If you don’t have the DRAM bitters, you can substitute another brand of lavender bitters here. Start with one dash though, and check the flavor.
**To rim the glass, I rubbed just a small amount of the bitters on the edge first. I buy my hibiscus sea salt on Amazon, but you can use regular salt, or even a lavender infused salt in its place.