The Chocolate Lark accomplishes the near-impossible: surprising complexity and body for a low-alcohol cocktail, enshrouded in a deliciousness that stops shy of being a dessert. This cocktail is one any host should have up their sleeve.
In fact, as a lower-proof cocktail, its character is entirely built on the interplay of its compelling ingredients—specifically, sherry, vermouth, and creme de cacao.
The Liquors for This Cocktail
Shy with alcohols, gregarious with flavor: The Chocolate Lark sees a sherry complemented by a deep, rich vermouth, and a dark crème de cacao. Each is a character in its own right, but together, they practically sing.
- Amontillado sherry is an aromatic, intriguingly dry fortified wine. Aged in oak barrels and beneath a layer of flor (yeast), this sherry's concentrated aroma and dynamic flavor are rich in the nose, but light on its feet. Amontillado is the rosé of the sherry world: darker, less dry than fino sherry, but lighter than oloroso. Lustau Los Arcos Amontillado Sherry is your best fit, but this recipe also works well with light, dry sherries, such as manzanilla or fino.
- Carpano Antica Formula (a vermouth) has a strong body, dark complexity, and self-assurance that has made it a standard in bars the world over. Its strong vanilla notes are joined by cacao nib, orange peel, and dried cherry. If you want something more than a basic sweet vermouth but cannot find Carpano, try Coccchi Vermouth di Torino, Cinzano Rossocchi Vermouth di Torino, or Cinzano Rosso.
- A dark crème de cacao provides the chocolate wheels on which this cocktail rolls. Too often misused and abused, crème de cacao is best when used with some restraint (no more than 3/4 ounce). This will add just enough richness, sweetness, and depth. Tempus Fugit Crême de Cacao à la Vanille, a recipe recreation from the liqueur's heyday, is a great choice, as is Marie Brizard Brown Cacao Liqueur.
Other Ingredients for This Chocolate Cocktail
- Chocolate Bitters are going to amplify not only the chocolate of the crème de cacao, but also the deep body of the vermouth. You can make your own, go with Fee Brothers Aztec Chocolate Bitters, or be really interesting and try Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters.
- Fresh lime juice pairs wonderfully with the chocolate while brightening the cocktail. Reserve a single wedge of lime to coat the rim of the coupe glass if you are going to garnish the cocktail.
- Black sugar is a useful, if not necessary, garnish. (I’ll confess that I often skip the sugar.) It’s an unrefined brown sugar (the molasses content of which makes it black) and lends the rim of your glass a sweet, gravelly ring. Your best bet to find it will be local specialty shops or Amazon.
A Low Abv Cocktail That Still Feels Special
We get some specialness out of this drink precisely because its chocolate is not allowed to overwhelm; it's like an ingenue doing a surprise turn as a character actor: definitely noticed in every frame, but holding enough back as to draw your attention, rather than force it.
We get balance (not easy to come by without a stronger base spirit and the risk of oversweetening the concoction) from the surprise combination of sherry and lime juice, as they together bring a welcome acidity and brightness alongside the rich seasoning of the vermouth and sweetness of the crème de cacao.
The History of the Cocktail
This cocktail is a riff on The Adonis cocktail, a sherry, vermouth, and bitters number that dates back to the late 1880s, and is named for the first Broadway musical. (The Adonis was itself a riff on the Bamboo, which went with a dry, “French” vermouth.) So why are we calling this a "lark"? For that, you can thank Shakespeare, whose poem "Venus and Adonis" refers to a "gentle lark," which is perhaps the best description of this cocktail.
Now, cocktails and sherry go back a long way—once upon a time, sherry was as common a base ingredient as gin or whiskey. And for good reason: the fortified wine provides both body and acidity, levity, and complexity while leaving room for a broad range of other flavors to play their parts.
Any Variations or Ways to Switch It Up?
- Port of Adonis: Add 1 ounce of Tawny Port, and reduce the vermouth to 3/4 ounce, to introduce a dark stewed fruit flavor against the briny minerality of a drier sherry.
- Stronger Adonis: You would be sacrificing the drink’s coveted status of low-ABV, but substituting cognac for the sherry, and a tawny port in place of the Carpano will go down very well indeed.
- Chocolate Coronation: Substitute Maraschino for the simple syrup, and Marie Brizard’s Cacao Blanc for the dark creme, and you’ll have a chocolatey riff on the Coronation, an aromatic, delicately fruity cocktail from Harry Craddock's 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book.
More Low-Proof or Nonalcoholic Drinks
- Virgin Pomegranate-Citrus Sangria
- Ginger Switchel
- Winter Spiced Orange Mocktail
- Pear Ginger Shrub
Garnish the glass
Just before serving, use a lime wedge to wet the outer rim of a chilled coupe glass. Turning the glass on its side, dip the outer rim into a small bowl filled with black sugar, and coat the outer top of the glass.
Make the cocktail
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the sherry, Carpano Antica (or vermouth), crème de cacao, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake until cold to the touch, and strain into a chilled coupe glass.