Unlike most liqueurs that you find on the back bar, the history of Crème De Cacao is as syrupy as the liqueur itself.
What is known is that monks were the first to experiment with brewing cocoa beans into alcohol, so it’s assumed that they probably had a hand in the formulation of the liqueur we know today.
Although often associated with dessert cocktails, Crème de Cacao comes in two forms – light and dark. The dark version is created by a process of percolation, where alcohol is dripped through a filter over the cacao beans. The light is created through distillation.
Unlike what you might assume from the name, neither version contains cream. The crème in the name means that according to EU legislation, it contains at least 250 grams of sugar per litre.
The dark version is dark brown in colour, with a full rich, bitter cocoa flavour, while the white is clear and a lighter milk chocolate flavour.
Crème de Cacao is a versatile ingredient that works well with spirits as varied as mezcal and bourbon or gin and vodka.
It is believed that in the 19th century Creme de Cacao was drunk on its own but as cocktail culture dominated in the early 20th century the quality of the cacao that was made diminished. There wasn’t the need to make it well if it was only being used as a modifier.
While often thought of as kitsch and discounted as the ’70s & 80’s disco ingredient, due to its accusation with drinks like the Brandy Alexander & the Grasshopper, Crème de Cacao has had quite a renaissance.
A lot of that renaissance is due to the quality of the Cacao being made rising up a notch, combined with the realisation that its sweetness could easily be tempered when combined with more bitter and austere ingredients.
So next time you see a bottle in your local bottle shop, don’t discount it quite so easily. It might find that a little Cacao is just the ingredient you need to add a sophisticated and nuanced flavour to your drinks.