Move Over Whiskey. How Barrel-Aged Chocolate Made Its Mark

From barrel-aged beer to cocktails and coffee, increasingly more products are being put through a flavor-enhancing period of rest time in wood. Now there's a new — delightfully delectable — addition to the possibilities: Chocolate. As it turns out, the complex sweet responds quite well to the aging process, adding more complex notes to its range of flavors.

The barrel's character — influenced by the wood's oils, treatment process, and (in some cases) previously contained spirits — can all impact the taste. Chocolate's high-fat content readily embraces such characteristics. The barrel aging process tends to smoothen out chocolate's brighter notes, imbuing it with a delicate new flavor.

Since 2013, Ecuador's To'ak Chocolate has pioneered such a process, and it has since caught on with other producers as well. A decade later, chocolatiers all over are incubating their creations in containers that have previously housed everything from sotol to gin. The results are profound, pushing chocolate into some innovative new directions.

What is barrel-aged chocolate?

Barrel-aging this sweet product doesn't mean simply resting a chocolate bar in a barrel. Instead, it's the cocoa nibs that are infusing the flavor. After roasting, these tiny bean morsels are placed into the barrel and sometimes even covered with a small amount of liquor. They're aged for several months, then removed and repurposed into the remainder of the chocolate process. The experimental aging technique can encompass a wide range of flavors. New combinations — often matching barrel character with cocoa origin — are constantly hitting the shelves.

Currently, examples include To'ak's Ecuadorian Rum Cask Aged Chocolate, which matches the company's signature Ecuadorian cocoa with casks used for both rum and bourbon. The latter brown spirit is a popular choice for aging, with more bourbon barrel aged offerings from the likes of Ritual, Raaka, and Dick Taylor. The essence of other spirits is heading to shelves, too, including gin-based bars. Seek out such newfound creations to get a piece of this boozy, boundary-breaking goodness.