The Shot in the Dark

The Shot in the Dark

“She has a beautiful little body, hasn’t she?”


She leaned a little towards me.  ”You ought to see mine,” she said gravely.

“Can it be arranged?”

She laughed suddenly and sharply and went halfway through the door, then turned her head to say coolly: “You’re as cold-blooded a beast as I ever met, Marlowe.  Or can I call you Phil?”


“You can call me Vivian.”

“Thanks, Mrs. Regan.”

“Oh, go to hell Marlowe.” She went on out and didn’t look back.

That passage comes from Raymond Chandler’s classic, The Big Sleep.  I’ve been reading a lot of detective fiction lately.  The noir vibe seeped into my imagination and I started to imagine a drink that was strong, playfully morbid, with just enough sweetness and femininity to keep you drinking.  I wanted a drink that could murder a Red Bull and Vodka and dispose of the body.

The Shot in the Dark is that drink.  If you need a stimulant the night before a final, or you’re under a work deadline and want to banish even the notion of sleep for a while and focus, this is the drink for you.  It also tastes fantastic.

I started with Cafe Bustello (Image Courtesy Nathan Ota).

Bustello has been a Cuban roast staple for years with a strong Hispanic base, but recently they’ve been aggressively marketing the brand a la Pabst Blue Ribbon, and it pairs decently with vodka, making a drink termed a “Dirty Bustello.”  It happens to be my mom’s favorite coffee, and it’s much easier to find than it used to be.

Into an Irish Coffee glass about half filled with hot Bustello coffee, I dropped in a shot of Van Gogh Double Espresso Vodka.  It’s not only very strong and sweet, but more nuanced than Three Olives’ Espresso offering-without a chocolate base (I’m already adding chocolate so that’s unnecessary), and more of a caramel undercurrent.

And into this concoction goes a hefty block of 70% chocolate.  Lindt or-quite surprisingly-Hershey’s Cacao reserve work very well here.  In Israel we drop chocolate into hot chocolate, creating a drink called a Submarine, that was the inspiration for this one.  The slab of chocolate dissolves in the drink, vaguely echoing a gunshot wound.

For a garnish, use a cinnamon stick, it puts a little spin on the drink.  You don’t need to sweeten because of the chocolate and the fact that the vodka is already sweetened.  The resulting concoction is perfectly balanced.

Almost as interesting as the drink itself is the science behind why it works:

Alcohol- A lot of people know alcohol is a depressant, but what they don’t know is that it reacts with many neurotransmitters in the brain.  It raises dopamine levels causing you to get more excited, It enhances GABA receptor function leading to feelings of calm and anxiety reduction (and also sleep, but the Caffeine will take care of that), it also raises endorphin levels, leading to an endorphin high.  Alcohol also inhibits Glutamate receptors, leading to relaxation but dis-coordination and memory loss if too much is taken.

Caffeine- Caffeine speeds up memory and improves short term reaction times by acting of the prefrontal cortex.  It also closes blood vessels in the brain, so the brain and the body can’t sleep.  Like alcohol, it also stimulates dopamine allowing a kind of high.

Chocolate- Chocolate stimulates endorphin levels as well, working to lessen pain and decrease stress.  The tryptophan in chocolate causes the release of serotonin, a natural anti-depressant.  Theobromine in chocolate is a stimulant, and has properties that can lead to mental and physical stimulation.  Phenylethylamine is also released, which is the neurotransmitter people refer to when they say eating a lot of chocolate is like being in love, because it quickens the pulse and brightens your mood.

Combined you have a very potent drink that tastes great, makes you feel good, and will keep you working through the night, Detective.

Take that Red Bull


Start with 1/2 filled Coffee Glass of Bustello

Drop in 1 Shot Van Gogh Espresso Vodka

Drop in thick block of chocolate

Add in a cinnamon stick, stir and serve