Not all liqueurs are created equal -- but some are close enough. Both brown and white creme de cacaos bring the flavor of chocolate into the mixing ring. Brown, also known as dark, and white, also known as clear, creme de cacaos do have a few subtle differences that may affect a drink's appearance and texture.
The Dyes Have It
The true difference is in the eye of the beholder. Both brown and white creme de cacaos are creme liqueurs. Creme liqueurs are usually grain alcohol based with large amounts of sugar, as well as other flavorings, added to both sweeten the liqueur and mask the alcohol taste. The chocolate flavors of both creme de cacaos come from cocoa seeds, and most brands are distilled by a similar process. Brown creme de cacao's production process has an added step of dyeing -- usually with a caramel or brown food dye.
Looks are not the only thing that are deceiving -- the two liqueurs have a different feel as well. Brown creme de cacao's dye affects the liqueur's specific gravity or density. The dye has less of a specific gravity than the alcohol, so the dark creme de cacao ends up less dense than white creme de cacao -- but only by about a hundredth. The overall effect is that chilled and shaken cocktails with dark creme de cacao have a tendency to be slightly more watery.
The Final Proof
There's more to life than just looks and feelings. Both brown and white creme de cacaos have the same taste, as the dye does not affect the actual flavors. Also, most brands' varieties of brown and white weigh in at about 50 proof, which is 25 percent alcohol by volume. Many recipes will call for either creme de cacao because pouring either liqueur will not alter the cocktail's taste or potency. The real question in choosing between the two is how dark, or light, you want your drink.
Chock Full of Cocktails
Once you decide which color you prefer, nothing's really stopping you from mixing away. Simpler cocktails include chocolate martinis, which are just equal parts creme de cacao and vodka -- substitute a flavored vodka like vanilla or strawberry for more sweetness. For dessert cocktails, try a chocolate milkshake, which is 2 parts creme de cacao and 1 part each coffee liqueur, Irish cream and milk. Easy shots include a chocolate orange, which is 3 parts creme de cacao, 1 part triple sec topped with whipped cream; and a chocolate-covered cherry, which is equal parts creme de cacao, amaretto and coffee liqueurs and a splash of grenadine.