Nah, this isn’t Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. It’s 1000x more magical because a) there’s amazing handmade chocolate and b) there’s also booze!
We showed up a little early for the 6 p.m. tour, so we got a drink in their house bar, Botanica. I took the cocktail called Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway is pretty much my idol, so picking this drink was an instant “yes!”; I didn’t even look at the ingredients before I ordered. It turned out to be the Cacao Prieto white rum, with grapefruit and rosemary. I know I say this about drinks a lot, but it was extremely refreshing. If you haven’t been to NYC, it’s humid as hell. Cool, fresh drinks are greatly appreciated. Especially when named after your favorite author.
During the tour, we first learned about the origins of Cacao Prieto. The location in Red Hook was originally a parachute factory. Eventually the parachute business was sold to the U.S. government, and the building was converted to a chocolate factory under the same ownership. All the organic cacao beans are sourced from the Dominican Republic, from farms that the Cacao Prieto’s founder’s family owns. All the chocolate is made right there, with a staff of about 3 or 4 people. No Oompa Loompas here! Also, each chocolate bar is hand wrapped– every single last one.
All the chocolate made here is 72%. The percentage on chocolates has always seemed like an arbitrary number to me, but I learned that the percent — 72% for example– describes the amount of real cocoa. The rest of the percent is how much sugar the chocolate contains. For reference, regular Hershey’s milk chocolate is around 20% cocoa… meaning 80% is sugar and milk. The more you know.
I really appreciate this 72% balance of cocoa and sugar. It’s not overly bitter, or overly sweet. The cacao flavor is dominant, but not in an aggressive way. It’s like the cacao is Batman and the sugar is Robin; a hero and a sidekick. (I’m just guessing here, I’ve never seen Batman)
There were four different flavors available for us to try, classic, vanilla & cinnamon, Dominican spices, and coffee & sea salt. All of the flavors were very unique compared to chocolate I’ve had before. I’d have to say that my favorite kind was the coffee & sea salt.
Between seeing the Cacao Prieto half of the tour and the Widow Jane half of the tour, the tour guide showed us the courtyard.
This is where the shells from the cacao beans are thrown– really good use of biodegradable waste, in my opinion. There are chickens who live in the courtyard too!
Time for the hard liquor! So, Widow Jane and Cacao Prieto used to be part of the same company, but Widow Jane was recently bought out, so now they’re separate. Because it’s a fairly young company, they haven’t really been around for long enough to have aged their own New York sourced liquor. Basically, the liquor they sell now is from a mystery distillery in Kentucky– no really, nobody knows or is allowed to know who makes the whiskey except like one person. Don’t ask me why or who or what… I don’t know. What I do know is that when they get the liquor from the mystery distiller, they add New York limestone water from the Widow Jane mine, to kind of make it unique.
First up on the tasting list is the American Oak Aged Rye Mash Whiskey. It’s has a brighter taste than most whiskeys. To me, it would be really good in an Old Fashioned because it already has a little bit of the orange-y taste to it.
Fun fact: Widow Jane uses barrels with Char #3. A higher charring on the inside means more surface area of the barrel touches the liquor, because of all the cracks. It gets more oaky, quicker. You can learn a little bit more about char levels here.
Second in the line-up is American Oak and Apple Wood aged Rye Mash Whiskey. Boy, does that apple wood make a difference! It seriously has light cider notes, and is a little bit sweeter than its previous counterpart.
Next, we tried the ten year aged Bourbon. This whiskey has a rich, full flavor. If you are looking for a bourbon to put in a Manhattan, try this one. I also would recommend drinking this one straight, as a whiskey with such a robust, complex flavor should be sipped by itself too, to capture all the different facets.
After the whiskeys, there is Cacao Prieto white rum. It makes for smooth drinking with a tropical notes and a slight mineral taste, because of the limestone water.
For dessert, we have cacao infused rum! It’s exactly what it sounds like. The cacao is allowed to sit in the rum and it gives it a nice boozy, chocolatey taste. This is another that is very good straight, but I think I would have a really fun time coming up with cocktails for this if I had a bottle!
As the tour ended, we headed back next door to the house bar, and enjoyed a couple more cocktails before the last ferry left Red Hook. I’ll spare you all the details and sum up the experience in five words: all time top five cocktails. I recommend Death in the Afternoon, a concoction rumored to be invented by Ernest Hemingway. If Hemingway were alive today, I could picture him sitting in Botanica, sipping some Cacao Prieto white rum.
If you’re interested in more photos from the tour, they’re available on my Facebook.