This summer I spent an afternoon at Brooklyn distillery and chocolate factory, Cacao Prieto. You can read all about my visit, the history, and delicious whiskeys, rums, and chocolate decadence in the Summer Issue of Microshiner Magazine. The following excerpts are from the article.
“The difference is in the water,” Nick grinned, pointing to a photo of a crystalline pool. The tranquil waters of the underground mine appeared as inviting as the sparkling copper bourbon in my hand.
Widow Jane Bourbon, the newest of Cacao Prieto’s creations, is as pure and unique as it sounds. The Kentucky bourbon with a Brooklyn twist is brought to life by the mineral rich waters of its namesake, the Widow Jane Mine. Located in the Catskills, the limestone cave possesses naturally filtered water overflowing with minerals, giving it an exceptionally sweet taste. With a swirl of the glass, I quickly discovered Nick was correct.
Similar to the serene waters of the Widow Jane mine, the cobblestone streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, offer a quiet respite. Hidden from the hustle and bustle of city life, they have sanctified their suburban neighborhood charm and provide an idyllic home to the artisanal innovators of Cacao Prieto.
One particular tree-lined street foretells of succulent sweetness ahead. Street signs entice patrons to a three story brick building on the corner.
“Bittersweet heaven… awaits you… don’t pass by.”
Inside the looming doorway there’s a frenzy of activity. The team hurried about as a mixture of chatter and laughter soared over the purr of the custom 1000 liter still.
An aestheticians dream, the chic, repurposed warehouse mirrors the organic appeal of the custom specialties it harbors. Brick walls connect the towering plate glass windows and plank hardwood floors of the loft-style retail space. To the left, bottles of Cacao Rum and Widow Jane Bourbon decorate the wall and the long glass display case before it. To the right, a second display of decadent chocolate bars, bonbons and dark chocolate samples beckon for a taste. Behind a segmented glass wall towers the glistening copper still, humming melodiously as it transformed its contents into treasures.
Nick, the distillery’s production manager, didn’t waste a moment, practically offering a warm hello and tasty sample of rum simultaneously. Inherently proud, he wanted the uniqueness of Cacao’s delicacies to speak for themselves.
In addition to the elusive Widow Jane Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, Cacao Prieto distills a line of small batch liqueurs and rums. Earthy and complex, both Don Rafael Cacao Rum and Don Estaban Cacao Liqueur are distilled from organic cacao and sugar cane. Nick poured samples of the delightfully smooth, award winning rum. The aroma of honeyed sugar cane and coffee was accentuated by its rich, dark chocolate flavor with a hint of oak and dash of vanilla.
Don Estaban Cacao Liqueur would make the perfect martini. Similar to the rum, it boasts a luscious chocolate base with notes of toffee and caramel topped with a dash of spice.
Widow Jane Bourbon was originally introduced as a five year spirit, but the 1500 bottles sold out quickly, inspiring the now seven year reserve to fill its void. An exceptionally light, buttercream scent rose from the glass before notes of cherry orange and cinnamon spice danced across the palate. Topped with a citrus snap, the medium-bodied finish read more mature than a traditional seven year and is ideal for both the experienced bourbon lover and curious beginner. Bottled Widow Jane Pure Limestone Mineral Water is also available to accompany the bourbon, rather than risk diluting its richness with “regular tap water.”
What truly establishes Cacao Prieto as an artisanal leader is not only the use of such key ingredients as limestone water, but also the innovative science behind their methods. Lead by visionary founder Dan Prieto Preston, the team constantly conceptualizes ideas, testing new products, blends and fusions.
A former mechanical and aerospace engineer, Dan is an innate creator. His inventive nature, combined with an engineering background and rich family history, inspired the transformation of the 7,000 sq ft warehouse into its original use as a gleaming chocolate factory.
The beans to bars operation opened its doors in 2009. Perfecting its chocolate decadence, the company sources their organic cacao and sugar cane directly from Coralina Farms, Dan’s family run plantations in the Domincan Republic. The alcohol byproduct produced during fermentation lead Dan to work his magic distilling rums, followed by the addition of whiskey last fall.
The combination distillery and chocolate factory is uncommon, but ordinary isn’t in Cacao Prieto’s vocabulary.
“We’re very creative,” Nick smiled. “We do what we want.
The ideology is creating quality, organic products with unique methods and characteristics. Rather than add artificial flavors and ingredients, they are the only producer in the world to distill liquors and rums directly from Dominican cacao beans. The mixture is then infused with additional beans for extra flavor before being aged in charred oak barrels.
And the vision doesn’t end with liqueurs, bourbon and chocolate. They’ve already successfully introduced products like Fountain of Youth Facial Soap, with the possibility of adding cigars and SPF lotion to the menu in the future. Devotion to hand-crafted products even inspired the team to build their own chocolate making machines!
Cacao Prieto is a “meeting place of ideas, traditions, dreams and technology.” They are designing their own rules, continually defying expectations while churning out superior products. A recipe of commitment, creativity and craftsmanship, sprinkled with a dash of fun, accelerates Cacao Prieto rise as a leader in the community of craft culture and small batch production.
**All photos by the talented Brian Cary
[As seen in Microshiner]