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Chocolate, Whiskey, and Cigars at Cacao Prieto This Summer (PHOTOS)

Cacao Prieto, Widow Jane Distillery, and Botanica occupy a single corner lot in Red Hook
Cacao Prieto, Widow Jane Distillery, and Botanica occupy a single corner lot in Red Hook
All photos by Hannah Palmer Egan

Daniel Preston is not one to screw around, but the self-educated inventor-turned-aerospace-engineer-turned-chocolatier-and-distiller also has a flair for life's finer pleasures. At Cacao Prieto and Widow Jane Distillery, Preston is quietly turning out seriously smooth, well-crafted chocolate, rum, and whiskey, produced and packaged in small batches under one Brooklyn roof.

Next door, Preston's warm-season cocktail bar, Botanica, serves up craft beers and cocktails using house-made spirits, infusions, and other lovingly crafted local ingredients. The whole operation sits on a corner lot on a cobblestone block near the water in Red Hook and opens daily for tours and tastings.

Next door to Botanica, the Nat Sherman pop-up cigar shop
Next door to Botanica, the Nat Sherman pop-up cigar shop

This summer, Preston teams up with Nat Sherman Tobacco company to annex a pop-up tabaqueria next door. Botanica guests are welcome to stop in, buy a cigar, and enjoy it with Widow Jane whiskey pairings through October, because few things feel better on a breezy summer night than enjoying a drink or two al fresco, (assuming it's not 600 degrees outside), and few things go better with a great whiskey than a great cigar.

Last Friday, we toured the pop-up and wandered through the distillery and chocolate operations. On the pages that follow, you'll find photos of the earthly delights on offer at Preston's four-pronged artisanal pleasure palace this summer.

 

Chocolate nibbles at Cacao Prieto
Chocolate nibbles at Cacao Prieto
Roasted cacao beans
Roasted cacao beans

Cacao Prieto's chocolate is single-sourced from land Preston's family has worked in the Dominican Republic for over a century. The chocolate tour begins at a massive 1915 Sirocco roaster that Preston re-engineered to optimal efficiency. From there, we enter an expansive room full of machines that remove and separate the hulls from the beans and crush and heat the beans into a grainy liquid called "chocolate liquor," which is mixed with house-made cocoa butter and sugar and churned to sublime smoothness.

Downstairs, the liquid chocolate is portioned into a line (they were making chips on Friday), where it's molded to shape and cooled at the correct temperature to keep texture consistent. From there, it's packaged in house-printed wrappers. Other bars are hand-molded, which enables house chocolatier Chi Bui to add nuts, fruits, and other tasty embellishments to each bar. The results are dreamy: Gone is the waxy sweetness of Hershey bar chocolate; each Cacao Prieto bar is 72 percent pure chocolate, so it's rich, sweet, and slightly floral.

This 1915 Sirocco roaster slow-toasts cacao and has been updated and modernized.
This 1915 Sirocco roaster slow-toasts cacao and has been updated and modernized.
House-manufactured Conche machines tumble molten cacao, cocoa butter, and sugar for 12 hours until the mixture is silky smooth and ready to be cooled, molded, and packaged.
House-manufactured Conche machines tumble molten cacao, cocoa butter, and sugar for 12 hours until the mixture is silky smooth and ready to be cooled, molded, and packaged.
Chocolate chips are portioned onto a cooling belt. The same machinery is used to mold and cool chocolate into bars.
Chocolate chips are portioned onto a cooling belt. The same machinery is used to mold and cool chocolate into bars.
Final product! The hand-molded Pecan & Sour Cherry bar features a portrait of Esteban and Carmen, who founded the family farm where Cacao Prieto's cocoa is grown.
Final product! The hand-molded Pecan & Sour Cherry bar features a portrait of Esteban and Carmen, who founded the family farm where Cacao Prieto's cocoa is grown.

Next up: whiskey, what?!  

Widow Jane whiskeys displayed with their namesake grains at the tasting counter at the distillery.
Widow Jane whiskeys displayed with their namesake grains at the tasting counter at the distillery.

Widow Jane Distillery's whiskey operation began with rum. While fermenting an early batch of cacao for chocolate, Preston realized that with a bit of care, he could distill the liquid byproduct into liquor. Early on, Cacao Prieto began producing cacao-based liquor, then rum, and in 2011, Widow Jane debuted Widow Jane Whiskey, made using different, often heirloom, grain varieties.

The liquor tour happens concurrently with the chocolate tour. One of the first stops is a small room where liquor ages in glass demijohns.
The liquor tour happens concurrently with the chocolate tour. One of the first stops is a small room where liquor ages in glass demijohns.
Upstairs in the grain room, bags of grain are ground to a powder, placed in a hopper, and fermented in huge casks.
Upstairs in the grain room, bags of grain are ground to a powder, placed in a hopper, and fermented in huge casks.
Ground grain ready for fermentation ...
Ground grain ready for fermentation ...
... or feeding the painted roosters who rule the courtyard.
... or feeding the painted roosters who rule the courtyard.
The custom copper is lovely to look at, but the whiskey's even nicer.
The custom copper is lovely to look at, but the whiskey's even nicer.
Bottling and labeling Widow Jane Whiskey. In the background, students begin a chocolate tour.
Bottling and labeling Widow Jane Whiskey. In the background, students begin a chocolate tour.
The liquor tasting counter at Widow Jane Distillery/Cacao Prieto.
The liquor tasting counter at Widow Jane Distillery/Cacao Prieto.

Linger at the tasting counter--there is plenty to savor. The seven-year whiskey opens with a warm nose of creamy butter and toffee; a sip reveals deep caramel notes, pungent spice, and cherry wood with a bright, orange-y finish. The "Bloody Butcher," made of red heirloom barley, is sweeter, nuttier, and milder, while the rye tastes younger and more bitter. The rums and liqueurs were sweet, chocolatey, and dark, perfect over rocks after dinner.

Next: Why not enjoy a cigar with your whiskey?  

Inside the Nat Sherman pop-up shop, Matthew Sniegoski would love to sell you a cigar.
Inside the Nat Sherman pop-up shop, Matthew Sniegoski would love to sell you a cigar.
Nicaraguan cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These are rolled in Esteli from Jalapa Valley tobacco and are sweet, smooth, and full-flavored, without being too strong.
Nicaraguan cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These are rolled in Esteli from Jalapa Valley tobacco and are sweet, smooth, and full-flavored, without being too strong.
Chocolate, Whiskey, and Cigars at Cacao Prieto This Summer (PHOTOS)
Smoking a stogie in the cigar shop
Smoking a stogie in the cigar shop
Chocolate, Whiskey, and Cigars at Cacao Prieto This Summer (PHOTOS)

Hungry for more? Find me on Twitter: @findthathannah



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