Eat whisky!

Using whisky in the chocolate-making process
By R. M. Peluso
Ever wish you could eat your whisky? You can. Whisky you can bite. Spirit juxtaposed to crunch and slow melt. There are a few ways chocolate makers and chocolatiers incorporate whisky in their confections. Some contain ‘live’ alcohol, others not. It all depends on whether the alcohol is heated and for how long. Whether live or not, the quantity is small, so it’s about the flavour. 

1. Whisky-infused centres in chocolate truffles, pralines, or in filled-bar shapes.

These generally contain live alcohol. The centres may be a cream-based ganache to which whisky has been added, then covered in chocolate to form truffles, or injected into chocolate shells formed in moulds of various shapes, including bars. 

Another option may be whisky-seasoned caramel centres sealed in chocolate. Many chocolate makers and chocolatiers have craft whisky-flavoured offerings. Here are just a few. 

Hotel Chocolat, with stores in several UK and EU cities, just opened a shop in New York City. HC is a British chocolate maker that grows cacao on their hotel estate in St. Lucia, but that’s not the chocolate you’ll likely encounter in their truffles. 

Their packaging says the whisky truffles contain spirit aged 10 years, but they do not publish their source. 

A lack of transparency usually irritates me, but as soon as I opened the cellophane wrapper, the aroma of whisky poured out. The flavour rang true and swept all concerns away, at least for a few moments.

Even more rewarding to my palate are the whisky caramels by Scottish chocolate maker, Chocolate Tree.

Set in a rich, deep 70% chocolate made from rare, coveted Marañon beans, the centres are nectar-consistency caramels infused with live, Speyside whisky. 

Chocolate Tree owner, Alastair Gower was fully transparent with me about the source of his whisky, but unless a chocolate maker discloses on line, I don’t name names. 

In the Republic of Ireland, Michael Donegan of Kilbeggan Handmade Chocolate is a bean to bar maker who uses Ecuadorian cacao and partners with several Irish distillers. 

Since Donegan produces directly for the whiskey companies, the source is on the package. Donegan sent me his Kilbeggan 70% Dark Chocolate Whiskey bars and truffles that use whiskey from Beam Suntory’s Kilbeggan Distillery. The whiskey centres are a cream-type, and the hardy, high cacao content chocolate shell counterbalances the sweetness of the ganache. 

USA’s Fruition Chocolate in New York’s Hudson Valley has partnered with Tuthilltown Spirits Distillery to produce the award-winning Brown Butter Bourbon Caramels.    

Fran’s of Seattle, Washington is a chocolatier known for her caramels and truffles since 1982. While not a bean to bar maker, Fran’s also partners with a regional producer to create her McCarthy’s barrel-aged single malt (peated) whiskey truffles featuring dark chocolate ganache and shells.

Dancing Lion Chocolate of Manchester, New Hampshire excels in flavour, including their Bourbon truffles. For owner Richard Tangy-Lowy, named one of the top 10 North American chocolatiers by Dessert Professional Magazine, each batch is unique, never repeated.

2. Chocolate bars containing cacao nibs aged in whisky casks or immersed in whisky. Also, bars made from semi-finished chocolate aged in whisky casks before tempered and set in bar form.

You’d think these would be more robust whisky experiences, but alcohol can dissipate during the refining process, even while the aromatics remain. Nibs are the nut meat of cacao beans after the shell has been roasted and winnowed.

Nibs are usually refined into liquid to make chocolate, but these days chocolate makers may add them to bars for a crunchy texture. Chocolate refers to the liquid (called chocolate liquor, although there is no alcohol) that emerges after refining, then solidifies when cooled. Finished chocolate is usually tempered, a process that melts then cools the chocolate to produce a lustrous finish. 

Most chocolate makers will allow the chocolate to mature, either untempered or tempered, a month or more to stabilise the flavours.  

In the USA, Raaka’s Bourbon Cask Aged 82% cacao was the first Bourbon-flavoured bar I’d ever heard of, but now everyone seems to be producing a whisky flavoured bar. Raaka currently uses Kokoa Kamili beans from Tanzania and ages the nibs for two months in an undisclosed Bourbon barrel.

Askinosie Chocolate of Springfield, Missouri produced limited editions of their ‘1098,’ a 77% bar from Tanzanian cacao nibs aged for two years in Jim Bean barrels. The bars quickly sold out. The Tanzanian chocolate and the oak shared flavour notes made for a particularly harmonious blend. 

More recently, Askinosie has been collaborating with TX Whiskey of Fort Worth. They produced a limited series that also quickly sold out. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Askinosie is ageing some nibs in a TX Whiskey barrel right now. Keep your fingers crossed. A new limited-edition whiskey bar may be released in 2020. 

Chocolate Tree chocolate maker Alastair Gower soaks Marañon cacao nibs in a peated Islay whisky then sets these crunchy wonders in 70% bars made from the same cacao. The thrill is strictly sensory.

No alcohol buzz needed here.