Monday, May 14, 2012

The Brooklyn Brewsers Tour Cacao Prieto

The Brooklyn Brewsers had the privilege to tour Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Cacao Prieto is a combination; single origin, bean-to-bar chocolate manufacturer and a small-batch rum distiller.

The Aesthetic

First off, the street was very lively with a large overflow crowd of patrons enjoying a beautiful day in the bar next door. Cacao Prieto is in a charming, re-purposed warehouse space that is replete with many focal points of eye candy. Brick walls and wide plank hardwood floors blend nicely with more modern, segmented glass walls that divide the retail space from the production space. Just beyond the retail space, the copper distiller looms like a shimmering sculpture...but more on that later. At the rear of the production space there is a inner courtyard with a tree juxtaposed against industrial facades. If you are into aesthetics, this is a great space to see in person.

The retail space contained two long glass display cases. One contained a display of varieties of corn, as a precursor to forthcoming whiskey production I believe, as well as several bottles of cacao rum. Behind the case, the wall is lined with Cacao Prieto barrels. The other case contained chocolate bars and bon bons, as  well as sampler bottles of cacao rum, all produced on location.

The collection of equipment alone is worth seeing. Historic machines such as an 1895 Melange right alongside the Vortex Winnower invented by the founder.

In the corner of the retail space, vintage Vincent and Triumph motorcycles added yet another focal point of eye candy.

The Tour

Our tour was led by Alex Clark, Cacao Prieto Sales Manager. Alex provided us a very informative, and "colorfully worded" description of each step of cacao processing. And the English accent was a nice touch! As explained by Alex, the cacao is single origin, organic cacao sourced from Dan Prieto Preston's (Founder and CEO) family farm in the Dominican Republic. It was very interesting to learn about the process of transforming cacao beans into rich, luscious chocolate treats...but being brewers we were most interested in the rum distilling part of the tour. We still love you chocolate!

One very interesting point that Alex made is that you should never eat raw cacao as it contains 6-12 pathogens in the raw form.

 There is a simple description for the distiller! Ooof! Di-still my beating heart! It was designed by Dan (Chief Tinkerer) and manufactured in Germany and has been operational just for the past couple of months. Alex explained that the "swan neck" at the top of the kettle apparatus was designed by Dan. A beautiful touch. To the right of the swan neck is a botanical bucket (Hop Rocket or Randall for us home brewers) that can be used to impart botanical essences into the distillation. I am not going to go into great detail on the operational aspects of the distiller (Hello, when do we get to taste it!?). Essentially the rum has to make it to the top of the distillation columns to become the rum that makes it into product. Rum that is not ready trickles back           down the columns to be re-distilled. A step you can watch through the lighted column ports.

Note to the right- As I shared with Alex, the distillation columns process reminds me of the "He-man" sledgehammer carnival game...i.e. get it to the top to win the big prize.

The Taste

Alex's first offer was an undiluted rum that was run off earlier that day. Whew! 90% alcohol, 180 Proof. 'Nuf said! Aroma you ask? Straight up paint-stripping alcohol. Taste? Liquid fire in a thimble-sized sampler. Scorched earth dryness and heat.

Alex then offered up some water to dilute the rum. Wow! The rum opened up to an incredible floral bouquet. For me, it was like walking into a florist shop. Honeysuckle, rose, lily, many complex floral essences going on. I loved holding a sip in my mouth and just blowing air across the rum to just keep the floral waves washing back and forth. Incredible! But we are not even at the best part yet.

Remember the cacao? Yeah, ummm...they put that in the rum. Sublime! Amazing! Cacao Prieto is the only rum distiller marrying rum with cacao to date. The aroma is an intoxicating roasty chocolateness. It tastes so simple and so pure. A perfect combination of lightly bitter chocolate and organic sweetness. The Don Estaban version contains organic sugar cane from the Dominican Republic. The Don Rafael version is unsweetened so predominately has a slight cacao bitterness profile. Both were amazing in their own right. I brought home a bottle of the Don Estaban.

One final interesting experience during the tasting was a line of glasses containing timed run-offs of a distillation. These are for olfactory experiences only as they contain some by-products that will make for a bad day if ingested as it was explained by Alex. The first sample at 5 minutes smelled a lot like raw pumpkin. At about 40 minutes, a stronger alcohol astringency starts to dominate and continues to build through samples taken every 5 minutes for 130 minutes.

The Verdict

Great aesthetic, lots of visual appeal, informative tour, and an interesting and delicious tasting make for a great place to spend part of a beautiful, sunny day...or cold and damp day for that matter as the rum will chase off the chill in no time. And bring home some scrumptious chocolate bars or bon bons for the non-drinker in the family or to go with that bottle of Cacao Prieto Rum you just could not pass up.

Cacao Prieto is ringing the bell and taking home the "big stuffed animal" in the He-man Sledgehammer carnival game.

Get thee to Cacao Prieto...Pronto!

Cacao Prieto is located at 218 Conover St in Red Hook Brooklyn. Website-

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