Back in February 2021, as Boulder was being pummelled by snow in a typical Rocky Mountain late winter and Valentine's Day chocolate was churning 24/7, plans took shape for a spirited dark chocolate. Whiskey and chocolate. Whiskey infused chocolate? Whiskey nibs! Maybe it was the belly-warming whiskey he sampled with Nels Wroe for a cocktail set project with Dry Land Distillers, or maybe it was the cheery but smoky hearth in the cabin Michael relishes visiting above Breckenridge that inspired him. But this incessant researcher found a delicious and novel nib treatment, planning ahead for a limited-edition chocolate Father's Day offering to feature our two-ingredient 80% chocolate bar — our darkest dark chocolate yet. Michael set out to age roasted cacao nibs in an oak barrel previously used for aging whiskey (easy because each barrel is only used once for distilling), and our local-food loving friends at Dry Land were more than happy to oblige. Charred whiskey barrel aging was FULL ON at Moksha Chocolate.
A level 4-char whiskey barrel from Dry Land Distillers
Three is the magic number.
Three months in, the barrels were opened with much anticipation, as they'd been sealed for maximum potency of the whiskey essence. They were scrumptious! And there was just enough time to get those nibs ground into smooth chocolate with subtle whiskey flavor for shipping the first week of June 2021. A tasting adventure for sensory-seeking dads! We were ready to party with a new recipe. Yay! So the experimenting didn't stop there: what happens when the nibs get a whiskey bath? Three days later, we had some addictive nibs that were so woozy and lovely, they just had to show off. So we embedded them whole on top of our Maya Mopan Belize bars.
If you are a chocolate enthusiast, you probably like to nerd out on the provenance of other gourmet goods. Believe me, we could go on and on... It also makes for great post-2020 party chatter, so read more to learn about whiskey and why it's an obvious choice to infuse our handcrafted Boulder chocolate.
Time for a good soaking!
Roll out the barrels!
Whiskey originated in Scotland and Ireland, where grapes didn't grow as well as in Europe and for other wine-making civilizations, but there was grain — with which traveling monks from Europe could make mash. The potent spirit was at this time referred to as aquavitae, or water of life (and the word "whiskey" comes from Gaelic: uisge means water). Dry Land Antero whiskey, the artisan elixir that lived in these barrels for twelve months before we got to use them for our nibs, is made in this historic tradition — from wheat.
About the level 4 char (it's really not about smoke)
This is fascinating to me: perhaps the oak barrel was historically charred to sanitize it or to rid it of its previous contents, we don't know for sure. But charring the wood does a few important things to the whiskey flavor. It opens up the vanilla taste that come from lignin in the oak (vanillin is the compound, also of course found in vanilla). It also protects the whiskey from the tannins in the wood. Sometimes tannins are a good thing, but we are totally ok with them not making it into our craft dark chocolate from the oak. And speaking of dark chocolate, a dark char also makes a dark whiskey. Smoky flavor? Some tasters find it, others not so much; the vanilla and maple flavor compounds are typically far more notable. You'll sense it in the Moksha dark chocolate due to the bean's impeccable roast and the toasty Maya Mopan profile, and it's tangled in with the espresso notes as well, but probably not from the whiskey itself. As you can see in the barrel photo above, Dry Land Antero whiskey uses the highest level of char, #4.
Michael Caines, chocolate maker and father, after a 2021 wine and chocolate tasting in Boulder, Colorado.
Going with the grain
As I wrote about above, our whiskey journey ended serendipitously in a three-day bath of spirits for our prized roasted chocolate nibs, a technique recommended by whiskey-infused dark chocolate experts in our network. But the remarkable thing is that Dry Land Distillers is our neighbor in the Colorado Front Range area as well as in the Boulder artisan maker scene. With partners like Dry Land, we almost tear up with passion talking about our products and their origins. You've read, hopefully, about our jungle farm in Shanao, Peru and our Belize Maya Mopan partners, all of us doing regenerative trade cacao. Dry Land has a similar kinship with Arnusch Farms in Keenesburg, who sustainably grows the Antero wheat developed to thrive in the Colorado growing season. And a sunny dry land it is here!
Hand-poured bars of whiskey-infused craft chocolate.
Join the craft spirit revolution!
We have events and tastings on the horizon where we can all get misty-eyed together over the products that our great land and makers' hands can produce. The craft revolution is swelling more than ever with enthusiasm for transparency and quality in our goods. Elevating pleasurable experiences begins with your choices. Luxury chocolate and fine whiskey originate in the soil and we promise our very best practices and processes for your enjoyment. And if you're here for the party, you might as well dance! Below, you can read the details about the three bars that our limited run produced, and our apologies if they sell out and you have to wait until 2022 to get the next vintage...
Whiskey Barrel-Aged Belize bar, 80%
Our deepest bar yet at 80% uses nibs aged in charred oak whiskey barrels for three months! The bourbon flavor seeped subtly in the Maya Mopan cacao beans. Notable for only having TWO ingredients: the nibs we've been waiting for, and a little organic sugar. That's it!
Whiskey Barrel-Aged Peruvian Criollo bar, 70%
The heirloom Criollo nibs for this smooth bar had their own charred oak barrel for the last three months as well. Pair and compare with the Maya Mopan bar! These barrel-aged nibs were churned with a dash of our house-pressed cacao butter for plant-based silkiness.
Whiskey-Soaked Nib Belize bar, 65%
This crunchy bar takes it up several notches with nib chunks that soaked directly in Dry Land Distillers' Antero whiskey for three days. Not just whiskey aroma but the real thing. A bit boozy and bite-y, and in a silken bed with the signature caramel, spice, and earth of our Maya Mopan cacao.