A few weekends ago some friends and I spent the day in beautiful Red Hook - a South Brooklyn neighborhood that, for many, was a bit off the map til Hurricane Sandy made it famous by devastating it (or unless you needed to get a Flungtrång at IKEA).
Since then, the community has recovered immensely, thanks in large part to dedicated residents, hardworking neighbors and volunteers, and of course the never-give-up attitude of many small businesses. Despite the neighborhood's vulnerability to severe weather due to its proximity to the East River on one side and Gowanus Canal on the other, and it's relative remoteness due to poor subway access, it's become a haven for independent operations seeking more space, and perhaps solitude as well.
We began our day with brunch at the well-known and popular-with-the-locals Fort Defiance. Charmingly decorated and thoroughly stocked with delicious food and drink options, this is a place worth trekking to.
After brunch, we made our way to the main destination of our trip: the combined chocolate factory and liquor distillery, Cacao Prieto/Widow Jane.
We came for a tour, so by god, we were going on the tour. At $15 a person it may seem a little steep when you consider how small the space actually is, but the price includes the very thorough and informative tour, a complimentary hairnet (!!!), as well as samples of the chocolate and the booze (and that's really why we're here, isn't it?)
While this is no Hershey Park or "World of Chocolate" tour ride, the tour was educational and interesting. Our guide was enthusiastic about all their operations, and explained all of the foreign-looking machinery to us with pleasure. And while our guide was fabulous, I think we all can agree that the highlight of the tour (aside from the samples) was the courtyard full of chickens - novelty chickens one might even say.
Docile, fluffy, and strangely adorable, the chickens serve no actual purpose at the facility. They are just some of the luckiest chickens that ever existed. And yes, you are allowed to hold and pet them.
When we got to the basement of the "factory," we finally were able to sample some of Cacao Prieto's signature creations, including a chocolate bar that had flavors of orange and bergamot, as well as a bar with a subtle, spiciness to it. I was surprised at the smoothness of the chocolate and the subtleness of the flavor; totally delicious without being cloying or overwhelmingly sweet.
And then lastly, the moment we were all waiting for, the booze sampling. Widow Jane's distillery produces a variety of unique spirits, including bourbon and rum. We must've sampled at least four different products, and each was outstanding. Among the products they offer are also a variety of infused spirits, which, like their chocolate, were delicious and subtle in their unique flavoring. I left the tour with a 375 mL of 7-year bourbon that unfortunately, I plan to share with my co-workers.
Originally published by Brooklynography on October 23, 2014 .