Tanja Kern for The Food Channel
If the state of Kentucky had veins, they would bleed golden brownâ€”with bourbon. The Bluegrass state distills 95 percent of the nation’s bourbon and makes more than five-dozen varieties. In fact, the folks in Kentucky love bourbon so much, they cook, bake and even make candy with it.
In the name of food exploration, our roaming Food Channel reporters got a little liquored up today sampling some of Kentucky’s most famous bourbon candies during a tour of chocolate makers hosted by Retail Confectioners International.
Our day of discovery started at Rebecca-Ruth Candies in Frankfort, Ky. Started in 1919 by two substitute school teachers, Rebecca Gooch and Ruth Hanly Booe, this successful candy shop is tucked in a pretty turn-of-the century house. Old school display cases showcase piles of candy, including coconut and vanilla creams, herbal mint chocolates and their famous bourbon ball.
The ladies decided to get into the chocolate business because they always received kudos for the chocolate gifts they would make during the Christmas season. Although female entrepreneurs were few and far between in 1919, J.J. King, owner of the Frankfort Hotel, let the women rent the bar room where they began dipping chocolates.
Ruth Hanly Booe invented the shop’s bourbon ball. The candy features a cream center laced with Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which offers a woody aroma tempered with tones of vanilla and caramel. The candy is draped in dark chocolate and is topped with a delightful pecan crunch.
Today, the business is still run by the Booe family. Ruth Hanley Booe’s son, John, took over the business in 1964 and he sold it to his son, Charles Booe, in 1997. Together, the father-son team brought the candy shop into the modern age by expanding the factory and increasing production to allow for wholesale and mail order businesses. â€˜We’ve built a reputation for quality, making candy with the same quality ingredients and time-honored techniques,â€™ Charles explained.
Old Kentucky Chocolates
Our next tour stop was Old Kentucky Chocolates in Lexington. The 5,000-square-foot candy store is a sweet tooth’s dream. Cases and shelves are laden with Derby mints, flavored popcorns, chocolate-dipped fruits (including grapes!) and bourbon chocolates. In honor of Kentucky’s equestrian heritage, the shop also makes chocolate horses in varying sizes.
Proprietors Don and Pam Hurt began perfecting their bourbon confections in 1967 when Jim Beam proposed that they use his brand of bourbon exclusively in their candies. To create their Old Kentucky bourbon chocolates, the candy makers blend 100-proof Jim Beam bourbon with a fondant center and chopped pecans, then form the candies and dip them in chocolate. They also make bourbon cherries, which are made by aging cherries in 100-proof Jim Beam for 12 months before enrobing them in chocolate.
The decadence doesn’t stop there. People flock to Old Kentucky Chocolates for its old-fashioned pulled cream candy using Colonel Sanders’ original â€˜Colonel’s Candyâ€™ recipe, which used to be served in Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. â€˜The copper kettles we use to heat the cream are 150 years old,â€™ says Victoria Duvall, basket maker for Old Kentucky Chocolates. â€˜The copper is the perfect conduit and heats the liquid perfectly.â€™ The Hurts purchased the recipe and the equipment in the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ80s and make a variety of flavors including mint, vanilla and rum.
_The Retail Confectioners International Annual Convention & Expo showcases products, services, innovative ideas and growth opportunities for chocolate and candy makers around the world. This year’s event takes place June 21â€“25 at the Hyatt Regency in Lexington, Ky. For more information, visit the association’s website at retailconfectioners.org