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Kentucky Derby: Horses, hats, bourbon and chocolate

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It’s Kentucky Derby week in Louisville. The horses are warming up for the big race, ladies are donning their prettiest hats and Mint Julep’s are flowing freely. While the horse race may be the main attraction, there are plenty of ways to join the party and, of course, there is always a way to put chocolate in the mix. This time the chocolate is mixed with bourbon.

Kentucky is bourbon country. Driving along the country roads from Louisville to towns like Loretto and Bardstown – the Bourbon Capital of the world – warehouses filled with barrels of aging whiskey dot the rolling landscape and the unmistakable scent of whiskey permeates the air.

There are plenty of brands of bourbon to choose from, but a premium horse race calls for premium bourbon and that’s means Maker’s Mark. Although the Samuels family has been making whisky (their preferred Scottish spelling) for eight generations, Maker’s Mark was born when Bill Samuels, Sr. decided to burn the 170 year old family recipe for whisky that “could blow your ears off” in favor of creating a smoother premium whisky even non-bourbon drinkers would enjoy.

The journey was anything but easy. Bill Sr. baked bread in the family home experimenting with different grains until he developed a new bourbon recipe based on locally grown corn, malted barley and soft, red, gentle winter wheat. In 1953, armed with is new recipe and a family tradition of whisky making, he bought and rebuilt a small distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. The property was home to a limestone-purified spring which became the base for Bill Sr.’s whisky. It took six long unprofitable years of aging before Bill Sr.’s experiment came to fruition.

While Bill Sr. was aging his whisky, his wife, Margie, was busy designing the Maker’s Mark bottle. Margie was the brains behind the signature hand-torn labels, the name of Bill Sr.’s new whisky and the signature wax-sealed bottles that are still hand-dipped today.

Join the Kentucky Derby celebrations this week with a batch of Maker’s Mark Bourbon Balls – they won’t blow your ears off, but they might blow your mind! And, of course, you will need a beverage. The Maker’s Mark Bourbon Ball Cocktail is the perfect match. Recipes are provided below but please don’t share with the horses. Cheers!

Maker's Mark Bourbon Balls

  • 1 c Pecans
  • 1/2 box semi-sweet –chocolate squares
  • 4 TB Maker's mark
  • 1 Stick of butter
  • 1/2 rectangle of paraffin
  • 1 Box powdered sugar

Combine pecans and bourbon; wait at least 3 hours for pecans to absorb bourbon flavor. Cream butter and powdered sugar with mixer, adding bourbon and pecan mixture. Roll mixture into small balls and chill in refrigerator for 1-1/2 hours. Melt chocolate in double boiler, adding shaved paraffin. Heat until thoroughly melted. Using a fork or a long skewer, dip balls into chocolate and place on waxed paper to dry.

Bourbon Ball Cocktail

Sweet chocolaty taste notes and creamy texture make this chilled cocktail part drink, part dessert. An absolute treat any time of year.

  • 1-1/2 parts Maker's Mark® Bourbon
  • 1/2 part DeKuyper® Crème de Cocoa White Liqueur
  • 1/2 part DeKuyper® Hazelnut Liqueur
  • Heavy cream
  • Whipped cream
  • Chocolate shavings

Add Maker's Mark® Bourbon, DeKuyper® Crème de Cocoa White Liqueur, DeKuyper® Hazelnut Liqueur and heavy cream to taste. Shake and serve up or on the rocks. Garnish with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

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