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Bourbon Balls Give A Sweet Kick To Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby will be run Saturday, and many spectators will be sipping on Mint Juleps — and munching on bourbon balls, the sweet treats that pack a little burn into their creamy centers.

There are several styles of bourbon balls, says Louisville chocolatier Erika Chavez-Graziano. She describes her version as "a dark chocolate confection; it's a butter-cream center, very creamy, very sweet — and it packs a punch. It's pretty boozy, as bourbon balls go."

And the spiked sweets are good business for Chavez-Graziano's company, Cellar Door Chocolates.

"They're a huge part of my business, especially this time of year," she tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "Right now, we will sell about 800 pounds of bourbon balls, which is pretty big. It puts us at about 30,000 individual pieces."

Since the balls aren't baked, the alcohol from the bourbon isn't cooked off, as it is in many other candies and desserts.

"After eating one, you can smell the bourbon on you for a little while," says Chavez-Graziano.

But that doesn't necessarily mean you should use a high-end bourbon in them.

"I think that those single-batch bourbons are best consumed neat" instead of in a candy, she says. "You would lose the finer nuances of all those wonderful bourbons — you would lose them in the chocolate, and the sugar, and the butter."

Chavez-Graziano uses 80-proof Evan Williams, which she describes as "not a sweet bourbon; it's robust. It's a little peaty, it's perfect when you complement it with sugar and chocolate."

Asked what kind of drink or food to pair with a bourbon ball, she says that one thing comes to mind: the espresso machine at her shop in downtown Louisville.

"Just drop one of your bourbon balls into a cup of coffee," Chavez-Graziano says, "and it's a lovely combination."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.