Once a week for the better part of a day, a certain stretch of Conover street near the Red Hook waterfront is overtaken by the aroma of delicious chocolate. And it's not just any old chocolate, but organic Dominican cacao that's roasted, ground, prepared, and wrapped entirely within the walls of Cacao Prieto. A massive old-style factory with strong ties to Widow Jane whiskey, Cacao Prieto is one of Brooklyn's better-kept secrets, filled with machines that are as unique as the chocolate they create.

The one-of-a-kind vortex winnower (Scott Heins/Gothamist)

During a recent visit we caught a glance of the raw cacao beans being roasted, cracked in a mill, and then winnowed in a custom vortex (yes, vortex) machine. Two vacuum chambers work in concert to separate the roasted beans' heavy, edible nibs from its lighter, undesirable husk. If you've ever been inside Mast Brothers' flagship store in Williamsburg, you've likely seen the small team of chocolatiers separating husk from nib by hand. The vortex winnower does that same work with a cold, mechanically perfect efficiency and was invented by Dan Preston, the founder of Cacao Prieto and a former aerospace engineer.

19th century stone cacao grinder (Scott Heins/Gothamist)

The cleaned nibs—already buttery and delicious, though unsweetened—are then crushed by a massive stone grinder that once belonged to the original Hershey's chocolate factory. They're then heated up and sweetened with cocoa butter, vanilla beans, and raw Dominican sugar. After cooling, the once-cacao but now-chocolate is tempered and packaged in the factory's basement kitchen. All of Cacao Prieto's chocolate goes through this process; it's only at the very end of the production line that special ingredients the likes of absinthe, clove, cardamon, and orchid flower get added.

(Scott Heins/Gothamist)

Almost all of Cacao Prieto's chocolate is labeled 72%, but that technically has nothing to do with the nibs. "Normally in a grocery store if you see chocolate that's 72% or 66%. That has to do with the amount of cocoa liquor in a batch, compared to its other ingredients. Our chocolate has a larger amount of cocoa butter and vanilla, relative to its sugar, than most other brands" Heller said between bites of a coffee and sea salt bar. "We also roast for less time but at a higher temperature, which has a huge effect on the final taste."

A wise man once said, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker," and there's plenty of booze on hand at the factory. In addition to their own white rum and cacao liqueur—both made with residual oils released during the cacao production process—Cacao Prieto also takes advantage of the whiskey that's produced only a few feet away. Widow Jane bourbon is also made at the site and makes its way into multiple chocolate varieties. It's a match made in Red Hook homemade heaven. By now a familiar favorite of whiskey lovers all over NYC, Widow Jane is in fact Cacao Prieto's sister operation, founded by Preston not long after his chocolate production line was established.

Widow Jane's whiskey operation (Scott Heins/Gothamist)

This summer a revamped single-origin line of chocolate, distribution with local Whole Foods supermarkets, and a partnership with People's Pops will be keeping Cacao Prieto extremely busy. But the cacao fiends are taking a minute to celebrate in sweet and boozy revelry with a giant party at the factory on May 30th. We're told a bluegrass band and free-flowing bourbon will be on hand: could you ask for a better start to summer?

218 Conover Street // Open 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. // Joint whiskey and chocolate tours each Saturday and Sunday ($15)