News & Features

Alcohol & Chocolate with Bixby Chocolate founder Kate McAleer

We talk with Bixby Chocolate founder Kate McAleer who recently teamed up with Allagash Brewing to create Beer Brittle. Kate McAleer, brainchild of this product collaboration, said “Bixby was seeking a way to innovate a new brittle concept and craft beer seemed like a wonderful addition to the flavor profile. Allagash was our dream partner—we started R+D with Allagash White and grew the concept from there.”

Hops & Spirits: When did you realize you wanted to get into the chocolate/pastry/dessert business?
Kate McAleer: I always had a passion for chocolate. After college, I had my sights on pursuing a career in art history and was in graduate school for a masters. However, halfway through I decided this path was not for me, and I decided to follow my passion. My Mom, Donna, and I established Bixby as partners. Donna had recently retired from her career in healthcare administration and was committed to staying active starting a new career in her third age.

HS: What’s it been like building Bixby & Co?
KM: When I was applying to college one of my essays was on my joy of riding really scary roller coasters. Launching Bixby Chocolates and guiding it through the years has been akin to riding a wild roller coaster, with unexpected twists and turns and free fall actions. We started the project in a small kitchen with a lot of experimentation, failures and successes as we developed the first Bixby Bars. Hand dipping chocolate was the order of the day, while striving to keep small batches of melted chocolate in temper.

Along the way, we have benefited from the University of Maine’s Schools of Food Science and Engineering for technical assistance on scaling up production and various grants for capital equipment. We advanced our expertise by attending ICE, consulting with Peter Greweling the chocolatier and author; attended Ecole Chocolate. The education continues…

HS: You created Beer Brittle with Allagash, how did that partnership start?
KM: Our Executive Chef was experimenting with peanut brittle and the light bulb went on for adding a local beer to the recipe. After nailing down the recipes, we reached out to Allagash Brewery, one of Maine’s leading breweries, to see if they would be interested in partnering with us. This connection led to the launching of our three flavors of beer brittle. We worked with our talented Maine based graphics designer and Allagash to develop the final packaging. Bixby sold the new products on line and to our local wholesale accounts. The market response has been terrific!

HS: How difficult is it to work with alcohol in food?
KM: Dealing with alcohol ingredients is a bit tricky because of liquor laws. Once we figured out the regulatory requirements, the rest was easy. By the way, the alcohol essentially vaporizes off in our production, leaving the taste essence behind for the consumer to savor.

HS: I’m guessing the taste testing part was fun, but how much time goes into perfecting the flavors?
KM: Taste testing is one of our quality checks. We invite our staff and Allagash to join us in this process. The taste is the ultimate determiner if the finished product is good and will be embraced by the market. Taste testing is fun, and one of the perks of running a chocolate factory, but a serious one, too.

HS: How did the Split Rock Bourbon Bar come about with Split Rock Distilling?
KM: Split Rock Distilling is close to us in the Mid-Coast region of Maine. I had known about the company and their reputation for making excellent spirits. They are certified organic as we are. The thought was they would be a good partner for creating new products combining chocolate with spirits. They were amenable to collaborating. Our first venture with them was to make the Bixby Split Rock Bourbon Bar, using our Bean to Bar chocolate and the Split Rock Bourbon. The product has been overwhelmingly well received in the market.

HS: How much fun is it to be innovative and creative with chocolate?
KM: Working with chocolate indeed is a lot of fun. It allows unlimited opportunities for experimentation and creativity. Chocolate comes from the cacao bean. Depending upon the location of the cacao grove, what grows around grove, time of year, and seasonal rainfall, the beans will deliver subtle variations in taste tones. You can experiment with and endless variety of inclusions, such as spices, fruits, and nuts, to come up with interesting new products. The ratio of sugar to chocolate can be altered for changes in taste.

HS: Since you use both beer and spirits, what’s your favorite alcoholic drink?
KM: My preference is a nice glass of wine paired with dinner.

Bixby Chocolate’s innovations include producing its own chocolate straight from the cocoa bean for several new bean-to-bar chocolate bars, and its newly created chocolate bonbons, chocolate nibs, and chocolate-covered coffee beans.

Founder Kate McAleer ensures that the quality organic cocoa beans are directly sourced from Caribbean countries such as the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Belize, and Central America’s Guatemala. Kate has visited these areas where she met the farmers who produce the cocoa beans that Bixby Chocolate sources. Visit https://bixbychocolate.com/ to find out more and check out their products.

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