The Bourbon Ball candy was invented in 1938 by Rebecca Ruth and has been a Kentucky favorite ever since. This candy is a Bourbon enhanced center nougat with a chocolate covering. There are many recipes for this confection and Joy Perrine created a cocktail that tasted like the candy. Most every major distillery that has a gift shop sells Bourbon Balls made with one of their brands. Rebecca Ruth Candy makes many of these Bourbon Balls for the gift shops, but there are distilleries who source their Bourbon Balls elsewhere. 

Chocolate and Bourbon has long been a favorite combination. Bourbon Balls and Bourbon Truffles are very common souvenirs from a distillery tour and Art Eatables has built a business around this combination with their nut-free Bourbon Truffles. However, a true Bourbon Ball will contain nuts – usually pecans. I thought I would look at some traditional recipes for Bourbon Balls – the candy and also Joy Perrine’s award-winning recipe for the Bourbon Ball cocktail.

I will start with a recipe from a 1966 recipe pamphlet published by Stitzel-Weller to add to their Christmas special, the Venetian Decanter of Old Fitzgerald. The recipe is different from the traditional recipe in that it is not dipped in chocolate.

Bourbon Balls

1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs

1 cup ground pecans or almonds

2 T. Cocoa

2 T. white corn syrup

¼ cup Old Fitzgerald

1 cup powdered sugar

Mix crumbs and ground nuts; add cocoa, corn syrup and Bourbon. Knead well. A teaspoon full at a time roll into balls, then roll in powdered sugar (or roll in a mixture of cocoa, cinnamon and sifted powdered sugar). Place on a cookie sheet to dry, then roll again in powdered sugar. Makes about 20 balls. To store, wrap each in wax paper and place in container with tight fitting lid.

Gary and Mardee Regan, in their book The Book of Bourbon And Other Fine American Whiskeys, has another recipe for Bourbon Balls. This is a recipe that is dipped in chocolate and comes from their friend William Ransdell, of Louisville, Ky.

Mr. Ransdell’s Kentucky Bourbon Balls

1 box (1 pound) confectioner’s sugar

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 tablespoons Maker’s Mark Bourbon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ cup finely ground pecans or walnuts

4 to 6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

½ ounce paraffin, shaved or grated

1. In a bowl, use your hands to mix together the confectioner’s sugar, butter, Bourbon and vanilla. Add the nuts and mix very well. Roll the candy into 1-inch balls.

2. Melt the chocolate with the paraffin until smooth and well mixed. Using toothpicks, dip each ball into the chocolate mixture and transfer to waxed paper to dry.

3. Store the Bourbon Balls in an airtight container in a cool place.

Lynn Marie Hulsman, in her book Bourbon Desserts, included her mother’s recipe for Bourbon Balls. It is similar to the recipe in The Book of Bourbon, yet with subtle differences. This can be said about many other recipes for Bourbon Balls – similar but subtly different.

Bourbon Balls

½ cup (1 stick) butter, at room temperature

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

5 tablespoons Bourbon

1 teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans

12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided

Whole pecans, for garnish

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the butter, confectioner’s sugar, Bourbon, and vanilla using a fork, until smooth.

Cover bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 8 hours, or overnight.

Roll candy into 1 inch balls, working as quickly as possible so you don’t melt the candy cream with the heat of your hands, and transfer them to zip-top freezer bags. Lay them flat in a single layer, and freeze for another 8 hours or overnight. 

Line four 9×13-inch baking sheets with waxed paper. Take half of the frozen nougat balls out of the freezer and set them on the countertop. 

Put half of the chocolate chips in a large, microwavable bowl and heat on high for 90 seconds. Remove and stir well. Let the chips rest for a minute or two, stirring often. The residual heat will melt them. If needed microwave an additional 10 seconds and stir.

Working quickly, spear the balls one by one with a toothpick, and carefully dip each into the melted chocolate. Tap each ball on the side of the bowl to remove excess chocolate. Place on cookie sheet and garnish with a pecan.

In the year 2000, when Jack’s Lounge opened in Louisville, Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame Bartender Joy Perrine, created the Bourbon Ball Cocktail as her signature drink. In 2001, Joy won First Place at the Tuaca Cocktail Contest and it was the first of many national awards and recognition she earned in her lifetime. 

Bourbonball Cocktail

1 Part Woodford Reserve

1 Part Tuaca

1 Part Dark Crème de Cacoa

Combine, shake over ice, and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a strawberry on the rim.

I hope that you will enjoy these recipes for Bourbon Balls. Both the candies and the cocktail make a welcome addition to any get-together or party.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller