Move over peanut butter whiskey, now there’s a chocolate option

Glasses of whiskey on a wooden table (Givaga)

Paul Thomas is a man who loves a challenge.

As founder of the award-winning Julian Hard Cider, Thomas has been breaking boundaries for a decade. And his latest project, 8-Ball Whiskey, is the first chocolate-infused bourbon whiskey in America.

8-Ball was the recent gold medal winner at the Women’s Wine and Spirits Awards in London, competing with 1,000 entries from 45 countries. Now, Thomas has orders coming in by the truckloads for his 8-Ball Whiskey all across the country.

Along with making spirits, Thomas is also a Navy veteran who gives back to the community through his work as a Julian/Cuyamaca firefighter, founder and member of HERO Racing (which supports wounded veterans and orphanages in Baja) and contributes to various charities, including Tuesday’s Children, which supports families affected by terrorism, military conflict and mass violence.

PACIFIC spoke with Thomas to find out more about his clever concoction, the story behind the name 8-Ball, and his contributions to charity:

There are a lot of flavored liquors on the market. Why chocolate whiskey?
It’s very hard to break into the market with another IPA or vodka. Shelf space is limited. I had to come up with something that didn’t exist to disrupt the market. Kind of like the Tabasco sauce of alcohol. With that said, I travel a lot and sell our products globally. When I saw how popular American bourbon is and how much people people love chocolate throughout the world, I had an epiphany. Why hasn’t anyone combined the two? I started asking numerous distillers from big companies to small, and everyone kept telling me it couldn’t be done, because the oil molecules in chocolate do not bind with the alcohol molecules. I took it as a challenge for myself to crack the case and nerded out and obsessed with it in the lab for a year. When I figured it out, it was a major “aha” moment. I had just created something for the alcohol market that didn’t exist in its history, and now I had to wait and see if the market would accept it or if I was just a crazy man.

What’s the story behind the name 8-Ball?
I’m sure there’s people who identify the name 8-Ball as a pool game reference. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing pool. The bottom line is that most entrepreneurs begin “behind the 8-Ball,” faced with uncertainties, unforeseen challenges and obstacles. For me, the name is reminder that being “behind the 8-Ball” is a good thing. It could even be a magic 8-Ball.

(Courtesy of 8-Ball Whiskey)

Where do you get your chocolate from?
We use a special process for blending the chocolate with other secret ingredients sourced from Madagascar, Indonesia and Mexico. Because of the delicate organic chemistry of the recipe, I had to experiment with the right blend of ingredients that would create a product that was very chocolate forward, with subtle hints of spices that did not separate or cloud the liquid. I was ordering chocolate and other sample ingredients from all across the world. As it turned out, only a few combinations worked together.

Is 8-Ball more whiskey or chocolate-forward?
However you feel about whiskey, chocolate, and their relationship to one another, 8-Ball will surprise you. It’s deceptively smooth, and chocolate-forward with an amazing aftertaste that doesn’t leave a syrupy flavor on your tongue like a dessert drink or liqueur.

What’s your favorite drink with the 8-Ball?
Bartenders all across San Diego are creating recipes and experimenting all of the time. They are dropping it into Guinness or peanut butter stouts, making craft tequila cocktails with Cointreau, and Chocolate Manhattans. I love 8-Ball by itself, on the rocks. However, my favorite drink so far is the “8-Ball,” a cocktail with a splash of peppermint schnapps or Rumple Minz and cream. It’s ridiculous! Especially, this time of year.

Tell us about your charitable contributions from 8-Ball:
I am a veteran Navy Corpsman medic who served with the Marines and Balboa Naval Hospital. It was during this time I worked with many patients who were badly injured during Operation Desert Storm. Many of these young men and women’s lives were drastically changed with future challenges that I could not even imagine handling. They were definitely “behind the 8-Ball.” This is why it’s important for our company to help and support these American heroes and their families during these difficult times. With every bottle sold of 8-Ball we give a percentage to TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Surviving family members of loved ones killed while protecting our country.

Where can locals get 8-Ball?
You can find 8-Ball everywhere throughout San Diego, in local bars, nightclubs and restaurants to retails stores.

What’s next for 8-Ball Whiskey?
We have expanded across the country, including New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and 10 states. We have another 12 states lined up. Because of the rapid demand for 8-Ball, we had to immediately expand the distillery and operation into a 5,000 square foot building to accommodate a large automated bottling line, warehousing, and a loading dock for the trucks. Our plan is to open a tasting room and bar at the distillery by Summer 2020.

Follow 8-Ball Chocolate Whiskey on Facebook and Instagram at @8ballwhiskey