Kentucky Bourbon Balls

Boozy Bourbon Balls make the perfect adult treat for the holidays or the Kentucky Derby. Made with real bourbon, cookie crumbs and pecans, these sweet confections are no-bake and easy to put together.

Chocolate bourbon balls in white muffin cups on a gold plate.

Kentucky Bourbon Balls recipe

These bourbon balls are the ultimate sharable treat for adults at a holiday party or a Kentucky Derby party.

Each bite of a Bourbon Ball is crunchy and soft at once, with the flavors of nuttiness, dark chocolate, oaky bourbon and sweet vanilla hitting your taste buds in waves.

Decorated with your favorite toppings, they are a show-stopping treat that is full of bourbon flavor with a touch of sweetness.

Place them in a bakery box or a cookie tin for easy gifts or set them out as a finger-food dessert for a party.

Why you’ll love this recipe

My first experience with bourbon balls was at a distillery tour in Louisville, Ky. I absolutely fell in love with these boozy treats, and I know you will too!

  • Bourbon balls are so easy and require no baking!
  • You don’t need any special equipment to make this recipe.
  • They’d make an awesome addition to a party spread or on cookie trays.

Enjoy this great recipe along with a Kentucky Derby cocktail like a mint julep or a holiday cocktail with whiskey like an old-fashioned or Seelbach cocktail.

Bourbon balls rolled in chopped pecans, cocoa powder and melted chocolate with a pecan half on top.

What are Bourbon Balls?

Made with real whiskey, Kentucky Bourbon Balls are a Southern delicacy!

They were invented in 1938 by Ruth Hanly Booe of Rebecca Ruth Candy in Frankfort, Ky. and are often served at the holidays and in honor of the Kentucky Derby,

These bite-sized confections can come in different shapes, sizes and flavors, but usually feature a mixture of dry and wet ingredients to form a sweet, boozy dough that’s shaped into spheres.

My recipe features a base of vanilla wafer cookie crumbs, powdered sugar, cocoa powder and finely-chopped pecans for the dry ingredients.

They are then mixed with bourbon, vanilla extract and maple syrup to form a dough that can be rolled into balls and topped with your favorite toppings.

Ingredients for Kentucky bourbon balls on a marble background.

Ingredients

For this recipe, you will need to snag the following simple ingredients at the grocery store:

  • Nilla wafers (or another cookie — see substitutions section below)
  • powdered sugar
  • cocoa powder
  • finely chopped pecans
  • vanilla extract
  • maple syrup
  • bourbon

And then you will want to stock up on toppings! Bourbon balls look great on their own, but you can jazz them up with a melted chocolate coating or roll them in sprinkles.

Instead of maple syrup, you can use light corn syrup or honey instead.

Bourbon balls with different toppings in white paper cups on a gold tray.

Bourbon Ball toppings

You can leave the bourbon balls undecorated or you can decorate them with a number of toppings. If you do 3-4 types, they will really wow on a cookie tray!

Here are a few suggestions to try:

  • melted chocolate (with whole pecans on top)
  • cookie crumbs
  • cocoa powder
  • powdered sugar
  • sanding sugar
  • sprinkles
  • chopped pecans
  • shredded coconut

Best whiskey for Bourbon Balls

If you are making Bourbon Balls, you will want to stock up on the right whiskey to make the flavors pop!

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is made from corn and other grains and must be produced in the United States, and most of it is made in the state of Kentucky.

That said, feel free to make these with other types of whiskey like Irish whiskey or Canadian whisky. Feel free to try them with a flavored whiskey like salted caramel whiskey for a flavor twist.

If you have a favorite bourbon, you can use it in these bourbon balls. I like trying different whiskeys, but my favorites for baked goods are Maker’s Mark, Bulleit and Woodford Reserve.

Save the super expensive stuff for sipping after dinner and use a mid-range priced bottle. And if you have some left over, use it in some of these whiskey cocktails!

A bourbon ball with a bite taken out on a white paper cup.

Variations and substitutions

Bourbon balls without nuts: If you need to make a nut-free version, substitute an additional 1 cup Nilla Wafer crumbs for the nuts.

Non-alcoholic bourbon balls: Try them with a non-alcoholic whiskey such as Ritual whiskey alternative (affiliate link).

With other nuts: These would work with walnuts instead of pecans.

Different cookie base: Instead of vanilla wafers, you can use graham cracker crumbs, Biscoff cookies or chocolate wafers.

Gluten-free bourbon balls: Use crumbs from your favorite gluten-free cookies.

How to make Bourbon Balls

These old fashioned bourbon balls are so easy to make! You will love how simple this no-bake recipe is.

First, you’ll need to finely chop pecans and the cookies to get crumbs. I used a food processor, but you don’t have to have one.

To chop nuts without a food processor: Chop them with a sharp knife or pastry cutter until you have a fine crumb. You can also crush them in a sealable bag with a meat mallet or rolling pin.

To make cookie crumbs: Place them in a sealable bag and crush them with a meat mallet or rolling pin until you have fine crumbs and no cookie chunks.

Then, place the cookie crumbs, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa and chopped pecans in a large mixing bowl.

Add the bourbon, vanilla and maple syrup. Stir together until combined and it forms a thick dough.

Use a small cookie scoop or spoon to scoop the pecan mixture. Roll together in your palms to create evenly-sized, 1-inch balls.

Bourbon balls on a cookie sheet ready for toppings.

Roll in your favorite toppings, such as powdered sugar, cocoa powder, sprinkles or more chopped pecans. Place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper.

bourbon balls chilling on a silver baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge. The flavor of the bourbon gets more intense after a day or two, so feel free to make them in advance.

Bourbon balls freshly dipped in melted chocolate resting on a silver baking tray.

Chocolate-covered Bourbon Balls

For a melted chocolate coating, melt chocolate and coconut together oil in the microwave and stir together until combined.

Use a fork to lower the balls in the melted chocolate until coated and place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet.

Top with a pecan half (or sprinkles) if desired.

FAQ

Can bourbon balls get you tipsy or drunk?

No, each bourbon ball only contains less than 1 teaspoon of bourbon. You’d need to eat a bunch to feel tipsy, so enjoy them in moderation.

Do bourbon balls need to be refrigerated?

Yes, not only does the fridge help them to stay set up, but Kentucky bourbon balls will become more flavorful after a day in the fridge.

Is the alcohol baked out of bourbon balls?

No, bourbon balls are a no-bake treat, so the booze will stay strong and flavorful.

ABOUT THE SWEETEST SEASON

This recipe is part of The Sweetest Season, an annual virtual cookie swap co-hosted by Erin of The Speckled Palate and myself. Every year, we get a bunch of food bloggers together to share new holiday cookie recipes.

This year we are raising money for Cookies 4 Kids’ Cancer, which is a recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to funding research for new, innovative and less-toxic treatments for childhood cancer.

This season, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer is in a matching window with their friends at OXO, meaning OXO will be matching every dollar raised through Dec. 31, 2022, up to $100,000. Whatever money we raise will automatically double on our fundraising page!

Kentucky Derby recipes

More boozy dessert recipes

Chocolate bourbon balls in white muffin cups on a gold plate.

Kentucky Bourbon Balls

Yield: 24
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Kentucky Bourbon Balls are a sweet and boozy confection and a Southern delicacy. Perfect for Derby Day, holiday parties and cookie trays!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups crushed vanilla wafers
  • ¾ cup confectioners' sugar
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cups finely chopped pecans
  • 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ½ cup bourbon
  • toppings such as cocoa powder, powdered sugar, sprinkles, more chopped pecans or melted chocolate

for chocolate-dipped coating

  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
  • ¼ cup coconut oil
  • whole pecans, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Place the cookie crumbs, powdered sugar, cocoa and chopped pecans in a large bowl.
  2. Add the bourbon, vanilla and maple syrup. Stir together until thoroughly combined and a thick dough has formed.
  3. Use a 1- or 2-tablespoon-sized cookie scoop or spoon to form evenly-sized balls. Roll balls in your palms to round them out.
  4. Roll in your favorite toppings, such as powdered sugar, cocoa powder, sprinkles or more chopped pecans.
  5. For a melted chocolate coating: Warm chocolate and coconut oil in the microwave and stir together until combined. Use a fork to lower the balls in the melted chocolate until coated and place on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Top with a whole pecan half or sprinkles if desired.

Notes

Best bourbon for bourbon balls

If you have a favorite bourbon, you can use it in these bourbon balls. I like trying different whiskeys, but my favorites for baked goods are Maker’s Mark, Bulleit and Woodford Reserve.

Variations and substitutions

Bourbon balls without nuts: If you need to make a nut-free version, substitute an additional 1 cup Nilla Wafer crumbs for the nuts.

Non-alcoholic bourbon balls: Try them with a non-alcoholic whiskey alternative.

With other nuts: These would work with walnuts instead of pecans.

Different cookie base: Instead of Nilla Wafers, you can use graham cracker crumbs, Biscoff cookies or chocolate wafers.

Gluten-free bourbon balls: Use crumbs from your favorite gluten-free cookies.

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As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1 bourbon ball
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 176Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 42mgCarbohydrates: 15gFiber: 2gSugar: 8gProtein: 2g

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Comments

  1. Kathleen says

    Perfect timing! I was assigned bourbon balls for a Holiday party, and these look scrumptious, I’m totally doing all the different coatings and dips! Total WOW!

  2. Erin says

    Gosh, Suze! These just look and sound MARVELOUS! What a fabulous combination of flavors into a bite-sized treat that is pretty much a solid choice to make a lot of people happy. I feel like I need to make some of these for W for his birthday because this feels like an excellent birthday treat for him…

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