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Originally published September 4, 2012 at 7:39 PM | Page modified September 4, 2012 at 9:16 PM

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Almond Roca maker, Precept think inside the (wine) box

The iconic toffee maker teams up with Precept Wine to add a confection to the wine shelves.

Seattle Times business reporter

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Almost 90 years after Tacoma candy maker Brown & Haley debuted Almond Roca -- essentially English toffee bites enrobed in chocolate -- the firm has teamed up with Washington's fast-growing Precept Wine to create an alcohol-powered version of the treat.

Brown & Haley CEO Pierson Clair hesitates to compare Almond Roca Cream, a dessert wine, with Baileys Irish Cream.

"It's a little richer chocolate and maybe a little more hint of butter," Clair said. "But Almond Roca Cream stands alone. It is the most wonderful thing."

He would know.

In the 2 1/2 years since Precept approached his company about making a red wine that tasted like Almond Roca, the idea has morphed and evolved into a creamy dessert wine -- with each formula change requiring rounds of tasting.

Precept makes and distributes the wine, which will be on Bartell Drugs' shelves Oct. 1 and available at other West Coast retailers later that month. A 750 mL bottle costs $14.99 and contains 14 percent alcohol.

Brown & Haley is named for founders Harry Brown, a candy maker, and salesman J.C. Haley, who started working together a hundred years ago. In 1923, Brown formulated Almond Roca, and it has been the company's best-seller ever since.

It was popular with the Army and Navy, Clair explained, partly because the chocolate coating gave it a long shelf life, and the tins the candy is sold in kept vermin out.

Almond Roca Cream is not the product's first spinoff.

Other flavors include Mocha Roca, Cashew Roca, Macadamia Roca and this year in honor of the manufacturer's centennial, Dark Chocolate Roca. There are also license agreements similar to the deal with Precept Wine for Almond Roca cookie mix and coffee syrup.

Clair declined to disclose Brown & Haley's sales figures, but said 40 percent is exported. It has 250 employees and has about 50 shareholders, including Clair and Chairwoman Anne Haley, granddaughter of the founder.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or Twitter @AllisonSeattle.

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