There have been distilleries in the New York City area, but a (legal) distillery on the island of Manhattan is something that I’ve never seen in my lifetime. That is, until the folks at Great Jones Distilling opened their doors just down the street from Washington Square Park. Despite being an incredibly young distillery, they’re coming out of the gate strong with a well-executed straight bourbon whiskey offering… but the truth behind the source explains quite a bit.
Proximo Spirits is a private alcoholic beverage import company based in Jersey City, New Jersey. Founded in 2007 by the Beckmann family, the company owns and operates the famous Jose Cuervo tequila brand among others. Juan Domingo Beckmann, current owner of the company, decided that Manhattan needed its own distillery and set about opening the Great Jones Distillery in 2021.
The newly opened facility is beautifully designed and offers not only distillery tours and a bar, but also has a delicious restaurant called The GRID on the first floor. As someone who has dined there (for research, of course) I highly recommend that you do not skip the brioche bread and spent grain butter. They also get points for wall art which sports a map of Manhattan highlighting all of the known locations of speakeasies during prohibition.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
Since the distillery only opened in 2021, they haven’t had enough time to actually make their own spirits. Thankfully Proximo also owns the Black Dirt Distillery in upstate New York, from which they are sourcing this spirit.
This whiskey starts with 100% New York sourced grains, and includes a mixture of corn, rye, and barley. The exact proportion is not disclosed, but the Black Dirt Bourbon (which is probably the same spirit as in this bottle) uses a grain bill of 80% corn, 10% rye, and 10% malted barley. Those grains are cooked and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid that is then distilled through Black Dirt’s column still.
For this expression of their whiskey, the spirit is placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of about four years before being blended and bottled.
I’m actually not a huge fan of this bottle. I like where their head is at, but it just isn’t doing it for me.
There’s a very art deco feeling going on here, with the general shape of the bottle and the style of the illustration on the label. It emulates New York landmarks of the era, like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler building, and makes for a great throwback theme.
I think where this really starts hitting a wall is with the complete lack of visibility of the spirit inside the bottle. Especially in aged spirits, this frustrates me — I prefer to be able to see what I’m buying, instead of relying on the marketing and branding to do the work.
This smells like a more traditional take on a bourbon, with a significant portion of the “heads” left in the finished product. It’s a common stylistic choice and, while you do get some solvents in there, it also tends to give the spirit a bit of a “lift” from the otherwise dark flavor profile. Thankfully, the more solvent-heavy portions of the aroma dissipate quickly, allowing the other components to peek through.
On the nose, I’m getting a strong note of cedar, and behind that are some great barrel aging notes: brown sugar, a tiny bit of caramel, and vanilla. There’s some cinnamon spice in there as well, and a touch of apple fruit. Underlying all of those other components is a hint of raw corn, providing some sweetness.
Taking a sip, the first thing you get is some rich and deep brown sugar and vanilla that someone has torched for just a touch too long in places and slightly charred. That is joined pretty quickly by a prominent black pepper and apple combination (which is typical of rye-based spirits), and then develops into something closer to general baking spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, that kind of thing. On the finish, that sweetness returns and leaves this toffee caramel flavor with some slightly charred brown sugar impression behind.
What I was hoping for here was that the charred brown sugar component would be reduced with the rest of the flavors sticking around. I think I mostly got my wish, but there’s a slight impact to the other flavors as well.
The one trick I appreciate here is that, instead of charred brown sugar, that deeper note is now much more like a dark chocolate. It is smoother and rounder in the mouth instead of being bitter, and fits in well with the rest of the flavors.
Otherwise, this tastes much more like a traditional bourbon. What I mean by that is, essentially… the interesting stuff seems to have disappeared. The cedar note and the apple aren’t quite as prominent, leaving behind the toffee caramel and vanilla as the real stars of the show. There are still some baking spices in there to give it some depth and character, but it isn’t nearly as interesting as it was neat.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I like when spirits take a deeper and richer turn, and I especially like when that dark chocolate note is prominent when taken with ice. Usually, this means a deeper and richer old fashioned (which is totally my jam). And that’s exactly what we get here: something that has a little more character than usual, while still balancing as a delicious cocktail.
I appreciate that the herbs in the bitters are providing that earthy note that the cedar used to provide, bringing this back to the flavor profile that we saw up front but without the bitterness of the burned sugar. Instead, that note is fully embracing its life as a dark chocolate and giving this something for the citrus and orange to balance against perfectly.
It is remarkably good.
This makes a pretty good mule. It isn’t the best I’ve ever had, but it is downright serviceable.
Up front, the sweetness in the flavors of the spirit are balancing nicely with the bitterness of the ginger beer, resulting in a drink that is still sharp and tangy without being overpowering or bitter. That flavor is accentuated by a little bit of that black pepper spice as the flavor profile develops, and even that hint of apple plays a role in adding some fruity aspects to the cocktail.
I do think that this is a little bit on the darker side of the balance spectrum, though. That dark chocolate is a powerful note here and drags the cocktail down a little, so it might be a good opportunity to play with some other mixers like jalapeno pepperss and maybe even a mezcal floater to either lean into that profile or try and turn it to your advantage.
If this were the first attempt at a straight bourbon from a brand new distillery, I’d be singing its praises from the rafters. But it isn’t — this is a re-bottled whiskey from another distillery owned by the same brand, a fact that isn’t really disclosed anywhere on the label. I find that a bit shady. I get why they do it, especially for a brand that is so clearly focused on providing an “experience” in Manhattan rather than the actual product, but there are better ways to accomplish that same goal.
Judged on its own, this is a fine choice for the money. There are some great dark and rich flavors in here that make cocktails more interesting, and the cedar note when taken neat is a nice trick that I appreciate. I think it would have been a full four star review if the labeling had been a bit more forthcoming about the spirit’s provenance.
|Great Jones Straight Bourbon Whiskey|
Produced By: Great JonesProduction Location: New York, United States
Owned By: Proximo Spirits
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 4 Years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $41.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A deeper and richer take on a bourbon with some nifty cedar notes — it just needs less opaque bottling… and labeling.