I might live in Texas, but I was born and raised in New York. I appreciate all the flavors and the history of that state, and there seems to be a number of distilleries who are popping up over the last decade in the area trying to capture that local essence and bottle it. One of those producers is Widow Jane, and their flagship product is their 10 Year Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The company originally started as an importer of cacao beans and a manufacturer of chocolate in Brooklyn, NY. Starting in 2012, they decided to branch out into the production of spirits as well, developing the Widow Jane brand.
While there are distillation and aging facilities in their Brooklyn, NY location, the products currently available for sale are sourced from established distillers and cut with water from a local source before being bottled according to the master distiller Vince Oleson.
Despite being located in a “distillery,” the Widow Jane crew don’t actually seem to distill any of their own product. Which makes sense, since the company only started in 2012 and hasn’t had enough time to actually age their own 10 year old bottle of whiskey. The first year that would even be possible is 2022, a good three years from now.
According to the back of the bottle and interviews with the head distiller, this whiskey is a blend of up to five barrels from Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky. There’s some indication that one facility is the notorious mass production plant MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana but the specific facilities being used are not disclosed. The grain bill for these whiskey products is unknown, but since this is marketed as a “straight bourbon whiskey” we can assume that at least 50% of the grain bill comes from corn. The spirit is then aged in American oak barrels according to the bottle, but where that happens is unknown.
Once properly aged, the spirit is cut with water imported from the Widow Jane limestone mine in Rosendale, NY (the quarry where limestone for the Brooklyn Bridge and other famous NY landmarks was sourced) and bottled. This is important to note, since the label proudly proclaims that they used “pure limestone water from the Widow Jane mine.” One would assume that this means they truck the water out to their partner distillery to make the mash and produce the spirit, but in reality only a little bit is added at the end. The majority of the water used in the process is actually from an unknown source.
In fact, whether any water from that location is used in the manufacturing process at all is disputed. From a 2013 article, the historical society who owns the mine went out of their way to debunk the claim stating that there was no known commercial agreement between the mine and Widow Jane.
So, really, we don’t know much about this thing. We don’t know where it came from, what it’s made of, and we can’t even be sure of where the water was sourced. All we know is that we’re told it’s 10 years old, even though the company isn’t that old.
The bottle is pretty neat and visually appealing.
The bottle itself is rounded both on the bottom and the top which makes for almost an oval shape. The body of the bottle is round with straight sides, and sports a rounded taper to a short straight neck. The bottle is topped with a wood and cork stopper.
For a label, it’s fairly plain. There’s a statement of the name of the bottler (Widow Jane) and some information about the spirit, and then the bottler has added some additional information about the specific batch and bottle that this spirit came from. That’s the kind of information you’d normally expect from a “small batch” distiller, except in this case it doesn’t look like this was made in small batches at all.
The whiskey is a dark amber color with an almost syrupy texture, which looks incredibly appealing. The smell of the spirit is spot-on for a typical standard bourbon, with notes of toffee caramel and vanilla.
Take one sip and the first thing you’ll notice is the distinct burning of alcohol, which is present from start to finish. It’s particularly strong for 45.5% ABV.
Once you get over the burn, the taste delivers pretty much exactly on the promise of the smell. The toffee and caramel flavors are very strong with the vanilla bringing up the rear.
It’s a standard bourbon.
With the addition of an ice cube, the vanilla retreats even further into the background. The toffee flavor is the most prominent, which is very sweet and almost chewy with how thick it is.
The good news here is that the burn from the alcohol content is completely gone. Now what we have is a smooth and delicious drink that’s a bit on the sweet side.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Add a splash of orange bitters and the drink balances nicely. The sweetness of the liquor and the citrus of the bitters makes for a balanced drink that is downright delicious.
There’s a reason why we chose this as the base for our Not Your Norman Rockwell cocktail.
I like it, but it’s not perfect.
The bitter ginger is balanced nicely by the sweetness of the toffee and caramel flavors. But the problem here is that it might be too sweet. The liquor on its own is very sweet with the flavors within, and adding a bit of sugar in the ginger beer into the drink doesn’t help the situation.
I don’t appreciate the bait-and-switch marketing. I get that they’re a small distillery in New York, but if you’re going to market yourself as a locally produced Brooklyn, NY spirit then you should probably do a little more than add a splash of water from Poughkeepsie.
If they had owned up to this being an imported spirit that was simply finished in Brooklyn, I’d be a whole lot happier. But just like with Firestone & Robertson’s TX offering it feels like they are trying to make a quick buck by cashing in on their location without doing the “hard part” of actually distilling the spirit. But even there, F&R admits that it’s a blend right out of the gate. You really need to look closely at this bottle to realize that it’s pretty much an imported and mass produced liquor that has been marketed and bottled in a fancy package.
What we have here is a standard bourbon whiskey. There really isn’t anything special beyond the sweeter than usual flavor profile, nothing to make it stand out above other mass produced bourbons. Except the marketing. And the label. And the “made in NY” story that isn’t quite truthful.
Widow Jane 10 Year Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Owner: Widow Jane Distillery
Production: Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grain bill: Unknown
Aging: 10 Years
Proof: 45.5% ABV
Price: $69.99 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
Like most New Yorkers, it was born and raised in a small town, moved to NY when it was already an adult, and now calls itself a NY local.