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 it seems I’m not alone in that – in NY, a number of distilleries have been popping up over the last decade trying to capture that local essence and bottle it. One of those producers is Widow Jane, and their Oak & Apple Wood Aged Rye Whiskey piqued my interest when it appeared on my local store shelves.
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, according to the master distiller Vince Oleson the products currently available for sale are sourced from a distiller in Kentucky and cut with water from a local source before being bottled.
Despite being located in a “distillery,” the Widow Jane crew don’t actually seem to distill any of their own product. In this case, the base spirit is a rye whiskey of some sort that was distilled in a third party facility and brought to the Widow Jane location for finishing. There’s some indication that this facility is the notorious mass production plant MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, but that’s pure conjecture since there’s no indication of which distillery it came from or what the grain bill for the original mash was. We’re just going on the label to know that this is a rye whiskey.
Once in the Brooklyn location, the spirit is aged in barrels with oak staves from previously used bourbon barrels and apple trees. This imparts the flavor of the staves to the whiskey. It sits in the barrels for an unknown period of time, as the bottle bears no age statement.
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 that 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.
I really like this bottle.
Tall and slender, the bottle has a round body that tapers to a long thin neck. For the smaller volume versions the neck is a little longer, giving a similar height to the 750ml version. The bottle is topped with a wood and cork stopper.
The label design is the same as their other products, a plain white label wrapper with black block letters. The difference here is that the border on the label is red instead of the usual black, and there’s a stylized “Oak & Apple Wood Aged” statement on the front in red to further differentiate the product.
At the bottom of the label is a place where someone has entered a batch and bottle number to identify this specific bottle.
I would best describe this whiskey as sweet and fruity. The primary hint I get is a bit of pear or perhaps some green apple, definitely a fruit forward nose. Right behind that are the more typical flavors that come along with an oak aged whiskey, namely vanilla with some caramel notes. There might also be a bit of nutmeg in here that I’m getting that adds a bit of spice.
From the first sip of this you’ll be hooked. The flavor delivers on the promise of the smell, with a citrus-forward flavor profile. There’s also the nutmeg creeping in and a buttery richness that accompanies it, which I really appreciate.
The flavor profile changes significantly with a little ice. Instead of a fruit forward taste, the overwhelming flavor is that of the rye — spicy caramel and vanilla.
The ice actually makes things a little worse in my opinion. The appeal of the drink is the delicate fruit interacting with the spicy rye whiskey, and with the ice those delicate flavors are all gone. Which is a shame.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
There’s a reason why rye whiskey is the go-to spirit for the Old Fashioned, and Widow Jane is no exception.
With the addition of the bitters, the spice and sweetness of the rye whiskey balances the drink perfectly — leading to a delicious drink. As the drink warms up, some of the fruitiness of the spirit starts to come back out, but really you should just assume that it’s completely gone.
Basically it’s as good as a standard rye whiskey.
There are few things better than a rye whiskey and ginger beer and this rye certainly doesn’t fall short.
In this case, the whiskey stands up to the ginger beer and provides a good balance to the drink, doing as good of a job as Bulleit Bourbon (our reference whiskey).
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 north of 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 a Kentucky product that just has a slight hint of NY added.
That said, the product is solid. I love the flavor, and I think I’ll be keeping a bottle on the shelf.
Widow Jane Oak & Apple Wood Aged
Owner: Widow Jane Distillery
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Grain bill: Unknown
Proof: 45.5% ABV
Price: $50.99 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
Much 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.