Widow Jane is a Brooklyn, New York distiller, and the name comes from the mine where they draw their water. At least I think they do, they only mention this fact once in the pages and pages of marketing stuff at widowjane.com, widowjanespirits.com and widowjanewhiskey.com. Except that as you read it you realize there’s only two or three blurbs that have been recycled across the same (lovely) photos on three sites. And there are a couple other problems: while not on the label on my bottle, many of the photos on the sites call the product a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which doesn’t really make any sense given all the
noise copy about Brooklyn and New York. To wit, I have never read so much marketing copy on the water and the metaphorical, allegorical connections between a whiskey and a location that also completely fails to mention the source or type of grains used.
To be fair, in order to apply the name “straight bourbon”, it must meet the following criteria:
– Made in the USA
– 51% corn
– aged in new charred barrels
– distilled at <80%
– aged at <62.5%
– bottled at >40%
– aged > 2y
However, they also called a bunch of their stuff “Kentucky” bourbon, so I’m not sure how self-critical they are on the names.
Okay, enough critical media analysis, time for some science. These guys talk a lot about their use of sweet mine water, somehow both filtered AND mineral-enriched by the limestone that was quarried OUT of the mine. Just think about that claim for a second. I’m not 100% sure how mine water differs from cave water, per se, neither of which shout sweet or really even potable, but for the sake of argument let’s give it to them.
So we start off with the world’s greatest water, then we dump a bunch of grains (51% corn) and yeast (commercially available Bourbon yeast, let’s say) in it and then ferment it, which (keep in mind) means a controlled organic decomposition. In your sweet water. It’s then distilled, usually just below 100C to differentiate between the alcohol, aromatics and phenolics and the… sweet water. It’s then aged. While this number will change with size of cask and length of time aged, the ballpark figure of how much of the flavour comes from wood is 70-80%, so to this point, the sweet water is some minor fraction of the remaining 20-30% of the flavour – remember that the phenolics and aromatics are sought for the loudness of their tastes, after all.
Since the bottle doesn’t mention being non- or un-chill filtered, it’s possible this bourbon was further filtered, which could drop or filter more mineral sediment out. The final stage of whiskey production is to water the make down to 40-50% abv and bottle it. If Widow Jane is using their “sweet mine water” at this point, then there is the potential for some merit to their claims of the taste affecting the final product. But in terms of the water’s flavours actually surviving fermentation, multiple distillations and a chill filtering, this particular jury of one is highly skeptical.
Alright, so why am I being such a picky bitch about these up-and-comer’s marketing when I’ve let J&B, Johnnie Walker and other established brands slide on their dubious claims? Because this maybe-maybe-not marketing BS is totally unnecessary given the quality of the bourbon they’ve achieved. It’s fantastic, and it’s awesome to be able to try bourbons from places other than Kentucky. No slight to the Bluegrass State, but for the same reason Japanese whisky is interesting – same or similar process, different place. It allows you to taste cultural differences, taste what terroir might actually mean. To have it saddled with semi-scientific water claims and the continuation of the New-York-Is-The-Greatest-City-In-The-World marketing narrative doesn’t diminish the experience but it does make you question if they know what they have. Here’s what WE think they have:
Simon – old book, warm, apple, caramel
Goran – cinnamon, butter, creamy vanilla, white chocolate
Ryan – rosey, wood, dill
Sarah – danger, toffee
Dan – toffee, sweet
Matt – mellon, apricot, apple
Simon – burn, pop, nectarine, super sweet
Goran – lots of spice, almost mint, white chocolate
Ryan – splashes in the mouth, lots of spice
Sarah – not so painful, toffee
Dan – butter, not syrupy, well balanced
Matt – tangy, pleasant warming burn, good finish
Simon – becomes very smooth, candied
Goran – n/a
Ryan – raisins
Sarah – much better with a splash
Dan – partial nuttiness, no spiciness
Matt – cuts aroma, pepper notes
Widow Jane 7y Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 45.5% 200ml – $gift – New York
Try it? Yes! Buy it? Yes, worth a trip.