The American whiskey industry sure is a fascinating one, when you consider what activities are able to earn hype for a company. Boutique, independent bottlers like Barrell have come into vogue without distilling any product of their own, focusing entirely on sourcing unique barrels from giants of the industry before applying their considerable blending skills to the equation. Massive whiskey producers like MGP of Indiana, on the other hand, functioned almost entirely like the bourbon and rye industry’s silent partner for many years, lacking their own house brands until quite recently. It leads to odd circumstances where one blender can achieve seemingly overnight hype for their presentation of bourbon that a company like MGP has been steadily producing for decades.
And then there’s a distillery like Brooklyn’s Widow Jane, sitting somewhere in the middle. They have indeed been producing their own spirits on site for years now, but those whiskeys—which they call their “heirloom” bourbons—are hardly what has earned the company the lion’s share of its attention. Rather, it’s products like the flagship Widow Jane 10 Year Bourbon, which is a blend of straight bourbons sourced from Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana, or special releases such as Widow Jane Decadence or The Vaults that generate headlines. Is that enough to earn a company an enduring position in the whiskey world? Or must one eventually be judged solely by their own distillate? How much do you have to do to sourced whiskey, to truly make it your own?
Widow Jane’s newest release certainly makes one ponder those questions. Lucky Thirteen is a limited release of 100 high-rye single barrels sourced from Lawrenceburg’s MGP of Indiana, hand-selected by Widow Jane head distiller Lisa Wicker. As the name would imply, the barrels selected were all 13 years old, but Wicker then took the interesting step of individually proofing each and every barrel for release, depending on the unique profile that each developed during aging. That means the Lucky 13 releases vary in proof from 91 to 99 (45.5-49.5% ABV), a not insignificant range in terms of their eventual assertiveness. As ever, they’re proofed down with Widow Jane’s signature limestone mineral water, “from the legendary Rosendale mines of NY.” MSRP is set at $90.
So, let’s go in for a taste and see how this whiskey has fared.
On the nose, Lucky Thirteen immediately strikes me as toasty, drier and oak forward. This is less fruit forward than some of the other bourbon I’ve been drinking recently, with more of a black tea maltiness that is supported by caramel, clove and a bit of baker’s cocoa. There’s a lot of both “toast” and “roast” going on here, like deeply browned bread.
On the palate, Lucky Thirteen is actually quite full and oily in texture for a lower proof, although my sample is at the higher end of the spectrum at 48.5% ABV (97 proof). The roast is coming through here again in a big way, with a lot of char, toasted oak and French roast coffee, followed by caramel and a sliver of orange peel providing some needed balance. Residual sweetness is moderate, and caramel corn-esque in profile, with a finish that segues into earthier notes of tobacco and oak tannins. The high-rye mash bill doesn’t call a ton of attention to itself until the finish, where a big wave of pepperiness calls it out.
All in all, this is a solid, well-aged and oak-forward bourbon release, although not necessarily the most unique profile—if you’ve had other well-aged bourbons out of MGP, you may have run across something similar. Although the variable proofing was done with the intention of making the best possible product, one would think that whiskey geeks will likely be considerably more interested in seeking out the proofs closer to 100 than to 90, especially with a $90 MSRP.
It bears mentioning also that brands like MGP’s own George Remus Bourbon are now offering access to some similar spirits, and occasionally at lower prices—unsurprising, given economies of scale. That brand’s Remus Repeal Reserve series sits at a slightly higher 100 proof, most recently composed of 12-year-old MGP bourbons with a similarly high-rye mash bill. It carries an MSRP of $85, but can often be found around $75. With that said, it lacks the single barrel variation found in something like Widow Jane’s Lucky Thirteen, meaning that it’s ultimately up to the consumer to decide which iteration of this spirit is most intriguing.
Distillery: Widow Jane (via MGP of Indiana)
City: Brooklyn, NY
Style: Single-barrel straight bourbon
ABV: 45.5-49.5% (91-99 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $90 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.