By Randall H. Borkus
Widow Jane is the micro-distillery out of Red Hook, Brooklyn, owned by Cacao Prieto, the maker of “beans-to-bar” fresh chocolates. Their spirit expressions are largely not distilled at their distillery, but are instead sourced whiskey from other distilleries in Kentucky and maybe Indiana. Widow Jane Distillery has their own still, however, and are now beginning to age their own small batch whiskeys. The Widow Jane Chocolate Malt Bourbon Whiskey is one of these in-house small batch sensations.
Widow Jane brand is performing real magic with their in-house process utilizing creative grain selection, especially in the use of chocolate malted barley. The first thing I wondered was how is chocolate malted barley made? Do they use chocolate? Well, the answer is no.
To really comprehend what specialty malts can give to whiskey, you’ll need to know a little bit about malting. Malting is a process that converts starches inside the grain into sugar. Grains are sprouted in a controlled environment, and then dried to stop growth at just the right stage. Malted barley is the most common malted grain used in whiskey, but actually any grain can be malted: rye, wheat, even corn. After drying, malts are kilned, and then some are toasted and some are not. Most malted barley for whiskey is kilned to a very light toast. Kilning time and temperature can be adjusted, however, to create a huge range of flavors in the grain, from a light bread-like toast all the way to deeply roasted grain the color of a dark chocolate. Hence, “chocolate malt.”
Using chocolate malt isn’t new. Glenmorangie, not a craft brand by any definition, offers the Signet release, a single malt that incorporates chocolate malt into its mash bill. Seattle’s Westland uses chocolate malt along with specialty malts munich malt, extra special malt, and brown malt in the mash bill for their flagship Westland American Single Malt, while in 2015 Portland’s Stone Barn released a two-year-old rye whiskey prepared with a portion of dark chocolate malt. Now Widow Jane Distillery has created a chocolate malt bourbon that is near impossible to find other than on their website if you buy a special-edition gift set.
My 375 ml bottle is from Batch 2, Bottle 125. The ingredients are Organic Wapsie Valley corn, Chocolate Malted Barley, and rye, and it was pot distilled, aged one year and bottled at 91 proof.
The whiskey is very dark bronze color in the bottle and in the glass. The juice is thin with medium legs.
Like my other Widow Jane experiences the whiskey real opens with aeration. The nose sings Mocha, sweet and alluring opening into a bouquet of heavy Mocha chocolate, vanilla, and toasted nuts. The mouth feel that is pleasantly warm, thin and flavorful with a potpourri of Mocha and nuts. The finish reminds me of a chocolatey drink that carries a light touch of floral essence. I really like the finish as it gives way to a distinct Mocha dryness that is enjoyable yet short lived.
Your biggest challenge is going to be where do you find this juice? On their website you’ll find a special-edition gift sets which includes a four-sample bottle Cigar Box featuring Bloody Butcher, Bloody Butcher High Rye, Wapsie Valley, and the Chocolate Malted Barley Bourbon for $95.00. Additionally, I also found a Five Bottle Cigar Box that includes all of the above plus the promise of a mystery bottle of yet to be released by Widow Jane. These cigar box sets seem to be the only way to access Widow Jane Distillery’s prized small batch distillations, and go for $125.00.