Friday, September 5, 2014

Wherein We Mine More Facts About Widow Jane


In subsequent reading after Wednesday's post, I came across an interesting article on the web site for Blue Stone Press. That is the local newspaper for Stone Ridge, New York, which also serves the nearby town of Rosendale, where the Widow Jane Mine is located. The story, from March of 2013, tells how Daniel Prieto Preston, founder of Cacao Prieto, producer of Widow Jane Bourbon, came to fall in love with the Widow Jane Mine.

Most folks in the Blue Stone Press reading area probably already knew about the Widow Jane Mine itself. What would have been news was the bourbon whiskey from a company 95 miles to the south, in Brooklyn, named after and supposedly made using water from the mine.

As we learned on Wednesday, Cacao Prieto offers several different products under the Widow Jane brand name. Some are distilled in Red Hook, Brooklyn, according to the web site. The one featured in the Men's Journal article is not. A Cacao Prieto spokesperson confirmed to me today that it was distilled at MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. According to TTB rule 5.36(d), therefore, the words 'distilled in Indiana' must appear on the product's label.

They don't.

You can read the article for yourself, but do not neglect the comment that follows it from the owner and custodian of the Widow Jane Mine on the Snyder Estate in Rosendale, the Century House Historical Society (CHHS). The comment, signed by all of the officers and directors of the not-for-profit society, states that "water was not supplied by the historical society from the Widow Jane Mine for this endeavor." Furthermore, it disclaims, "the historical society has no commercial relationship with Mr. Preston and his manufacture of Widow Jane whiskey, and CHHS does not benefit in any way from the sales of this product."

Since the main article clearly states that Preston is using water drawn from the same aquifer but on property he owns nearby, the issue here is one of personal ethics and simple marketing savvy, not law. CHHS is very obviously an under-funded labor of love kept alive by small donations from local history buffs, just like the little historical sites all of us have in our local communities. While they don't own a trademark for 'Widow Jane Mine,' the fact that anyone knows about or has any affection for the place is likely due to the preservation and interpretation efforts put forth by this tiny not-for-profit whose principal mission is to preserve and protect the historic mine, and keep it open to the public.

In marketing, the nice term for that is 'borrowed equity.' Cacao Prieto is 'borrowing' (i.e., not paying for) the good will and awareness created by CHHS, but doing it in a way that is perfectly legal, much like the bar that calls the Super Bowl the 'championship' or 'big game' in its promotions.

In itself, Rosendale natural cement is pretty interesting stuff. Technically argillaceous limestone, it is a very effective mortar when mixed with water and was used in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, the U.S. Capitol building, and the Statue of Liberty.

'Limestone' is the key word in the bourbon connection too. Water filtered through limestone, as it is in Kentucky, Tennessee, and parts of Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, contains little or no iron. Iron is very, very bad for whiskey-making, so limestone is good. There are also minerals in the water that help it taste good and play nice with yeast.

A savvy marketer, perceiving the marketability of the name and limestone water angle, and perhaps also anticipating the very story I'm writing now, would have long ago secured CHHS's enthusiastic permission to use the name through a generous, tax deductible donation, and probably for additional consideration could have entertained customers at the mine and done any number of tie-in events, instantly converting fans of the Widow Jane Mine into devoted buyers of Widow Jane Bourbon.

Cacao Prieto did none of that.

Since the article and comment are more than a year old, I contacted the CHHS and they confirmed to me that the comment from 2013 still expresses their position.

I heard from Cacao Prieto today too. They're not happy with me nor with many of you. I could get another lively post out of their emails but I won't, because I'm actually a much nicer guy than most of you think I am. The beautiful thing about this whole TTB Rule 5.36(d) deal (and all credit to Wade Woodard who started it) is that all Widow Jane or anyone else has to do is say, "Whoops! We're sorry, we're new at this. We will immediately add 'distilled in Indiana' to every label on our premises and offer stickers to any customers who want them, so they can correct the labels on the bottles they have in stock."

Actual use of the word "Whoops!" will be appreciated.

It's really that simple. All (well, most) will be forgiven and you won't have to waste any of your weekend writing me long emails.

And as for Cacao Prieto specifically, a nice check to the CHHS is in order too.

32 comments:

Charles_in_TN said...

Wow. Profit from a financially depressed local historical site, mislead customers as to the true provenance of the whiskey, and attack anyone bold enough to point out those facts. I know where my hard earned money will NOT be going, ever. I don't care if you use MGP whiskey, be honest about it. Smooth Ambler does not hide the fact that they "source" their whiskey. I buy it because they are honest (not sure if they meet the requirement of the law since I do not currently have a bottle). Their barrel aged gin, which they do produce, is simply amazing, BTW.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Smooth Ambler is currently 5.36(d) compliant. They are one of the good guys.

Anonymous said...

Hey... You done went and ruint their entire sales pitch.

Craig Hochscheid said...

Yet another black eye for the craft distilling industry.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chuck, I was wondering how MGP feels about this recent 5.36(d) controversy. Good for them? Bad? Doesn't make a difference? Didn't know if this may increase sales for them; get them in the public eye, so to speak. I know they sell neutral grain spirit to NDPs and other distilleries, so it may not matter much.
Crown Pt. Marc

Chuck Cowdery said...

I recently wrote to MGP suggesting that they establish a policy of alerting their customers to the 5.36(d) disclosure requirement, simply as a customer service. They have not replied.

Rob K said...

The bottle pictured in the Blue Stone Press article clearly says "Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey" yet "A Cacao Prieto spokesperson confirmed to me today that it was distilled at MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana" which makes it even worse. Which is it, Kentucky Bourbon or Hoosier Bourbon?

Chuck Cowdery said...

The bottles that say 'Kentucky' on the label are an earlier iteration and, indeed, were distilled by an undisclosed Kentucky distillery. The current iteration is an 8-year-old from MGP of Indiana.

Chuck Cowdery said...

So if the label doesn't say Kentucky, it's MGP.

Anonymous said...

Chuck, thank you for this. All of this. I love it.

I love MGP product. I buy it often. I will not pay double for a marketing department spinning lies.

Again, thank you and keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Chuck,

I almost fell for the deceptive labeling on the Widow Jane bottle. I'm glad I read your blog!

Michael

Iakov Alenchik said...

Perhaps the craft "distillers" and others who get their whiskey from another source should consider consulting with an attorney familiar with advertising (and the TTB) before finalizing their "story," labeling and marketing campaign. That investment could mitigate or evade any unpleasant backwash from the cognoscenti. For the record, I'm a bourbon drinking engineer, not an attorney. These "distillers" can't really believe that all whom they want to purchase their juice are philistines - or can they?...

Anonymous said...

Philistines, no. Luddites, may be a better name for it. They are hoping that no one is out there reading Chuck's blog online.

SmokyBeast said...

a) the bottle USED to say "Kentucky Bourbon" on it, then they removed that and added "pure water from the widow jane mine..." nonesense - that pisses me off

b) their website shows a picture of a still and says "that’s what Widow Jane Whiskey, distilled in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, is all about." - that really pisses me off

c) the "heirloom" whiskey they actually distill in brooklyn tastes like rubber cement, hit the market at 11 months old for $160 per HALF bottle (granted they used tall skinny bottles to disguise that fact), and have been gathering dust on liquor store shelves ever since. - that just makes me laugh

we got to taste some at WhiskyLive...

Amos Huron said...

I'm a bit confused about Smooth Ambler. I thought they made their stuff? I was even sold a bottle of the 7 yr based on that by a guy who said he worked for them. I looked at the label at it says nothing about Indiana? It says it was bottled in West Virginia. It's Batch 74, bottled on 5/30/14 if it helps?

Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck,
Another question related to the article in the Blue Stone Press. In the article Mr. Prieto claims:
We have been told we are the only distillery in America that doesn't use GMO corn.
I am wondering if this is possibly true. I believe that the EU does not allow the importation of GMO products and since 4 Roses and Wild Turkey (and I am sure others) export to the EU I assumed that they are GMO free. Is this true? Even if not, Balcones True Blue has him beat, and I am sure that there are others. Thanks. And thanks for your writing and what you do for the industry.
Mark

Chuck Cowdery said...

About Smooth Ambler, Amos. If the label says "Old Scout" it should also say "distilled in Indiana." If it doesn't say "Old Scout" it was distilled by Smooth Ambler in West Virginia. They do both but the sourced (MGP) whiskeys are sold under the Old Scout brand.

Chuck Cowdery said...

About the non-GMO claim, add it to the list. Many whiskey distilleries, large and small, use non-GMO corn. I might venture to say most of them do. It's not a secret. All you have to do is Google "bourbon and GMO corn."

Anonymous said...

So yes, it is true, 4R and Wild Turkey are gmo free...certainly a google search proves that. Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

Ca Ca Poo Poo Prieto - more like it.

FrankDell said...

Has Widow Jane Distilling had any comment about this? Are they going to comply with 5.36(d)? Or are they comfortable with continuing to mislead the consumer?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I heard from them after the initial post, but nothing since this one went up. They blame TTB. "It does not make sense to me that they approve labels that lack information they claim to require." I swear, these kids today.

Anonymous said...

Chuck, thank you so much for alerting us to this. Can you tell me about Breckenridge bourbon. I am a fan but can't get a "Straight" answer from them. Mile High Bourbonis another that is rather confusing. As you can tell I'm from Colorado and love bourbon and would like to know who in my state really makes it?

Wade said...

Smooth Ambler Old Scout line has always been upfront that this was sourced bourbon/rye (visit their website to see this). However, they initially did not comply with 5.36 (d). Once they became aware of this, they resubmitted labels to the TTB for approval listing actual State of Distillation.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Widow Jane is changing the face of whiskey, you guys all just want to be negative, but they are doing great things.
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/sep/14/craft-distillers-brooklyn-whisky-bourbon-chocolate

Zeech said...

Great post Chuck. Bring it to the light!

Rod said...

Widow Jane Bourbon, What's The Confusion

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QbCXcnuhgRA&list=UUkIp0YMY6Xre5EaDBv0P6rQ

Rod said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rod said...

"Cacao Prieto/ Widow Jane Distillery, Brooklyn, NY. This chocolate producer and distillery makes Bloody Butcher Bourbon, Bloody Bourbon High Rye Bourbon, Wapsie Valley Bourbon, Wapsie Valley High Rye Bourbon and Wapsie Valley Chocolate Malt. They are also planning on distilling their own rye whiskey in the near future. Along with these bourbons that they distill in-house, they have two sourced whiskeys: Widow Jane Kentucky Bourbon (from an undisclosed distillery) and Window Jane Rye (distilled at MGP)."

From: Sku's Recent Eats, the L.A. Food and Whiskey Blog:

Complete List of American Whiskey Distlleries & Brands, Updated October 2, 2014

speedrakk said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6BQPXq8NK0 in this video the master distiller claims they own the mine.

Chuck Cowdery said...

As I understand it, they own an adjacent property that has access to the same water source but they do not own the Widow Jane mine, unless something major has changed since this went up in 2014.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The Century House Historical Society owns the Widow Jane Mine.