“Decadence is a difficult word to use since it has become little more than a term of abuse applied by critics to anything they do not yet understand or which seems to differ from their moral concepts.” – Ernest Hemingway
I’ve written previously about Widow Jane, covering their flagship expression which impressed me with its nuanced complexity and infusion of New York spirit (the incorporeal essence, not the distilled liquid) courtesy of the filtered water they draw from the local Rosendale mine. Today I’ll be reviewing their most highly allocated expression, Widow Jane Decadence, which features that same baseline bourbon finished in maple syrup barrels provided by Hudson Valley’s Crown Maple.
Finished bourbon, as I discussed in my 2021 end-of-year contribution for Malt, is “having a moment.” The market for them has exploded and, in the past, I’ve expounded on how those results have indubitably been a mixed bag. While some brands seemingly throw any and every finish at the wall hoping something sticks, there are others like Widow Jane who take a far more restrained approach and only produce a single dalliance with the category.
While a brand like Starlight excels at casting a wide net and pushing the envelope of innovation, I do believe there’s also merit in taking the more judicious approach. For Widow Jane’s part, focusing on a single finished expression has paid dividends as it’s one of their most popular expressions despite being so highly allocated that they did not have a single bottle available for purchase at their tasting room when I visited recently.
They do, however, have a select few bottles left at the distillery, which they offer as part of a tasting flight in addition to a waiting list for people to be notified about the next release. While I was there, no less than three people remarked that it was their favorite of the flight and inquired about how to get on the list, so I suggest you keep your ear to the ground in September when the latest release will be sent to local markets (those markets being: NY, NJ, MA, MD, FL, TX, IL, CA, and CO).
It should be noted that today I’ll be trying 2020’s batch 3 (which was released in October of that year and produced a little over 3,000 bottles) while 2021’s fall and winter batch releases produced about 12,000 bottles, indicating that Widow Jane is working hard to ensure supply catches up to the demand. As for further salient details, this is bottled at 91 proof (45.5% ABV) and like I mentioned above it is aged for a minimum of 10 years before being finished in maple syrup barrels. The suggested retail price is $89.99.
As a final aside before I get into the tasting notes, I should also own up to the fact that though I do enjoy an increasing number of finished bourbon expressions, I’ve yet to find a maple syrup finished bourbon that agrees with me. They tend to veer too heavily into the maple flavor, which can be overbearing in its sweetness and detract-from rather than meld-with the base spirit, which defeats the purpose. There are infused bourbons that accomplish a similar effect (one I generally do not enjoy, but which serve as welcome options in cocktail recipes) and I’m curious to see how Widow Jane’s Master Blender, Lisa Wicker, manages (or fails) to corral such a strong note.
Widow Jane Decadence – Review
Color: Light mahogany
On the nose: Immediately, and predictable, notes of maple candy jump out of the glass coupled with an apple strudel fruit pastry. After swirling, a hint of thyme and cinnamon that was initially alluded to but not obvious in the cooked apple note emerges. Finally there are aromas of undamaged vanilla pods, hazelnut, and oak all of which provide an earthy balance to the sweeter medley of flavors of the first whiff.
In the mouth: I noted at first that the texture was slightly effervescent and full, but fleeting. In a curious display, the mouthfeel presents itself as very lively at first before dissipating and leaving the flavor to do the heavy lifting on the final half of the sip. As for those flavors, there’s the predictable maple sweetness but also the mineral-inflected New York water note that Widow Jane is famous for along with the pastry-like breadiness from the nose. What begins as a mouth-coating wonder transforms once it reaches midpalate, as maple syrup tends to, from the initial sugary rush to the somewhat drying and spice-laden affair that ripples throughout the finish. Those final flavors come in the form of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cardamom, and once these notes emerge the subtle dryness takes hold in a way that captures your attention to the end. For me it was reminiscent of getting a small unblended patch of flour across your palate while eating raw pie dough.
While certain aspects of this experience were predictable (it tastes like maple syrup!) I found that it reins in the sugariness and does more to capture what I’ll call the “essence” of maple syrup. That’s to say: it begins with a subtle sweetness and concludes with a drying, earthiness that clearly divides the front and back ends of each sip. Overall it’s a fun tasting experience that displays fantastic balance which is surely due to the length of Decadence’s finishing (which is undisclosed) as well as its proof point. Credit belongs to Lisa Wicker for threading the needle and pulling this batch from the barrel before the underlying bourbon flavor vanished entirely.
Lastly I’ll remark that while $89.99 is initially a bit off-putting, when one considers its 10 year age statement, where this expression is positioned among Widow Jane’s other offerings, and the cost of the finishing process, I believe it’s properly priced. Surely purists will scoff at a 91 proof finished bourbon commanding such a high dollar amount, but there’s no denying it is a tasty pour that aficionados and newcomers alike will enjoy.