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By • Jan 9th, 2017 •

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By Roy Frumkes

Deep in the heart of Red Hook, at 218 Conover Street (wasn’t Giles Conover one of Sherlock Holmes’ adversaries?), is an elegant yet unobtrusive-looking warehouse built out of red brick. On close scrutiny one might think it suspiciously well kept-up. But its real value remains hidden.

On the night of Friday, October 14th, 2016, from 7:00 till 11:00 in the evening, there was nothing at all unassuming about this block-long edifice, as the doors opened wide, and the Widow Jane Bourbon Distillery, ensconced within its walls, festively celebrated its 4th anniversary.

It was a gala event indeed, exquisitely produced by VP & Art Director Michele Clark. Live Latin Music kept spirits high (I know!). Bottles of Widow Jane Bourbon seemed to decorate every square inch of available space. The partygoers were an unusually exotic-looking group. And strategically placed throughout the vast interior were watchful guards in fashionable black suits, each on the lookout for bourbon-snatchers, because Widow Jane is a competitive and desirable high end product. The $70. bottle I’ve been nursing is aged 10 years in American Oak and uses pure limestone mineral water from the company’s mine in Rosendale, NY. Which, co-incidentally, is where we shot parts of my first film, THE PROJECTIONIST, back in 1968. This 200-mile-long man-made cavern was originally used to mine cement for the streets of New York City, and it extends underground all the way to Canada. It probably was a good route for conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War. When we shot our movie there, with Rodney Dangerfield in his debut performance as the dreaded villain ‘The Bat,’ all we found were some random hippies camping out in the immense subterranean space.

THE PROJECTIONIST with Rodney Dangerfield seated on right

Now as it happens, Bourbon is my alcoholic beverage of choice, so I was in heaven just strolling around and getting the lay of the land. And as if that weren’t enough, Widow Jane is aligned (within the same warehouse, and run by the same people) with the chocolate manufacturer Cacao Prieto. Bourbon & chocolate! At times I felt like I must be dreaming.

As the press release for the company states, the label was founded by ‘…Daniel Prieto Preston, an inventor and aerospace engineer, whose family has been farming organic cacao and sugar cane in the Dominican Republic for more than 100 years.’ But, while the harvesting may be done out of country, all the manufacturing is done here, in Red Hook, transformed into artisanal rum, liqueur, and chocolate.

While strolling around the premises, I came across an exceedingly clever little glass tub containing Cacao Prieto’s answer to Nutella: Organic Nut & Cacao Spread ($13), except that to compare it to Nutella would be like comparing a VW to a Rolls Royce, or an Alpha Video DVD to a Criterion BluRay. The taste is transformative, a rich, solid 57% paste of chocolate with hazelnuts and almonds ground and mixed in. It’s like indulging in Ichor – and a little goes a long way. Highly recommended, though resign yourself, it won’t last long on your shelf.

Intrigued enough to pay the warehouse a visit? You can book a tour online, and you should. It’s a beautiful operation, and when your tour is done, there’s the opportunity to sit and enjoy some palate-ravishing delights.

There are two mixed drinks that I love, partially because they are harnessed to my memory. One is the Hurricane, a drink intrinsic to New Orleans, served in a Hurricane glass. During Mardi Gras, broken Hurricane glasses carpet the streets and, of course, all vehicular traffic is forbidden.

The recipe for a Hurricane calls for:

  • 2 ounces of light rum
  • 2 ounces of dark rum
  • 2 ounces of Passionfruit flavored syrup or juice (Cacao Prieto actually has Chocolate Passionfruit Crunch, but that wouldn’t quite do the trick in this circumstance)
  • 2 table spoons of lime juice
  • 1 cup of ice
  • all of which are combined and shaken, then add:

  • 1 ounce of orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon of simple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon of grenadine

  • But what if I used Widow Jane’s chocolate-infused light and dark rums? What would that be like? Let’s see: that would mean 2 ounces of Cacao Pieto Don Rafael Cacao rum ($34.For 375 ml), 2 ounces of Cacao Prieto White Rum ($45. For 750 ml), and the rest would be the same. Well, despite the fact that these rums are better than those used in the previous paragraph, the element didn’t quite work. Perhaps it was the lime juice?

    While those may be two of the country’s premiere rums, I am definitely not one of the country’s great mixologists, and I failed to create the Widow Jane Hurricane. Ah, well. Fortunately they have a list of recipes online at their website.

    My son has a particular fondness for hot sauce. Widow Jane makes that, too, fermented & aged in used bourbon whiskey barrels. (The bottle I bought was the 10th bottle from batch #3.)

    There’s also a myth about a lean black wolf with inquiring eyes that roams the distillery, protecting the casks of aging bourbon from any untoward interlopers. But that’s just a local legend…right?

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