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New era takes shape at Widow Jane

The new blending team at Widow Jane celebrates its first year together with the latest release of The Vaults.

Bottle of whiskey in a cave
The Vaults 2023 blends together whiskeys distilled in Indiana and Tennessee, aged for a minimum of 15 years

A lot has happened in Widow Jane’s 11-year history. In April 2016, the Brooklyn-based distillery was acquired by Samson & Surrey. In 2018, Lisa Roper Wicker joined as master distiller, bringing with her decades of distilling experience. In February 2022, Heaven Hill acquired Samson & Surrey and its suite of craft brands. And in October 2022, Wicker announced she would be leaving.

In her five years there, Wicker left her mark on the brand – which both sources and distils its own whiskey – developing blending recipes, launching new products, and lending gravitas. She also trained a staff of dedicated and diverse employees who are now stepping into leadership roles and handling the blending responsibilities as a team.

Sienna Jevremov is taking over as head blender and distiller. She has been with the company since 2012. Michele Clark joined earlier that year as an intern and now serves as vice-president, handling a variety of responsibilities. Jacob Melinger joined later, in 2021, and is the head of experience and design. Together, they are charting Widow Jane’s future, relying on each other and the expertise that Wicker passed down.

“It was very, very daunting initially because Lisa is just a master at what she does, and has this amazing craft,” Jevremov said, noting that Wicker was equally passionate about the whiskey and the team making it. “We didn’t know how much she taught us. You suddenly realise there’s a reason why she chose you.”

In the year since Wicker left, the new blending team has fine tuned their chemistry, maintaining the quality standards that Wicker instilled. Their first year at the helm concludes with the 2023 release of The Vaults, a blend of Widow Jane’s oldest stocks, now in its fifth year. For all involved, there was a concerted effort to honour Wicker’s work and the progress she made.

“I don’t know if pressure’s the word, I think it’s more respect,” Melinger said. “It’s really old, really good whiskey. You want to make sure that you can do it justice before you dive into it. There’s no room for pride in that.”

The Vaults 2023 blends together whiskeys distilled in Tennessee and Indiana, aged for a minimum of 15 years and finished for three months in chinquapin oak barrels. It is bottled at 49.5% ABV and priced at US$250, with 2,600 cases available in 34 US markets.

Daunting challenges

Jevremov said she found creating The Vaults to be among the more daunting challenges for the team, and that they will reach out to Wicker with any questions, but mostly, they have relied on their training and teamwork, their skill sets and perspective working as complements to one another. She handles production, while Clark spearheads operations, and Melinger covers hospitality.

“My favourite is when we’re blending together,” she said, equating the dynamic to a well-rehearsed jazz trio. “Riffing off each other and having a good time and just really elevating the whole experience and working together in tandem.”

In August, Widow Jane announced Paradigm Rye, the first nationally available whiskey made at their Red Hook distillery. Bottled at 46.5% ABV and priced at US$50, it is a glimpse at the new expressions that Jevremov and team will be crafting as they bring Widow Jane into this next phase.

Clark, who has been with the company through it all, said Heaven Hill has allowed them to maintain their identity. “They weren’t looking to replace our processes,” she said. “They were looking to learn about it and help us.”

If anything, being part of the Heaven Hill family has allowed them to plan projects more easily, and has created an environment where this new blending team has the support and resources needed to succeed.

“It’s been a long year,” Melinger said. But there is a growing confidence among the blending team that they can build upon Wicker’s foundation and take the brand in new directions. “Honestly, the stuff that we have made in the past year-plus blending together has been some of my favourite Widow Jane products,” he said. “Maybe I’m biased, but I think we’re doing good stuff. I think that there’s something really nice about the three pillars of it, cross checking everything, and being able to do some amazing blending together.”

In addition to The Vaults and Paradigm Rye, Widow Jane also released a 10-year-old flagship Bourbon and the maple syrup-finished Decadence. The brand is celebrating its 11th anniversary with a party tonight, Thursday 12 October, at its Red Hook distillery.

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