Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Great Jones Distilling Co.. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
The New York Post, in a story about a fight between condo developers, describes Great Jones Alley as a “tiny, 20-foot wide, 137-foot long sliver of pavement between Bond and West 3rd streets” in the city’s artsy NoHo neighborhood. The paper made no mention of what makes the alley supposedly great, but whiskey drinkers might like to think it’s because the first legal whiskey distillery to be located in Manhattan since Prohibition lies right next door: The aptly named Great Jones Distilling Co.
Opened last year at 686 Broadway, Great Jones is a four-story cathedral to whiskey that seems befitting the city that never sleeps. Owned by Proximo Spirits, the 28,000-square-foot distillery, restaurant, tasting room, speakeasy, gift shop, and modern art gallery features a pair of 28-foot-tall column stills and a 500-gallon pot still encased in explosion-proof glass. The bars carry only New York spirits alongside those from Great Jones, and spent grain from the distillery is repurposed into butter at the 72-seat restaurant.
The Great Jones bottles themselves are equally trendy, featuring a recognizably Art Deco look. The whiskey inside is made entirely from New York grains, a feat made possible through a partnership with Black Dirt Distillery, also owned by Proximo Spirits, which is located 50 miles outside the city in a town called Warwick. The Great Jones whiskeys being sold today are, in fact, distilled at Black Dirt, and the juice being distilled by Great Jones is being sent to Warwick for aging. At some point in the future, the whiskeys in the Great Jones bottles will have been distilled in Manhattan.
The four-grain bourbon and the rye are available at this point only at the distillery itself, while the straight bourbon is also being sold at liquor stores elsewhere in New York and New Jersey.
Tasting Notes: Great Jones Straight Bourbon
Vital stats: Mash bill undisclosed, but at least 51% corn and aged a minimum of 4 years in new American oak (the bourbon at Black Dirt Distillery, where Great Jones sources its whiskies, is 80% corn, 10% barley and 10% rye); 86 proof/43% alcohol by volume; MSRP of $40 for a 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Light amber, golden hue.
Nose: Light and sweet, not a lot of ethanol; the relatively low alcohol content comes through here. There is just the slightest hint of spiciness, like French Toast with cinnamon and sugar equally balanced – with a dollop of maple syrup on top.
Palate: Molasses in the mouth, richer than you would expect based on the smell. There definitely appears to be rye grass in the mash bill as a secondary grain; the spice is apparent if not overwhelming. It’s young bourbon and would benefit from a little more time in the barrel, but features traditional bourbon flavors of vanilla and buttered toast.
Final thoughts: If you happen to be in New York or New Jersey, you can pick up a serviceable bourbon with an interesting local backstory for $40. What Great Jones will evolve into when it is eventually bottling its own juice remains to be seen, but it’s already a pretty good deal as a sourced whiskey.
Tasting Notes: Great Jones Four Grain Straight Bourbon
Vital stats: Mash bill undisclosed, but made from New York-grown corn, barley, rye, and what, aged at least 4 years; 90 proof/45% alcohol by volume; MSRP of $59.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Nose: Dried apricots and almonds; less sweet on the nose than the straight bourbon. Brings to mind hard caramel candies.
Palate: The wheat presence changes the nose a fair amount, but it’s less noticeable in the mouth. I taste brown sugar, citrus, and buttermilk pancakes topped with honey butter. It offers a long, peppery finish.
Final thoughts: This whiskey is deeper and richer than the straight bourbon, but whether it’s worth 50% more is a tricky question. If I was buying only one, I’d probably spend $40 and get the straight bourbon. But it would admittedly be more fun to have both on your bar as you tell your friends about your visit to the distillery in Manhattan.
Tasting Notes: Great Jones Straight Rye
Vital stats: Mash bill undisclosed, but the Black Dirt Rye is listed as 90% rye and 10% malted rye; aged 4 years; 90 proof/45% alcohol by volume; MSRP of $40 for a 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Light amber with an orange tint, virtually identical to the two bourbons.
Nose: It’s still relatively light and sweet, like its bourbon siblings. Rye spice, lavender, fresh green apple, banana bread.
Palate: Pepper, candied orange slices, nutmeg. It has a sweetness and roundness surrounding the rye spice that I find endearing.
Final thoughts: The rye is my favorite of the three from Great Jones. For $40, I’d happily buy this and put it next to the other ryes on my bar.
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Scott Bernard Nelson
Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. When he's not working, you can often find him fly fishing or rock climbing in the Pacific Northwest.