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.
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.