When Widow Jane Distillery opened in Brooklyn, New York, I thought the whiskey they were bottling was average at best. Then the distillery and brand were sold to Samson and Surrey and they hired Lisa Roper Wicker as their president and distiller. In 2019, right after Lisa was hired, we visited the distillery. They were making chocolate and whiskey and the tour was more about the chocolate production than the whiskey. Lisa was not there at the time we took the tour and we were disappointed with the tour for many reasons, but mostly because we were not interested in the chocolate production. In the spring of 2022, we returned to visit the distillery. The chocolate production is gone and the emphasis is on the distillery, as it should be. The whiskey we tasted was excellent. Even the one year old Baby Jane, distilled by Lisa is very good. The distillery has made a great improvement with their tour, tasting room and quality of whiskey being made.
Lisa started in the wine industry. She was then hired by Steve Beam at Limestone Branch Distillery and proved her ability to blend good whiskey when she led the development of their Moon Pie Moonshine. This product paid the bills for Limestone Branch Distillery for several years. Unfortunately, when Steve joined the Luxco Distillery, Lisa was let go by Limestone Branch Distillery as Luxco had someone else they wanted in her position at Limestone Branch Distillery. I think that this was a blessing in disguise for Lisa. She worked briefly at Starlight Distillery in Indiana and then at Preservation Distillery in Bardstown before going independent as a consultant for a while. Then she was hired by Samson and Surrey. My friends were favorably impressed.
Samson and Surrey placed her at the Widow Jane Distillery as the distiller. Lisa had a lot of sourced barrels to work with and she used her skills as a blender at greatly improve the quality of the whiskey being sold by that distillery. She also became their number one brand ambassador for the brand. I invited her to speak at my BARDS (Bourbon And Rye Drinkers Society) meeting and she convinced the members, who remembered the old, inferior Widow Jane products, that they need to give the brand another taste.
Widow Jane Distillery has a very small production but it is expanding under Lisa’s leadership. Samson and Surrey was recently purchased by Heaven Hill and the additional funds to be provided are making the expansion possible. It will also make distribution easier outside of New York. Lisa is distilling excellent whiskey at Widow Jane. As I mentioned, the Baby Jane Bourbon is only one year old and sold only in New York, but it is of excellent quality. I am looking forward to seeing whiskey made by Lisa at an older age and available in Kentucky.
Lisa is overseeing the planting of the Baby Jane corn in New York and Kentucky for Widow Jane Bourbon. She is quick to lay to rest the story created by the original owner that the water used is from the Widow Jane mine in New York. The water is from the same watershed as the mine, but not from the mine itself. She believes that the distillery needs to be open as to what they are doing and honest in their facts. She has changed the culture of the distillery as well as their distilling process.
Lisa Roper Wicker is proof that one person can make a difference at a distillery. She is quick to say that she could not have done this without the support of the people at Samson and Surrey and her team at Widow Jane, but she is the person that led the way to a greater product being sold in a more honest way. This is why I believe that she is indeed, an unsung hero of the Bourbon industry.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl and Rosemary Miller