Review: Great Jones X Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon Is A Love Letter To New York

When you think of the home for a whiskey distillery, your brain likely goes to wide open spaces — where there's plenty of room for cattle to roam, horses to run, and whiskey to be made. Now, the island of Manhattan may not have space for cattle or horses in the 21st century, but it does have room for whiskey to be made. More specifically, it has the Great Jones Distilling Company, which became the first whiskey distillery to operate in Manhattan in 100 years after it opened in August 2021.

Located in the heart of the historic NoHo neighborhood, Great Jones is Manhattan's first and only legal whiskey distillery since Prohibition. Recently, Great Jones collaborated with another storied name in the New York wine and spirits world: Wölffer Estate Vineyard (located in Sagaponack, New York). The one-of-a-kind partnership between Great Jones and Wölffer led to the creation of a Cask Finished Bourbon that's aged in cabernet franc barrique wine barrels from Wölffer Estate.

To celebrate this New York-based collaboration, we were invited to the Great Jones Distillery for an exclusive tasting of this brand-new bourbon. After sampling this intriguing spirit, here's our review of the Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon.

What is Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon?

A true coming together of East (Long Island) and West (Manhattan), the Great Jones and Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon is a collaboration of two masters of their craft: Great Jones head distiller Celina Perez, and Wölffer winemaker Roman Roth. The Great Jones Straight Bourbon is aged in cabernet franc barrique barrels — a purposeful choice given the wine's sweetness and dark, fruity notes. Bottled at 88-proof, the bourbon has a warm, smooth finish, emphasizing the inherent sweetness of the whiskey as well as the complex, rich fruitiness of the cabernet franc.

At an event launching the whiskey in New York, Perez and Roth lauded the collaboration as an ode to New York booze. "To me, this is a dream come true," said Roth. After years of pushing the New York wine market forward, Roth expressed excitement for the opportunity to collaborate on a New York-centric spirit. Additionally, Roth noted that "nobody had an idea what the barrels would do to this bourbon, and oh boy, were we surprised by how wonderful this turned out."

"This is by far one of the most special moments of my career," Perez added. "To express how much New York means to me and us in general ... together, we've created something very special."

Pricing and availability

In line with the price points of whiskies from Great Jones Distilling and wines from Wölffer Estate, the $49.99 price tag for the Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon is a fairly reasonable one for a collaboration of its kind, making it an excellent option as a gift for any whiskey drinkers or wine drinkers in your life, or a specialty tipple to have on any back bar. It is available in select bars, restaurants, and at fine retailers in New York State.

Great Jones has two spirits available for purchase through its website or at liquor stores: Great Jones Straight Bourbon and Great Jones Rye Whiskey, priced at an affordable $44.99 and $45.00, respectively. It also has two distillery-exclusive bottles, a Peated Scotch Cask Bourbon and a Four Grain Straight Bourbon Whiskey, but you've got to visit the distillery to get your hands on them.

Red wines from Wölffer Estate vary in price, with an $18 2022 Finca Wölffer Malbec on one end and a 2020 Christian's Cuvee Pinot Noir for $125. The Caya Cabernet Franc, which has lent its barrels for the Great Jones Straight Bourbon aging, is priced at $37. The $49.99 price tag for the collaboration whiskey certainly suggests that this is a high-quality spirit that is also intended to be an accessible one.

How to drink Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon

Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon is undoubtedly a spirit created with whiskey drinkers in mind, specifically whiskey drinkers who prefer their spirit with nothing more than the glass it is served in. Additionally, this spirit benefits from a few minutes unbothered in the glass, like any good red wine, to allow the flavors and aromas to open up.

A splash of water or a clean ice cube is also a great way to enjoy the Cask Finished Bourbon, allowing the 44% ABV to be softened and smoothed out by the dilution. The added water may not be necessary for the regular whiskey drinker, but for the wine drinker moving into the whiskey world and using this as their bridge, a flavorful sip without the added spicy burn may be just the ticket.

For lovers of a whiskey-based cocktail, the Cask Finished Bourbon is a great base spirit for some of the classics, particularly a Manhattan. This is an especially good cocktail for this whiskey to be featured in, as the dark cherry and fig notes from the wine are the ideal match for the brandied cherry and citrusy orange peel that garnish this classic drink.

How is Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon made?

Great Jones Distilling Company is a monument to Prohibition-era New York, and the tools it uses in its distillery to produce its whiskies are a testament to that, from the copper pot still to the water it brings in from the Catskills Mountains during distillation. An ode to the state it calls home, every spirit distilled at Great Jones, including this limited-edition Cask Finished Bourbon, is aged on-site at the distillery located at 686 Broadway in the NoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.

The Great Jones Straight Bourbon is a blend of whiskey aged between four and seven years in American Oak barrels, which imparts vanilla and black pepper notes into the final product. Bottled at 86 proof and made from 100% New York-grown corn, malted barley, and rye, all of the ingredients for the bourbon come from the Black Dirt region of Warwick Valley, known for its nutrient-rich soil, which imparts a unique and distinctive spice to the whiskey. The Cask Finished Bourbon then ages for an additional year in Wölffer Estate's Caya Cabernet Franc barrels, imparting additional fruit and oaky notes into the liquid. Finally, the bourbon is cut with water from the Catskill Mountains to create the final product.

Tasting notes

Aging bourbon in red wine barrels isn't necessarily something new, but that doesn't make it any less special when the final product is ready to taste. When trying this new whiskey, we decided to take it one step at a time, sampling the elements that made up the final product to see how they worked harmoniously. The Great Jones Straight Bourbon is light and sweet with a smooth finish. The Caya Cabernet Franc is complex without aggression, with pleasant dark cherry, blackberry, fig, and pepper notes.

Next was the Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon. After trying the elements separately, you still get those flavors in this new sip, but enhanced even further. On the nose, there's caramel, vanilla, and burnt sugar. The palate is less sugary and sweet but more fruit-forward, with those dark fruits returning, cinnamon, wood, and a peppery, slightly fiery finish. We loved this neat, but with its flavor profile, it is meant to be the base spirit in any number of classic whiskey cocktails.

Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon vs. Jefferson's Reserve Cabernet Cask Barrel Select

The collaboration between Great Jones x Wölffer Estate is undoubtedly special but not the first of its kind. Weighed against an equally strong spirit (regarding price and quality), it can give a clearer idea of how it will stand up against other competitors behind the bar and on liquor store shelves.

Jefferson's Reserve Cabernet Cask Finish is small-batch, similar to the Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon, aged 12 months in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. It has a similar flavor profile, making it a good whiskey to weigh it against. The packaging is also quite similar, with recognizable names emblazoned across the front.

On the palate, the flavor of the Jefferson's Reserve has many of the familiar flavor notes of Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon, including dark stone fruits, black cherries, and dark chocolate, with similar spice and notes of sweet vanilla and oak on the nose. They are closely related in this case.

At 45.1% ABV, the Jefferson's Reserve is bottled at only a slightly lower proof than Great Jones. Both products are relatively similar in price, with the Jefferson's Reserve about $7 more than the Wölffer Estate collab. However, even with this slight price increase, coming in above the $50 price tag may turn people away from a more expensive bottle to one that offers a high-quality liquid at a few dollars less.

Is it worth it?

There's something special about this type of collaboration that's hard to overlook, not just because of the high quality of the liquid in the bottle. Many distilleries can and should be proud of their work to produce a sustainable spirit, focusing on how the production of that spirit impacts its environment.

In the case of Great Jones x Wölffer Estate Cask Finished Bourbon, the ingredients used are all locally sourced, and rather than throw out the wine barrels used for the Caya cabernet franc at Wölffer Estate, the partnership reuses them one more time to produce a spirit that both the distiller and winemaker can be proud of. 

On their own, Great Jones Distilling Company and Wölffer Estate are two names that are certainly well-known in the New York spirits industry. Still, with this collaboration, there's real potential to show that wines and spirits made in New York can compete with the bigger regions around the U.S. known for their whiskey and winemaking.

So, is it worth it? At a price point under $50 and an impressive flavor profile that speaks highly of the whiskey as the base spirit and the wine made from the barrels used for aging, we find this collaborative edition more than worth it. We'll be securing a space on our home bars for this bottle and will be on the lookout for future collaborations that both of these producers pursue.