Brooklyn vs. Louisville: Schumer, McConnell spar over which city boasts best bourbon
Every city has a signature product that is unrivaled to any other region of the country.
Philadelphia is famous for its cheesesteaks, Chicago for its deep-dish pizza, and New York, of course, has its bagels.
Kentucky is traditionally known for its bourbon, but Sen. Chuck Schumer, speaking at a conference at the University of Louisville on Monday, created some light-hearted competition with his Republican counterpart Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The banter between Schumer and McConnell was not about immigration, health care or even the budget, but rather about which senator’s hometown boasts the best bourbon.
“Mitch, I didn’t want to come here empty-handed, so I thought long and hard about what links our great hometowns, Louisville and New York City, together,” Schumer said. He added, “So I decided to bring something a little more unique; that you might not have realized New York City and Louisville have in common.
“And that’s bourbon. It turns out that Brooklyn — where I was born, raised, and still proudly live — produces some of the best bourbon in the world. I know that’s a contentious thing to say in these parts, but I think it’s true.”
McConnell invited Schumer to speak at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, where Schumer presented the Republican majority leader with a bottle of bourbon from Red Hook’s Widow Jane distillery.
Following the offering, McConnell immediately quipped, “There’s no such thing as Brooklyn bourbon.”
“Mitch and I don’t agree on a lot of things,” Schumer responded. “As you just heard, I’m sure he’ll never agree that New York bourbon even counts as bourbon, but when we need to come together and solve the big, complex issues facing our nation, Mitch knows how to clinch a deal.”
Schumer gifted a bottle of Widow Jane’s 10-year-old straight bourbon whiskey, which is a single-barrel bourbon from Kentucky that was aged, proofed, blended and bottled in Red Hook with pure limestone mineral water from Widow Jane’s mine in Rosendale, N.Y.
The Widow Jane mine is responsible for the limestone excavated to build the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the base of the Statue of Liberty and Grand Central Station in the 1800s, according to Michele Clark, vice president of operations at Widow Jane.
In the 1960s, the repository went dormant and was no longer used as a cement mine, but Widow Jane still utilized the mine for its water, which is blended into all of its whiskeys.
The “sweet hard” mine water is rich in calcium and magnesium, which allows the flavors of the bourbon to roll out onto the pallet and linger, according to Clark.
McConnell lived in Louisville as a teenager and graduated from the University of Louisville. Schumer was born in Sheepshead Bay and lives in Park Slope.
“Kentucky has bluegrass, which nurtures great thoroughbreds,” Schumer told the Brooklyn Eagle. “And New York has black tops, which produce immense basketball talent, like Rodney and Scooter McCray, who led University of Louisville Cardinals to greatness.
“But what Mitch didn’t know was that — thanks to Red Hook’s own Widow Jane and other entrepreneur distillers — Kentucky no longer has the market cornered on first-class, sippin’ bourbon. I only regret we didn’t get to drink it. Maybe next trip.”
The bottle, which features hints of butter, cream, toffee and honey, won Best in Class Gold at the 2017 World Whiskey Awards and a Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2013.
Clark assured the Eagle that bourbon could, in fact, be distilled outside of Kentucky as long as the water, wood and ingredients used to create the spirit satisfy federal regulations.
“We were so pleasantly surprised,” Clark said of Schumer’s gift. “It was a really nice political moment to see Schumer and McConnell bridge that gap between Kentucky and New York because that’s a lot of what we celebrate in our 10-year bourbon, sourcing a Kentucky bourbon and putting a New York touch on it, so I hope it can be an analogy for the taste and aesthetic we take so much pride in.”
She added, “Even though there are heirloom bourbons that we do distill in Brooklyn, I think that it’s nice that this bottle truly is an amalgamation of both of the states.”
Although Schumer regretted not being able to enjoy the bourbon with McConnell, he did suggest a better time to raise a glass: “Maybe we can share a toast of Widow Jane when we ink the next great, bipartisan deal of this Congress?”
Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.