Straight Bourbon Whiskey
With so many bottles of bourbon lining shelves at larger liquor emporiums, it can take a little tap dance for a brand to be noticed through the clutter. In 2021, Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea was launched and became the best-selling bourbon brand over $70. Aged at Sea was literal; The company placed barrels of bourbon aboard ships that sail the Seven Seas.
Jefferson claims the movement of the water and the variation in temperatures as the ship travels helps to age the bourbon as it sloshes through charred layers of the oak barrel. Some consumers claim they can also taste a hint of salt in the bourbon. The journeys are charted on small booklets that accompany each bottle, reading of storms and exotic locales, with such descriptions as the ship leaving port “at the stroke of midnight.” The captain’s log of each journey is listed on the Jefferson website.
While bottles of Jefferson’s Ocean, with its world map on the back, spur mental images of wooden ships, sails straining in the ocean breezes over a deck covered with barrels of bourbon, photos of Jefferson’s Ocean voyage show barrels on pallets inside containers stacked atop other containers, some of them open like a top-down convertible. Whether it actually makes a difference is debatable, but you can’t argue with the popularity of the brand.
Jefferson’s Bourbon is crafted at the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Kentucky, outside Louisville. Instead of distilling its own, Jefferson says it “seek(s) out new and aged barrels of bourbon from established distilleries that have perfected their art over hundreds of years. Then we do some old-fashioned experimenting…” The Jefferson’s brand was founded in 1997 by Trey Zoeller and his father, Chet, whose 2009 book “Bourbon in Kentucky” traces the history of every distillery that ever existed in the state. The company claims the family’s whiskey interests date back eight generations to Marian McLain, who was arrested in 1799 for bootlegging. She is remembered with a pricey blended bourbon in a bottle that carries the profile of a woman of that era.
The Ocean concept was developed in 2012 when Trey Zoeller partnered with Chris Fischer, the founder of OCEARCH, a nonprofit that studies and tracks marine life. Five barrels of Jefferson’s bourbon were strapped to the group’s mothership to determine if the constant movement would help the bourbon increase contact with the charred oak barrels. The barrels remained onboard for three years and resulted in a bourbon that was blackened, syrupy, and nearly caramelized. The latest edition of Jefferson’s Ocean is a wheated bourbon that stayed in barrels during voyage 29. The barrels were loaded on a ship in Savannah, missed a storm, and passed through the Panama Canal into the Pacific. The ship sailed across the Pacific around Australia and entered the Indian Ocean with stops in China, Korea, and Japan before returning to the U.S. The word “wheated” on the label indicates that wheat replaced some or all of the rye in the portion of the bourbon that wasn’t at least 51% corn. It’s a process used in Pappy Van Winkle, as well as more accessible bourbons such as Maker’s Mark.
– Pairing by: Erik Calviño
This wheated single-barrel expression of Jefferson’s popular Ocean line has an enticing nose of corn, oak spice, and vanilla. The palate is almost a direct continuation of the nose but with a dry, toasty characteristic to the oak. This whiskey tastes a bit hotter than its 90 proof; therefore a splash of spring water isn’t a bad idea.
Cigar Pairing: Aganorsa Aniversario Maduro
This ultra-flavorful and well-balanced maduro delivers a ton of chocolate, sweet pepper, and cedar from the onset. There’s a complexity to the smoke that makes you wonder if you should even introduce the bourbon at all, but definitely do it. It turns out to be one of the better complementary pairings in recent history. The cigar is transformed. The chocolate disappears almost entirely and is replaced by delicious malty sweetness, with a long, spicy finish.