By Debbie Shocair
Trey Zoeller, Master Blender at Jefferson’s Bourbon, is obviously an adventurer at heart, and what began as a ponderous musing ended up an admirably successful experiment. While on a boat—a rather large, purposeful one engaged in the radio-tagging of shark for science—and celebrating his birthday with his friend and captain of said boat, Zoeller was inspired by the rocking movement of the vessel. The whiskey in the bottle before him rocked gently with the swells, and he wondered wouldn’t it be interesting to see the effects of whiskey in a barrel, subjected not only to the rocking motion but also to the sea air and changes in barometric pressure, temperature, and seagoing weather? Similar factors play into the aging of Madeira wine.
Thus came the plan for Jefferson’s Ocean, an 8 year old Kentucky Bourbon matured for a further six months at sea, during which time it would visit at least 30 ports, 5 continents, and cross the equator at least 4 times before returning to be bottled at a respectable 90 proof. The theory was that the constant rocking motion would ensure more consistent interaction between the barrel’s wood and the bourbon, the salty sea air would penetrate and affect the liquid, and the heat differentials as it crossed the equator would pull more sweetness from the wood’s caramelized sugars right into the whiskey. The experiment was a rollicking success, and there followed retail demand and more official voyages.
Thus I was prepared for Jefferson’s Ocean, Voyage 5, to be interesting and storied, at the very least.
On the nose, Jeff’s Ocean 5 was at first redolent of popcorn, caramel, and nougat, but there was a deeper underlying note of dark fruit, more pruin-y than raisin-y, and quite pleasant. Breaking it with a ½ teaspoon of water lightened the caramel notes and brought them jumping brightly to the forefront.
The mouthfeel on this experimental beauty was silky and creamy, which frankly was a bit of a surprise to me for a high-rye bourbon. Then the high-rye kicked in, tingling all of the tip of the tongue and the back of the palate.
I have to admit I was looking for something specific in the finish, something of the sea. And it was there, though if I had not been specifically looking for it I might not have identified it as such, for this is an uncommonly subtle, complex bourbon. This aged-at-sea creature had a lightly lingering and very pleasant finish, bringing notes of caramel, and a modest rye spiciness, as well as (wait for it…) slightly salty oak, hinting at a briny sea. Any more than a hint would have unbalanced the rest of its otherwise very enjoyable character.
I should mention that after it sat in the glass (neat) for a just couple of minutes, a very distinct aroma akin to Cracker Jack developed. That made me smile. Well, that and the whiskey.
Jefferson’s Ocean retails for approximately $90, and is a fine addition to any Bourbon lover’s cache and