Jefferson’s is a brand that made their start bottling a blend of bourbons without doing much of the production or processing themselves. Usually, I’m not that thrilled about a company that doesn’t make an effort to improve the product they took in before shipping it back out. But with their Ocean series, Jefferson’s actually took a legitimate gamble on doing something new and interesting. The question: did it pay off?
Jefferson’s was founded in 1997 by Trey Zoeller and his father Chet, a bourbon historian. The family claims a tenuous historical connection to the illegal distilling industry by citing their 8th generation grandmother’s 1799 arrest for illegal distilling, but the current business venture started when the father and son pair happened on a stock of delicious bourbon and decided that they should create a brand with which to share it with the world.
Instead of using their family name for this enterprise, though, they decided to pay homage to Thomas Jefferson: founding father, 3rd president of the United States, and someone who has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the state of Kentucky.
Since then, the company continues to innovate and focus on experimenting with different forms of aging and maturation processes.
In the early 2000’s, the company was sold to Castle Brands, Inc, which in turn was purchased by the French alcoholic beverage giant Pernod Ricard in 2019.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
Jefferson’s doesn’t actually distill any of its own spirits. From day one, they have always brought their spirits in from other manufacturers, slapped a label on it, and shipped it out the door.
Unlike the Reserve version, this bottle makes no bones about the fact that this is a blend of Kentucky straight bourbons. The original spirits are sourced from different distilleries, none of which are disclosed. So we don’t really know what goes into the barrel for aging.
What makes this interesting and unique is that, while most whiskey is aged at a single location, this bourbon is instead placed on a working ship and aged as that ship sails around the world. This specific bottle came from a batch of barrels that were on board for Voyage 23, which is described in detail on Jefferson’s website. In theory, this process ages the whiskey quicker and with more unpredictably unique results, since the barrels are constantly being jostled around (which should encourage the whiskey to more rapidly take on the flavor of the barrels).
Once the barrels returned from their journey, the contents were bottled and shipped out the door once more.
They definitely saved some startup cash by not actually having a distillery, and instead it looks like they put some considerable time and effort into the branding. And, I must say, it pays off.
The bottle is a flask-esque shape, with a square body sporting some rounded edges. That body quickly rounds into a short neck that is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. It’s a great design that looks appealing on the shelf.
That flat faced design also gives a ton of surface area for the whiskey to shine through, and thankfully the label does not obscure the view at all. This version really trumpets the unique aging process, with an image of a boat on the front for the location where the barrels of whiskey were aged, and a map on the back of the bottle that is visible through the front. It’s a nifty trick for sure and looks very appealing.
There are some subtle but identifiable differences between this and the Reserve we previously reviewed.
Generally speaking, the aroma is pretty boilerplate for a bourbon, with caramel and vanilla notes and a touch of cinnamon spice. But what’s remarkable is actually what’s missing here. It’s a bit smoother and more refined than the Reserve, missing that raw charred oak note and instead leaning heavily towards fresh baked oatmeal raisin cookies.
Taking a sip, the flavor is nice and smooth as well. There’s a good sweet caramel note and a swirl of vanilla up front, followed nicely by some cinnamon spice and finishing with a bit of black pepper. Again, this is normally where we’d expect some of that raw charred oak to pop up, but it stays firmly on the lighter side of that dividing line.
The flavors, when taken neat, are on the lighter and sweeter side of the spectrum… which poses a problem. Usually, with a bit of added ice, the lighter and sweeter components of a drink drop out of the running. And unfortunately… that’s what is happening here as well.
There wasn’t a whole lot going on with this spirit to begin with in terms of darker and richer flavors, and so what we’re left with tastes like raw corn and a bit of brown sugar. There’s now a touch of bitterness from the charred oak flavors going out of balance with each other, but it’s only on the finish for a moment. Overall, this just becomes a very bland and uninteresting spirit with some ice.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Pretty much all of the flavor dropped out of the bourbon when we added some ice cubes. So, as you might expect, there’s nothing left for the bitters to work with and as a result there’s zero balance to this drink.
All I get at this point are diluted bitters. There’s nothing special going on here, and none of the original flavors from the spirit are even trying at this point it seems.
There’s just nothing here at this point. I might as well have poured myself a glass of straight ginger beer for all the good this bourbon is doing me.
Once again, that added ice seems to be wiping out any additional flavors that might be coming to the party. Everything, down to the last bit of black pepper spice, has been shed from the flavor profile. The ginger beer is left alone on the battlefield with no one to balance against.
I like the concept here and I really applaud Jefferson’s for trying something new. The idea of putting bourbon on ships seems like it should work. There may be a few unique and interesting things going on in the flavor, but sadly none of it is strong enough to stand up to some ice. To me, this is a bit disappointing when compared to the flavor of other straight bourbon in this category and price range.
|Jefferson's Ocean Aged at Sea Bourbon|
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $69.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2/5
What, exactly, do you do with a drunken sailor, anyway?