One of the newer players in the Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey market, Jefferson’s is a brand doing some interesting things with their spirits. We’ll get to their Ocean edition in a bit (which is aged on a ship at sea instead of a traditional rickhouse) but today we are taking a look at their standard and original product, the Reserve.
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.
For the Reserve version, this is the original brand utilizing the amazing stock of whiskey the father and son team discovered back in 1997. That specific bourbon was a 15 year aged variety — but, as with all things, the supplies dwindled and they started blending in bourbon from other manufacturers to try and recreate the same experience. These newer editions of the product drop the age statement in an apparent attempt to hide the fact that this Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey… is actually a blend from different manufacturers.
As such, we really don’t know what’s in this bottle. The “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey” label means we can assume that this started with a grain bill of at least 51% corn, was fermented and distilled into whiskey, and then aged in new charred oak barrels for a period of roughly four years. But exactly what other grains are included and how long it was actually aged… well, these are questions we just don’t know the answers to.
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. The minimum branding information is present in fine white lettering which doesn’t prevent that beautiful whiskey from being the star of the show. That’s usually one of my biggest pet peeves, so they’ve executed this label design perfectly in my opinion.
Taking a whiff of the glass, you get a spot-on composition of a standard bourbon. There’s the caramel and vanilla tones you’d expect, but there’s something else there as well. A bit of cinnamon, some mellow smoothness I’d usually expect from a barley or wheat content, and some raw oak wood.
The flavor of the whiskey is a little darker and richer than usual, from the start. The first thing I get is baking spices to go along with the brown sugar and vanilla, like a rich cinnamon cookie. That flavor gets a little more richer and deeper as time goes on, adding a bit of black peppery spice that you’d usually expect from a rye grain, eventually leading to a bit of a charred oak wood flavor that finishes off the experience.
Adding in a bit of ice usually tends to knock the lighter flavors out of the whiskey and tone down the other darker aspects. For bad spirits, this can be a godsend. For delicate spirits, though, this can be a death sentence.
In this case, the changes aren’t actually that significant — for better or for worse. The flavors that we saw when taken neat remain for the most part, with the only major difference being that the charred oak aspect from the finish is reduced if not eliminated. The flavors just don’t develop to the same level of richness we saw before, and don’t have the same peppery aspect as before either.
What you’ve got here are some brown sugar, baking spice, and vanilla tones. Great sipping whiskey flavors that will hold up if you prefer your whiskey on the rocks.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is fine, but this isn’t a great old fashioned.
The flavors in the spirit are just too “middle of the road” to really make a truly great cocktail. It isn’t nearly dark enough to become a good rich cocktail, but at the same time isn’t light enough to make a fruity cheery version either. It’s just… meh.
What I get most in the flavor of this cocktail is the bitters themselves. There’s always the vanilla and brown sugar aspects, sure… but the biggest impression I have is that I put a couple dashes of bitters into a glass of sugar water.
As a Kentucky Mule, this is a pretty passable version. But it isn’t the greatest.
The first thing I look at with a mule is to see if there’s a good balance with the bitter ginger beer, which is a sharp and brash flavor that needs some help toning itself down to an enjoyable point. In this case, the sweetness and the other flavors in the whiskey do a good job balancing the ginger beer. It’s a little smoother than other versions, again that smooth barley or wheat like flavor providing a bit of a velvety experience.
The issue is that there’s nothing else really unique going on here, which is the other criteria I’m looking for in a Kentucky mule. There’s no peppery spice to create a more complex flavor profile here, and there’s nothing on the finish beyond a bit of caramel. It’s just… meh. It could almost pass for a Moscow Mule if it wanted to.
Taken neat or on the rocks, this is a pretty solid bourbon that performs well. The problem here is that there are a lot of whiskies on the market that perform just as well, some of which have better backstories and specificity of production methods. In this case, this is a company that grabbed a bunch of spirits from other distilleries and slapped their own label on it and charged a premium for the honor of tasting that secondhand spirit.
Jefferson has some other versions of spirits that have interesting things going on, such as unique aging processes like their Jefferson’s Ocean edition. Those absolutely add something to the process above and beyond the whiskey equivalent of handing in someone else’s homework as your own, but sadly that’s not what we have here today.
|Jefferson's Reserve Very Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey|
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45.1% ABV
Price: $49.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
This would probably be a solid 3 to 4 star whiskey if they actually made it themselves.