It’s often said that the charred oak barrel used for maturing bourbon creates the majority of a bourbons flavor and all of its color. Trey Zoeller, Founder of Jefferson’s Reserve is a big believer in this theory. If you look at the 14 different expressions of Jefferson’s Bourbon and Rye over the years, most are a variation on finishing.
At a gathering at Kentucky Artisan Distillery, now home to Jefferson’s Bourbon, Trey explained, “I think distillation is a science that’s been perfected over the last 150 years, specifically in bourbon. As I’ve talked to distillers over the last 20 years. Almost all of them told me the same thing, and that is 75% of what bourbon is or the heart and soul of bourbon comes from the maturation process. I wanted to use my time and efforts based on what we can do with maturation.”
Trey Zoeller, Founder of Jefferson’s Reserve
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“When I started back in 1997 if I would have played around and done some of the things we’re doing now it would have fallen on deaf ears because there wasn’t an educated consumer. There wasn’t a consumer that was thirsty for what else you can do with it? What we are trying to do basically is push the boundaries of what bourbon is without bastardizing it. We are still trying to tip our hat to the tradition of bourbon, that’s why we always start with at least six year old bourbon that is fully matured here in Kentucky, distilled in Kentucky and then manipulating it one way or another.”
A Manipulation of Maturation
Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish Bourbon Whiskey is exactly that, a manipulation in maturation experiment. Like many of the barrels used for Jefferson’s Reserve they tend to travel, sometimes great distances over land and sea. The barrels in this latest release have traveled somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,500 miles from the U.S. mainland to Bermuda and then back to Kentucky.
“A couple of years ago, I was with Malcolm Gosling and tried his Old Gosling’s Family Reserve (named the Rum of The Year by The Caribbean Journal in 2012) and thought it was fantastic,” says Zoeller. “Not being a rum drinker, I poured a little Jefferson’s Reserve and topped it off with the Gosling’s Old Rum and loved it. I immediately asked Malcolm if I could get a hold of his Old Family Reserve Rum cask.”
A Bourbon Barrels Journey
Zoeller was able to get Malcolm to ship him 100 empty rum barrels from Bermuda. As Trey tells the story out of the 100 used barrels, 30 would actually hold bourbon.
The barrels used for Old Rum Cask Finish have some age on them. They started out holding bourbon for four years, then were dumped and filled with Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum for 16 to 20 years then dumped and filled with Jefferson Reserve’s eight year old bourbon and then matured for another 15 months. So, let’s assume the original bourbon barrel was at least four years old, and then Goslings Rum used it for 20 years and Jefferson’s for another 15 months. By my calculations that barrel is in the neighborhood of 25 years and three months. Now that’s an experiment in wood sustainability.
The company says Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish is a bourbon with a deep caramel color and maple and banana flavors that shine in the finish. There is also a hint of spice from the rum that helps balance out the overall flavor profile. It will be available on shelves nationwide mid-October and will retail for $79.99.