Jefferson's, a maker known for its very small batch selections wedded from well-aged whiskeys purchased by the owner/negotiant Trey Zoeller, is branching out with new Bourbon that is old enough to buy itself: Jefferson's Presidential Select 21 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
The whiskey, unlike the company's Jefferson Reserve, which is a marriage from different sources, comes from one distillery and is made from a single-grain recipe. (Zoeller, as a policy, does not reveal the sources of his whiskeys.) Even with the similarities, he says, the variance within the lots in alcohol content were something he'd never seen before from single lots.
Zoeller, a long-time player in the Bourbon market and recently also in rye, describes the whiskey as being necessarily precious because of its advanced age. Bourbon typically ages in Kentucky, where the sweltering summer not only speeds evaporation, but maturation as well. Working from lots of whiskey, aged between 21 and 24 years (regulations dictate that age statements reflect the youngest Bourbon in the bottle), he created only 1,800 six-pack cases of the limited-edition product. Some of the barrels, he said, had such little liquid that he couldn't release them as single-barrel products.
Along with economic realities, another reason that few Bourbons are matured for as many as two decades is that the whiskey tends to become overly woody and tannic in superheated conditions. (Scotland, with its moderate climate, can easily produce whiskies twice that old.) Zoeller says that the whiskey used had matured in cooler areas of their respective rickhouses and were being kept on a concrete floor when he found them. This, he claims, caused his 21-year-old to peak later than normal, and is why it enjoys a "nuanced flavor profile."
Zoeller attributes the release in large part to serendipity as so little of the whiskey was available it stopped it from being used in some other form. "It was just too small for the big guys to mess with. But fortunately this is my honey hole."
Jefferson's, which last year released Ocean, a Bourbon partially aged at sea, expects to release a 25- and 30-year-old in the near future.
(More tasting notes and cigar pairings on next page)
Jefferson's Presidential Select 21 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey (94 proof, or 47 percent alcohol by volume; age 21 years; $199.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Very dark amber to maple syrup color. Only begrudgingly, gives up its medium to fat legs.
NOSE: A large charge of fruit and flowers—red berries and roses—at the front gives way to hints of pralines and caramel.
PALATE: Again, it starts out with a fruity sweetness before the mouth is informed with heartier notes of caramel,walnuts, toffee and vanilla.
FINISH: The ending is in a way the hero here as berry flavors meld with an insurgent nuttiness—walnuts and pistachios—to promote a candy-bar effect.
CIGAR PAIRING: Room 101 Daruma Mutante (7 inches by 38 ring gauge, $8.25, 88 points, April 2013 Cigar Aficionado). Peppery and woody, this medium-bodied lancero has an easy, open draw and takes on some herbal and floral notes as it smokes. The Jefferson's races to the reveal the floral notes and in the process releases some fruit from the cigar. The Room 101 gives right back, accentuating the nuts on the whiskey's finish.
Aurora 100 Años Edicion Especial Maduro Robusto (5 inches by 50 ring gauge, $19.50, 87 points, April 2013 Cigar Aficionado). A dark robusto with an even draw and burn. There are heavy mineral flavors to the smoke as well as some woody notes and a touch of pencil lead. The mineral brightens under the influence of the Jefferson's and turns to cherry. The whiskey keeps becoming more complex with enhanced fruit flavors and newfound depth.