It wasn't fair. In fact, you could say that—intentionally or not—it was set up to fail. You see the first time that I tried Jefferson's Bourbon it was part of a tasting that included the entire Four Roses line. Including that year's edition of the limited Small Batch (then called the Mariage). It was the night that I fell in love with Four Roses and the last time I tried a Jefferson's that was under $99 and 18 years old. It's not that I didn't think about trying it again, I just never did.
Jefferson's is a non-distiller producer started in the late nineties by the father and son team of Chet and Trey Zoeller. Regarding the name, Reid Mitenbuler writes in Bourbon Empire: the Past and Future of America's Whiskey that the younger Zoeller says: "I had no marketing budget. I simply wanted a recognizable face associated with history and tradition." The choice is kind of odd when you think about it. Washington was a distiller. But according to the folks at Monticello, Jefferson not only didn't produce whiskey, he also didn't touch the stuff. In any case, since Jefferson's Bourbon is still being produced 20 years late, the name must have been a good choice.
Marketing aside, Jefferson's is doing something that few non-distiller producers are doing these days. They source their whiskey from a variety of distillers and blend them together to create something that is more than the sum of its parts. It's this focus on blending that made me decide to go back and give them another shot.
If they were just buying sourced whiskey from a single producer and dumping it into a bottle, I might have kept walking. But in the age of the single barrel, blending is an underappreciated art. Blending whiskey is hard. I've tried more than a few blending experiments, and in my experience, I make something better than the parts a little more than half the time. You just never know what is going going to play nicely and what isn't. At least not without a lot of experience and hard work. So I appreciate it when people not only do it well but hang their hat on it.
Weirdly, that's also what appeals to me about the other bourbon from that first night.
Jefferson's Very Small Batch Bourbon
Purchase info: $28.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN
Details: 41.15% ABV. Batch 524. Bottle 09845.
Nose: Light and fruity with vanilla and baking spice.
Mouth: Fruity mouth with cinnamon, caramel, and a nice peppery spice.
Finish: Warm and of medium length. Sweet vanilla which fades relatively quickly to reveal a nice spicy warmth.
Thoughts: This is quite tasty and more complex than I thought an "entry-level" product would be. I like this quite a bit. It's nice as a "change of pace" bourbon as it is pretty different from the other bourbons on my shelf.
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