Monday, September 4, 2017

Tasting: Jefferson's Very Small Batch

Jefferson’s Bourbon. Very Small Batch
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Batch 22 – Bottle 1904

Distillery: Jefferson’s
Origin: Sourced/Unknown
Age: NAS
DK Price: $63USD/400dkk
ABV/Proof: 41,2%
Release: Ongoing

Points: 64/100

Jefferson’s Bourbon dates back to 1997, where it was formed by Bourbon Historian Chet Zoller and his son Trey Zoller. They founded the company McClain & Kyne, named after the Zoller families relatives, including an 8th generation grandmother, who according to Trey Zoller was arrested in 1799 for moonshining. In 2005 McClain & Kyne was purchased by Castle Brands.

Until recently Jefferson’s didn’t distill their own bourbon, but bought it from one or several unknown sources and didn’t have their own distillery or warehouses, but in June 2015 Castle Brands purchased 20% of Copperhead Distillery Company, who owns Kentucky Artisan Distillery. Kentucky Artisan Distillery is home to the bourbon brand Whiskey Row, and after the partnership in 2015, now also Jefferson’s Bourbon. In addition to the two brands, KAD also houses a third whiskey brand; The Highspire Whiskey.

Since Jefferson’s moved into KAD a lot of their products are being bottled and stored here, while others are being sent elsewhere for maturation and bottling. Jefferson’s continues to source and blend their bourbons, but allegedly a significant portion of the distillation at KAD is also going into Jefferson’s Bourbons. But Trey Zoller and Jefferson’s continues to keep their cards close to their body, and aren’t eager to talk about what really goes into those barrels.

Many believes that the Jefferson’s brand pays homage to former US president and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence; Thomas Jefferson who are pictured on several of their bottles, but Trey Zoller have on several occasions told that: “He had no marketing budget, and simply wanted a recognizable face associated with history and tradition”. I’m well aware that Jefferson’s website states: “To personify the brand, Chet & Trey chose Thomas Jefferson - known for his curiosity and experimental spirit”. “This is a mindset to which Trey has dedicated himself, pushing the boundaries of the definition of bourbon”.”Upholding tradition, yet always discovering new possibilities”.  But I guess it’s what to be expected when you finally do have a marketing budget.

Jefferson’s offers three product lineups: The Foundation line, the Innovation line and The Cask Finish line.

The Foundation line contains the:
  • Very Small Batch 
  • Reserve
  • Rye 
  • Presidential Select. (Bourbon) 17, 18, 21, 25, 30 year old offering
  • Presidential Select (Rye) 21 & 25 year old offerings.

The Innovation line contains the:
  • Ocean
  • Ocean – Cask Strength edition 
  • Chef’s Collaboration
  • Barrel Aged Manhattan

The Cask Finish line contains the:
  • Jefferson’s Pritchard Hill Cabernet Cask Finished 
  • Jefferson’s Grand Selection Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes Cask Finish
  • Jefferson’s Grand Selection Chateau Pichon Baron Cask Finish 
  • Jefferson’s Groth Cask Finish

Believe it or not, but this is actually my very first time tasting one of Jefferson’s offerings. I’m very impressed by Trey Zoller’s creativity and innovative way of thinking, and the role he have taken upon himself in the bourbon industry. The Jefferson’s Ocean was nothing short of a brilliant idea. Not only is it a great marketing stunt, only surpassed by Ardbeg’s space experiment, but in contrary to Ardbeg, Jefferson’s experiment was legit and resulted in a product consumers could actually buy and taste for themselves. I for one had been wondering why and when the bourbon industry would finally learn from the Scottish and start making cask finished bourbons, so when Trey started experimented with various of used wine casks, I couldn’t have been happier. The Jefferson’s bourbon I’m about to pour, is the Very Small Batch. I would have loved it to be Ocean, especially the Cask Strength edition, or Groth or one of the other Cask Finished Bourbons Jefferson’s offers, but this being my first Jefferson’s, I found it suitable that I started out where it all started for Jefferson’s themselves.

First Impression:
I really like the shape of the bottle; it’s very iconic and defiantly stands out from the crowd, but to my surprise, the cork stopper almost fell out of the bottle when I opened it. Not the greatest way to start things off and I’m already a bit worried about how much air the bottle has or will breathe in. The information’s on the bottle is absolutely zero to none, so I pay a quick visit to Jefferson’s website, hoping to find some kind of information’s regarding this bottle. This is what Jefferson’s have to say about their Very Small Batch:   

Jefferson’s Bourbon is made in very small batches. Actually, ridiculously small batches. We take up to four different Kentucky straight bourbon whiskies of different ages and marry them together. Doing this, we get a lot of complexity and balance while maintaining the consistency needed in a bourbon (one of the blends comprising of at least 55% of the total). We wanted to make it big enough for the connoisseur, yet approachable for people just getting into the premium bourbon field”

First off, and let me tell you upfront, one of the few things that doesn’t settle very well with me, because it’s one big buzz word is; “Very Small Batch”… “Actually, ridiculously small batches”… Because what does it mean? It means everything and absolutely nothing, because the term small batch has no legal definition, which means that anyone freely can use it and define “small” however they pleases. But it does sound mighty fine doesn’t it? Because small batches equals higher quality, because it’s being produced on a “small scale” instead of mass-produced, right? See how that goes? Same thing applies with the Jefferson’s Reserve which states, “Very old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, very small batch”, because how does Jefferson’s define old, or should I rather ask, how do you define it?

Grain notes upfront – which indicates that the larger proportion of the four barrels that have been married together are younger bourbons, the color of the bourbon is also pale. It’s a very light nose with the classic caramel, vanilla and cinnamon profile, with a bit of leather and black pepper coming through   

Extremely thin mouthfeel. Lemon zest upfront, followed by raisin, honey and chocolate truffle.  

Short. Cinnamon mixed with some grassy notes.

Overall impression:
It’s not often I find myself in company of a bourbon I feel absolutely indifferent about, but sadly it’s the case with this Jefferson’s. It’s thin, feels completely watered down and absolutely uninspiring.

Photo & Review By: Hasse Berg