When a spirit is aged in wood, there’s a fair amount of interchange between the outside air and the spirit inside. How humid or how dry the surrounding environment is dictates if more water or alcohol is released from the barrel into the air as the “angel’s share.” The aging environment can also determine how much moisture is brought into the barrel via osmosis. Where a spirit is aged can be just as important as how long it has been aged. Hine Cognac showed the immense impact of aging location on their cognac by aging two identical cognac vintages in two completely different environments, one aged in Jarnac, France and the other in the United Kingdom. Camus Cognac has demonstrated the impact of aging their cognac by the sea with their Ile de Re Seaside Cellar Cognac. Kelt Cognac has taken it one step further with their Tour du Monde Cognac whose casks spend over a year at sea.
Aging near or on the ocean creates a spirit that is much softer, smoother, and richer than spirits aged on dry land. While we’ve seen this ocean aging with cognac, and the impact of being by the sea on some Islay scotch whisky, we haven’t heard of other spirits taking advantage of this unique aging environment, until now.
Jefferson’s Ocean Aged Bourbon (44%/80 proof, $200) is one of the first American spirits to be aged at sea. Blended in Kentucky, this whiskey was aged in barrels for almost four years at sea aboard a 126-foot OCEARCH research vessel. OCEARCH is a non-profit organization which promotes sustainable fisheries, marine conservation, reduction of marine debris, and advances ocean research and education. OCEARCH is lead by Chris Fischer, who has been featured on National Geographic Channel’s hit series “Shark Men” and happens to be a good friend of Jefferson’s Bourbon founder and master blender Trey Zoeller. Spirits aged at sea are said to adopt more mature characteristics than their chronological age would suggest, and the color of the Jefferson’s Ocean Aged Bourbon is a clear indication of that. Deep amber in color, Jefferson’s Ocean looks a lot like bourbons aged 9-12 years.
The nose on the Jefferson’s Ocean is both soft and rich. Deep oak spice notes are supported by cinnamon, marzipan, and caramel. The entry is lush and flavorful, with the oak leading without being overpowering. As it moves to the midpalate things get soft with a superb mouthfeel and lush caramel notes. The midpalate feels like drinking a fine wine and not a bourbon. At the end of the midpalate things return to bourbon country with some really nice oak spice backed by an undertone of cinnamon spice and delicious dark chocolate and marzipan notes. Things never get too fiery but there’s enough structure here for a nice long finish that showcases the nice spice in this whiskey along with a hint of salinity. Jefferson’s Ocean is so eminently drinkable, it takes a huge amount of restraint to not quickly knock it back – we constantly had to remind ourselves just how limited a supply there is of this bourbon.
Only 250 bottles of Jefferson’s Ocean Aged Bourbon were produced as part of Jefferson’s Bourbon line of “Ridiculously Small Batch” whiskies. Normally we’d gasp at the $200 price tag for a bottle of bourbon, but this is such a rare item and proceeds from the sale of Jefferson’s Ocean Aged Bourbon go to support OCEARCH, so it’s far less shocking than, say, the price for a bottle of Whistle Pig. From everything we’ve tasted, it’s clear that there’s a superb relationship between the ocean and whiskey. Jefferson’s has shown that this relationship extends to bourbon as well. While this release is quite rare, we’re hoping that Jefferson’s or other bourbon producers continue this line of inquiry with spirits and we’ll see more of these unique and amazing spirits on the market.Jefferson's Ocean Aged Bourbon Review by Geoff Kleinman