Booze | January 13, 2022 6:15 am

Review: How Ocean Air and High Heat Shaped Jefferson’s Best Whiskey Yet

Celebrating 25 years and 24 voyages, the experimental bourbon brand tries a new route for its latest Aged at Sea bottle

Jefferson's Ocean Aged at Sea 24 bottle
The 24th release in Jefferson's Aged at Sea portfolio took a different path
Jefferson's

What we’re drinking: Jefferson’s OCEAN Voyage 24, the newest expression in the Jefferson’s OCEAN: Aged at Sea collection and one that’s taken on a unique new journey.

Where it’s from: Jefferson’s Bourbon, a Kentucky distillery that’s been experimenting with the maturation process of whiskey for 25 years. With their Aged at Sea releases, matured bourbon (usually about 6-8 years old) is placed in small barrels and loaded onto special cargo ships; from there, the whiskey sails around the globe through different seasons, extreme temperature fluctuations and with a lot of agitation from the ocean.

Why we’re drinking this: “For me, it’s never about distillation,” as Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller tells us. “I can always make or get my on great distillate. What intrigued me was about what we can do with it afterwards.”

Jefferson's Bourbon founder Trey Zoeller near two whiskey barrels and a truck with the Aged at Sea expressions
Jefferson’s Bourbon founder Trey Zoeller
Jefferson’s

Unlike previous Ocean releases, 24’s barrels traveled exclusively through ports in the Caribbean and Central America.  

“We’d done basically the exact same [global] route for each release,” Zoeller explains. “But the original voyage, when we put it out, that was all new-fill bourbon, three and a half years, and it was exposed to all heat all the time. That one was so dark, so viscous and so enjoyable. I decided to see what we could do to recreate that.”

While this release did spend much less time out on the waters (and also started with matured spirit), the hope was that high heat (96-126 degrees at all times), lots of humidity, more exposed barrels  and even crossing paths with Storm Elsa would recreate some of those initial flavors.

“The heat and agitation really opens up the barrel and makes it porous,” as Zoeller explains. “We use a No. 2 char so the char isn’t masking flavors when the bourbon is getting into the wood so deep.”

How it tastes: While the “salty caramel popcorn” flavor profile of the initial Ocean release isn’t recreated, the new bottle certainly has the vanilla and caramel notes amplified — and a little bit of dark fruit is noticeable after a few sips. Voyage 24 is also more viscous than your average bourbon release, even at a modest 90 proof. 

While I miss the hint of salinity in some prior releases, 24 is an incredibly easy sipping bourbon with a nice kick. It’s not going to redefine the category, but it does have a unique character that plays up the notes that I usually look for in a bourbon.

“We’ve sent these releases off to labs to have them broken down molecularly,” Zoeller says. “And they’re vastly different from what sits here in Kentucky.”

Barrels for Jefferson's Aged at Sea releases
Some Voyage 24 barrels were covered on the trip, but others were more exposed to the elements and heat
Jefferson’s

Fun fact: I asked Zoeller about his favorite of the 24 Aged at Sea releases. “I think it was release number 13 — the ships got pounded by three different name storms in the North Atlantic. We lost 63% of the whiskey due to evaporation, so it was a small yield. But it was so condensed, really briny, and quite an outlier. It really showcased how much salt permeates the barrel.” (For future releases, Jefferson’s is looking at everything from Antarctica to perhaps spending more time in rougher waters, such as in the Tasmanian Sea.)

Where to buy: Jefferson’s OCEAN Aged at Sea Voyage 24 is available nationwide for $79.99.