Food & Drink | October 25, 2022 7:12 am

How Do You Improve an Excellent Kentucky Bourbon? Add New York Water.

Jefferson’s Aged at Sea just launched a New York-only whiskey that’s proofed down with the state’s special H2O.

A bottle of Jefferson's Ocean Aged at Sea New York Edition, against an NYC backdrop
A Kentucky bourbon proofed with NY water only available in NY
Photo illustration/Getty

What we’re drinking: Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea New York Edition

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: Well, the entire Aged at Sea line is among our favorites — and this one is unique in that it has a very prominent New York influence.

Basically, once the barrels for Aged at Sea finish their journey, they take a slight detour up to Manhattan, where the bourbon (at 120 proof) is cut to 98 proof with New York water…aka, the liquid that makes our pizza and bagels so special.

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“When we announced this, some people are like, ‘Why would you drink this sludge out of the Hudson?’” says Jefferson’s founder Trey Zoeller. Thankfully, this is not where New York gets its famous water supply (that’d be sourced about 125 miles north of the city closer to the Hudson Valley).

So the next question is…why? “For us, it was, let’s just see what happens,” adds Zoeller. “You hear about Kentucky limestone water, and obviously that’s still the base. Then we’ve taken down from 120 proof to 98 proof [with NY water]…look at that percentage-wise. It’s going to have an influence on it.”

And water, as Zoeller tells us, is the “one thing that no one talks about, especially in Kentucky.” He adds: “That’s the real question — if the barrel is 60-80% of the flavor, the yeast is 5%, the grain is 15-25%…well, you gotta put the influence of water in there. And this water you can’t replicate anywhere else.”

So let’s see if New York water can really change a Kentucky bourbon. 

Testing Jefferson's Voyage 28 against the new Ocean New York Edition
Testing Jefferson’s Voyage 28 (left) against the new Ocean New York Edition
Kirk Miller

How it tastes: We tasted the New York Edition next to Voyage 28 — a very similar release that did not undergo the NY water treatment.

The one threadline throughout the Aged at Sea series is a note of “salty caramel popcorn” (in flavor, nose and mouthfeel), and that’s thankfully still present here. But there is also an enhanced minerality at play here. The rye in the mashbill is a bit more tempered, and you’ll pick up notes of leather and tobacco. Interestingly, if you set this down and asked me what it was without giving me any context, I might have said a very lightly peated Scotch, albeit with a nice, sweet note and a rich mouthfeel. 

Fun fact: Given the success of the Aged at Sea line, you’ll now see yearly releases involving the core release, as well as cask strength, wheated, an expression that gets exposed to “all heat all the time” and a rye. 

Where to buy: Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea New York Edition will be available around Nov. 7 in very limited quantities in New York only. Other Jefferson’s Aged at Sea releases can now fetch up to $5,000 in the secondary market, so we’d suggest getting a bottle if you’re in the state.