Review: Jefferson’s New Rye Redefines the Category

Finished in Cognac casks, it adds depth and sweetness to the whiskey's spice

March 26, 2021 8:38 am
Jefferson Bourbon's new rye and Single Barrel releases
Two new expressions from Jefferson's, including a rye and a single barrel bourbon

What we’re drinking: Jefferson’s Reserve Single Barrel and Jefferson’s Straight Rye Whiskey Finished in Cognac Casks, both 2021 new releases

Where it’s from: Jefferson’s Bourbon, a Kentucky distillery that’s been experimenting with the maturation process of whiskey for years. As brand co-founder Trey Zoeller suggested to us a few years ago, 70-80% of the taste of bourbon comes through maturation. Which is how you end up with something like Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea — bourbon in small barrels loaded onto special cargo ships and sailed around the globe through different seasons, leaving a salty caramel popcorn taste that’s excitingly unique.

Jefferson's co-founder Trey Zoeller tasting bourbon
Jefferson’s co-founder Trey Zoeller, aka the “mad scientist of barrel-aging” (our words)

Why we’re drinking this: Well, we did call Zoeller both the “mad scientist of barrel-aging” and “America’s most inventive whiskey maker” a few years ago. So when he announces new products, we listen. Then we imbibe.

The Single Barrel release is 100 proof, essentially a more robust iteration of the brand’s core Reserve release. “The higher proof allowed us to get the most out of the flavors without an overpowering astringency,” as Zoeller tells us. “What you get is a nice balance of really big flavors and a great long finish that doesn’t burn out your taste buds too quickly.” (Also, expect more single-barrel offerings in the future.)

Meanwhile, we’d tried an early version of the rye in Cognac casks expression back in 2018 and loved it, so we were curious about how it progressed. “We weren’t ready to launch at that time,” explains Zoeller. “I think the Cognac cask finish works so well because rye can be kind of one dimensional. There’s often a burst of spice up front but it shuts up fast and kind of dries out on the back end. The finish here bevels the edges and adds weight for a full-bodied mouthfeel, resulting in a beautiful sipping whiskey.”

An early bottling of Jefferson's rye in cognac casks
Our sneak peek tasting of the Jefferson’s rye in Cognac barrels from 2018
Kirk Miller

Let’s try for ourselves!

How it tastes

The Single Barrel: A lovely dark honey/amber in appearance, there’s caramel, dried fruit and tobacco on the nose, yielding to a spicy yet honeyed profile with plenty of baking spices, all topped off with a warm and long finish. It’s a manageable heat, and it reminds me of drinking bourbon neat in the summer. 

The rye: At 47% ABV, it’s surprisingly light on the nose, but on the palette the dry spice of the rye is mellowed and shaped into something a bit fruity (peach and orange), sweet and, yes, sippable. And yet, I feel like this is an ideal if very upscale and special base for your favorite whiskey cocktails.

Fun fact: As Zoeller told us a few years ago, his experimentation once led to whiskey maturation in beef fat. “Not sure we could call it bourbon, but it was interesting.”

Where to buy ’em: You can find the rye at ReserveBar for $70 and the 100 Proof Single Barrel at Jefferson’s home base, the Kentucky Artisan Distillery.


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