Two and a half years after the barrels first set sail from Louisville, the bourbon known as Jefferson’s Journey is finally ready to make its way to market.
On January 31st, The Frazier History Museum will host the launch of Jefferson’s Journey Bourbon Whiskey. The name comes from the journey made by whiskey from Kentucky that was subsequently sent down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, along the Florida coast, and up the Eastern Seaboard before fast travel by land was feasible.
Two barrels of whiskey distilled at the Kentucky Artisan Distillery were shipped out of Louisville in June of 2016, taking that same historic path through stormy seas in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean up to New York City.
It took 58 days to travel down the Mississippi River from Louisville to New Orleans, floating at a leisurely 4.8 knots (under 6 miles an hour, for us landlubbers).
But the remainder of the voyage wasn’t easy – the crew had to stop twice for storms that battered the barrels beyond repair. After Hurricane Joaquin popped one of the barrel heads, the bourbon was siphoned to fresh charred oak barrels in Key West. Hurricane Matthew kept the barrels from heading out to sea in Fort Lauderdale, but after spending the winter there they headed up the east coast.
After exactly a year on the water, the barrels that held Jefferson’s Journey Bourbon arrived in New York City in June of 2017. “At that point, it was the most expensive whiskey ever made,” laughs Jefferson’s Founder and Owner Trey Zoeller.
Zoeller, who started the Jefferson’s brand in 1997, joined the bourbon for two legs of its trip – from New Orleans to Fort Lauderdale, and from there on to Key West. He came up with the idea for Jefferson’s Journey after hearing stories about the early days of distilling from his father Chet, a bourbon historian, and after the success of his Jefferson’s Ocean label decided to replicate that early method of aging.
Jefferson’s Ocean, touted as “Aged at Sea,” takes bourbon barrels around the world on a shark research vessel called the Osearch. The rocking motion of the ocean and the difference in ocean climate ages the bourbon faster than it would on land. For the Journey label, Zoeller decided to use the traditional path of the Mississippi River.
“Its amazing to be doing this, especially at the Frazier Museum. This is where we launched, and this is where bourbon congregated. From Kentucky, from Pennsylvania, from Indiana, this was the launchpad for bourbon taking their route to market,” explained Zoeller.
Nowadays, 95 percent of bourbon is aged in warehouses in Kentucky. To best see how the more traditional method of getting bourbon to New York changed the final product, Zoeller aged two barrels at Kentucky Artisan Distillery as a control.
These were labeled as Jefferson’s Kentucky Aged – and the difference in color is immediately apparent. The Kentucky Aged is considerably lighter, while Zoeller compares the Jefferson’s Journey to one of his Presidential Select bottles.
“We bottled Jefferson’s Journey at the same time we released our Presidential Select 16-Year, and the Journey bottles were every bit as dark [in color] as the 16 year old,” remembers Zoeller.
The richness in color hints at a similar richness in flavor. “The flavor I find is honey, which is a surprising note to be so dominant,” he says.
Zoeller will be at the Frazier Museum that night to sign bottles and talk bourbon with Jefferson’s fans. “No one has aged whiskey like this in 150 years. You can see how the whiskey was transformed into bourbon, and you can tell why people on the Eastern Seaboard were willing to pay so much more for the whiskey coming out of Kentucky. I don’t think distillers or people in Kentucky had any inclination about just how great that whiskey ended up when it reached Boston, or New York, or Philadelphia,” says Zoeller.
This one-of-a-kind bourbon will finally be reaching the public on January 31st at the Frazier Museum. Those wanting to purchase a bottle or taste it next to its Kentucky Aged counterpart can visit www.fraziermuseum.org.
For $45, guests at the launch party can taste both whiskies, have access to The Spirit Of Kentucky exhibition, and enjoy light bites catered by Chateau Bourbon and Art Eatables. For $99, guests will take home two 200ml bottles, one of Jefferson’s Journey and one of Jefferson’s Kentucky Aged.