When it came to Trey Zoeller’s family dinners, the question from his Grandmother was never “what would you like to drink?” it was simply, “how would you like your bourbon?” The founder and visionary behind Jefferson’s Bourbon – the spirits brand that focuses on quality not quantity – is a true veteran of the Industry. Having come from a family that has deep roots in the bourbon industry – dating back to the late 18th and 19th centuries -Zoeller has created a line of “Ridiculously Small Batch” spirits that have a timeless quality. The line includes Jefferson’s Bourbon, Jefferson’s Reserve, Jefferson’s Presidential Select and Jefferson’s Rye.
This summer, Trey introduces Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon – bourbon that’s been aged in barrels on a boat for nearly four years. It’s with this line that Zoeller has become somewhat of a scientist, attempting to see the results of variables like salt air, temperature changes, and the rocking of the sea on bourbon’s aging process. Consequently, the liquor is aged at a far greater rate than it would under normal conditions, making the experiment a successful one. We’ve never been the science types, but this is an experiment The New Potato can definitely get on board with. Zoeller’s whiskey comes in “ridiculously small batches.” As for the man himself – we couldn’t get enough of him.
What’s special about Jefferson’s Bourbon?
Unlike other bourbon brands that are specifically produced to offer a single recipe of a single age, Jefferson’s benefits from the blending of three to four recipes of various ages, bottled in ‘Ridiculously Small Batches’ to capture as much complexity and balance as possible while maintaining consistency. Or, in a nutshell, packing in as many flavors as possible.
Could you take me a bit through the process of ‘Ridiculously Small Batches?’
There are two types of premium bourbon bottling: single barrel and small batch. Single barrels are a bottling of a single barrel. Each barrel imparts unique flavors on the bourbon they hold; some are better than others. The single barrel offerings are these better barrels. The downfall is that there is little consistency. If you liked barrel number four and went to buy a bottle of the same brand but a different barrel, it would not taste the same. Most small batch offerings use about 200-300 of better barrels to ensure consistency. By imploring our ‘Ridiculously Small Batch’ process of bottling eight – twelve barrels at a time, we feel we are able to deliver the utmost in flavor and specifically emphasize certain flavor profiles while still maintaining consistency. It is more labor intensive. I often say it is similar to making dinner for eight guests instead of eighty. You are able to deliver a great product that has the nuances you are striving for.
How does your background play into the product?
We are small and flexible. We are able to commercially take small esoteric lots of aged bourbon that are too small for larger companies to mess with.
What’s your own personal experience with bourbon?
Both my mother’s side and father’s side were in the bourbon business. I am from Louisville, where bourbon is a way a life. My father literally has written the book on the history of bourbon distilleries. If you went to my grandmother’s house, she would have not asked you “What do you want to drink?” rather “How do you take you bourbon?” You also would not get out of there without eating at least three dishes made with bourbon. The bourbon balls I snuck as a kid…
How important is detail?
It is a handmade product that I put my name on, which makes it hugely important.
Is it a science in a sense?
Absolutely. It is a science hundreds of years in the making. However, at the end of the day it is bourbon and not a cure for cancer.