It’s a well documented fact that the makers of Jefferson’s Bourbon, Trey Zoeller and his father, noted bourbon author and historian Chet Zoeller, aren’t afraid to shake things up. This is, after all, the team that strapped five barrels of spirit to the marine research vessel Ocearch in 2012 just to see how it would affect the aging process (marvelously, it turns out, resulting in the thick, deliciously dark Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea). The brand’s latest expression? The just-released Jefferson’s Reserve Single Barrel 100 Proof, an intensely flavorful version of their signature bourbon that boasts notes of cinnamon toast and brown sugar and a delectably long finish. Here’s what Trey had to tell us about the new release, what’s next for the brand, and his favorite way to tipple.
What excites you most about the new Jefferson’s Reserve 100 Proof?
As the request for higher proof offerings has increased, I tried to find the best balance of maximum flavor without having the alcohol overpower and kill the taste buds. I did not set out to make it 100 proof, however I thought this was the best combination.
Spirit-making has been in your family for generations—what keeps the work fresh for you?
My motto is to try and push the boundaries and definitions of what bourbon can be without bastardizing it. That is why we always work with fully mature bourbon and then by adding more time, money, and effort we seek to massage the juice in one direction or another to hopefully create a beautiful spirit.
How has 2020 changed your perspective of the work you’re doing?
It has. I have called 2020 The Great Pause. It has been a reset for me. In the past I jumped on planes almost weekly without thinking about it. I love being in the market with customers. But this time has really allowed me more quality time with family and friends and a chance to step back and look at the direction I want to take the brand.
For someone new to Jefferson’s, where do you recommend they start?
Our Jefferson’s Very Small Batch is blended to be very approachable yet with substance. It is a great entry into premium bourbons. Also, our Jefferson’s Reserve Pritchard Hill Cabernet finish is what I call our elegant bourbon; the wine barrels really bevel the edges off the bourbon.
What is your current go-to way to enjoy whisky?
I am a bourbon on the rocks guy, with a big ol’ ice cube or ball. Occasionally I will throw in a few dashes of bitters.
What else can we look forward to in ’21?
We’re excited about rolling out this 100 proof version of Reserve in single barrels, and soon we’ll be launching our first rye in 8 years; this one is really exciting as it is designed to be a sipping rye.