Airing between regular episodes of the VinePair Podcast, “Next Round” explores the ideas and innovations that are helping drinks businesses adapt in a time of unprecedented change. As the coronavirus crisis continues and new challenges arise, VP Pro is in your corner, supporting the drinks community for all the rounds to come. If you have a story or perspective to share, email us at [email protected].

In this “Next Round,” VinePair CEO and co-founder Adam Teeter speaks with Jefferson’s Bourbon founder Trey Zoeller about how he got into the whiskey business, as well as how the Louisville-based brand is adapting in the time of Covid-19 — limiting the number of distillers working at once, offering both socially distanced and virtual tours and tastings, and making whiskey-based hand sanitizer for first responders.

In 1997, Zoeller and his father started Jefferson’s after buying bulk bourbon from warehouses throughout Kentucky that had overstock. At the time, outside of Kentucky, the market for bourbon was small. Zoeller and his father planned to sell enough bottles from the barrels to fund their own distillery. Eventually, they decided to use the barrels and start Jefferson’s, focusing specifically on the maturation and blending processes in whiskey, and less on distilling their own liquid.

Today, Jefferson’s Bourbon offers 19 different expressions. Zoeller’s early bottles focused on aging and blending different types of bourbon — processes that were sparsely used in bourbon at the time. Through maturation, Zoeller says, Jefferson’s is able to manipulate the flavor profiles of its various offerings.

One of Jefferson’s most exciting and well-known offerings is Ocean Bourbon, a bourbon aged at sea. This expression began as an experiment when Zoeller placed barrels on a friend’s ship to see how the exposure to salt air and extreme weather would impact the flavor profile of the spirit. After aging for three years on a moving boat, the bourbon’s constant contact with the wood brought out a dark and rich flavor, the high temperatures caramelized the sugars in the liquid, and the salty air gave a brininess to the bourbon. Due to high demand, hundreds of barrels now sail to 30 different ports around the world on five continents,  crossing the Equator four times before returning to Kentucky to be bottled.

Looking forward, Jefferson’s Bourbon has two new finishes that will come out soon. The first will be a special, single-barrel bottling of its Jefferson’s Reserve with a higher proof. The second will be a rye finished with Cognac that’s aged for over 18 months, bringing out the whiskey’s flavors of orange and honey.

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