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Jefferson’s Reserve Twin Oak Custom Barrel Bourbon

Wood, wood, wood wood wood, wood! Sound familiar?

Today I’ll be looking at another Jefferson’s expression, the Twin Oak Custom Barrel. Jefferson’s is well-known for their experimental approach to aging. As far as a peg to hang a hat on, it’s not the worst one. It’s certainly preferable to Viking stories, tales about Prohibition, or any of the other marketing nonsense that blankets some of the world’s most uninspiring whiskies.

However, this also seems a case of making virtue out of necessity. You see, Jefferson’s sources their bourbon from distilleries in Indiana and Kentucky, so wood and maturation are really the only lever they have to pull in terms of making their products stand out from the hundreds of others competing for shelf space and consumer interest.

It’s an uncomfortable echo of the Scotch whisky industry’s disingenuous insistence that “X% of the flavor comes from wood” (comprehensively debunked in this review by Adam), parroted by brand ambassadors and regurgitated by their impressionable audiences. This is increasingly viewed for what it is: a prestidigitatious act of misdirection, aimed at distracting attention from the lack of real differentiation in terms of ingredients and distillation.

To its credit, the bourbon industry has mostly avoided infection by the Scottish wood fetish virus. This is perhaps due to the fact that bourbon – by regulatory definition – has to be matured exclusively in new charred oak, so there aren’t as many cask types and finishes to accentuate.

To be a bit more cynical: the lack of nonsense about wood doesn’t mean that bourbon is nonsense-free. A read through the MALT archives will produce numerous examples of spurious tales of “a family recipe passed down for generations” and other yarns that envelop some truly pedestrian whiskies peddled at aggressive prices.

Jefferson’s itself suffers from the original sin of adopting the familiar name and likeness of one of our founding fathers, despite being located nowhere near Monticello, not to mention the inconvenient fact that the eponymous Thomas Jefferson was decidedly more of a wine guy.

So, with our most skeptical hats on, let’s dissect this Jefferson’s Twin Oak. It is straight bourbon whiskey sourced from Kentucky. My inquiries to the Jefferson’s team about which distillery produced this produced this non-answer on Twitter: “The blanketed-Jefferson’s was founded on blending different bourbons-mash bills & ages and can only say we bottle the best juice in KY.” Thanks for nothin’.

The USP in this case seems to be the second barrel used for finishing, the results of a project between Jefferson’s and Missouri’s famous Independent Stave cooperage. The “proprietary, ash-charred, toasted grooved-staves increase the surface area of the barrel allowing more bourbon to come in contact with the oak,” according to the marketing sheet.

What we’ve got here is a 10 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey that was finished for four months in a science project barrel. According to the official materials, “The result is a seasoned, double-barreled whiskey that is both smooth and well-balanced.” That’s the type of generic pablum that we’ve come to expect from big whiskey, and I doubt that it’s eliciting goosebumps of anticipation from those of you reading this.

I’d love to say more about this bourbon, but the skeletal facts above are literally all that I can find. As mentioned before, my detailed questions have heretofore been ignored by the Jefferson’s folks. I guess I’ll just have to taste it and form my own opinions.

This is bottled at 45.1%. It is available at retail for $80, though this sample was once again a generous donation from Carl.

Jefferson’s Reserve Twin Oak Custom Barrel – Review

Color: Brownish amber

On the nose: A thick dollop of vanilla, some vaguely smoky woodiness, a sweet cinnamon-infused note of apple pie filling, a wisp of roasty mocha, and a slightly vegetal and tannic note of oak.

In the mouth: Starts very lean, with a spicy bite of ground cinnamon. Dilute through midpalate; if I let it sit on the tongue there’s a gently sweet meatiness that emerges for a split second. This perks up momentarily with a woody burn before it performs a disappearing act on the “finish,” if it can even be called that. Only the faintest heat is left as a reminder that there was once a whiskey on the tongue.

Conclusions

As with the Wood Experiment series, this tastes like fairly plain, generic bourbon whiskey. There’s nothing noteworthy in the way of additional enhancement of aromas or flavors to show for the four month spent in the custom barrel. It’s not worth $80. It’s not even really worth half of that, all things considered.

Jefferson’s, and their parent company Castle Brands, have successfully created a premium bourbon brand. Their raw materials were sourced bourbon, a famous name with no connection to this whiskey (or, indeed, to any whiskey), and some headline-grabbing secondary maturation tricks. These shenanigans have, as yet, produced little in the way of discernible difference what actually matters: the bourbon in the glass.

Does this interest you? Personally, it bores me to tears at best. At worst, it’s mildly infuriating. 10 year old Kentucky bourbons that taste about the same as this are available from other sources (the ones that distilled them in the first place) at a much lower price.

Moreover, there are so many bourbons out there to try, some being made by folks with literal dirt under their fingernails from actually having farmed their own corn and rye. These are bourbons with a story – a real story – and unique flavor profiles. If you’ve got $80 and a thirst for bourbon whiskey, I’d suggest redirecting your attention and custom toward them.

Score: 4/10

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

  1. Avatar
    Nik says:

    Prestidigitatious. I’ve been trying to pronounce this since morning and it’s driving me nuts. So much so that I’ve not even bothered to look up what it means!

  2. Avatar
    WhiskyWolverine says:

    There’s a reason why the ravenous bourbon fiends in the Midwest leave the jeffersons alone on the top shelf. High price with no discernible increase in quality. It seems like some people rather save their money for their own cruise vacation rather then sending their sourced bourbon on one.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Wolverine, too right! The veneer seems to be wearing thin, especially considering the prices they ask. Thanks again for stopping by.

  3. Avatar
    bifter says:

    Hi Taylor. I know a little about SWA regs, and certainly about their stance on staves! I’m less clued-up about Bourbon but one of the things I thought was set in stone is, as you state, that it “has to be matured exclusively in new charred oak”.

    Going by the few details that you’ve gleaned from Jefferson’s this whiskey has spent time in more than one barrel, which is presumably acceptable. However the fact the secondary maturation was for only four months is curious. Surely that too would have to be virgin, charred oak? And that oak could not then be used for maturing more Bourbon, right? However, that would seem to be a huge expense to go to and doesn’t seem to make economic sense. Am I missing something?

    Also the phrase “ash-charred, toasted grooved-staves” seems contradictory. I understood that Bourbon barrels are charred, sherry casks tend to be ‘toasted’; how could it be both or is it just more prestidigitation? (Indubitably.)

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Great questions, bifter. I’m quickly reaching the edge of my competency here, but my understanding is that it can still be called straight bourbon whiskey if it matured in more than one barrel. However, the addition of finishing staves (not incorporated into the barrel) precludes the use of the “straight” designation, as was the case with the Maker’s Mark Private Select of a few days ago. I agree, it doesn’t make much sense to use a custom barrel for four months- unless it effectively doubles the price you can charge for the bourbon, which seems to be the case here. The language around the staves is curious- toast is a more gradual heating than char. Not sure I’ve seen “ash char” before. Not sure any of it really matters in the end. I’ll invite others to weigh in.

      1. Avatar
        bifter says:

        Does it actually say ‘flash-charred’ on that there label? Anyway, I agree it doesn’t matter, I would give this a wide berth if I saw it.

      2. Avatar
        bifter says:

        I should have had a Google before posting really or a read of the Makers Mark article (very interesting BTW). It seems finishing with non-virgin casks/staves isn’t verboten with Bourbons like I thought, so I learned something new there! The grooved staves here sound like a similar approach to the recent Ardbeg Grooves expression. I’ll shut up now!

  4. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    I personally don’t mind the back stories or marketing if the juice is really good. That’s generally because I ignore it anyway. But what I do mind is lousy juice and charging me for the marketing.

    Admittedly…I really did like Jefferson’s Groth cask. I kept away from it for the longest time, because when I saw it on the shelf, I misread Groth as “Goth”, and thought it was designed for the Goth subculture. Yeah…those were my naive days.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      PB, given some of the metal tie-ins we’ve seen of late, a “Goth” bourbon certainly isn’t inconceivable. Thanks for the comment and GO BLUE!

  5. Avatar
    Theon says:

    More negativity and bias…just business as usual with a Taylor review from Malt.com I guess

  6. Jason
    Jason says:

    Theon, firstly its malt-review.com, if you’re referring to this website. Malt.com seems to be a general cache for freelancers and project managers. I don’t think Taylor writes for them, nor would they appreciate such comments such as this.

    So putting that aside, you mention negativity and bias? I’d be interested to actually hear how this is biased? The team here are free to review what they want, when they want. We are more transparent than any other whisky related website on the internet. If a whisky is good, average, below average etc. then it is scored as such. The Jefferson’s I have had myself, have not rocked my world and the brand is generally dismissed by my bourbon friends. So to me, and many onlookers, a score of 4 is reasonable and not out of character based on what we’ve had previously.

    You may like this brand hugely and that’s your right, but to drop in here on a regular basis and leave such comments seems very poor judgement and smacks of another agenda.

    Then negativity, let’s talk about that? I’m more than happy to give any whisky my verdict and use the 1-10 scoring range. The industry is littered with favourable reviews and overscored whiskies. There are many sites that seem to give scores between 86-92 and magazines that do similar. We are not these people. We value our honesty and a providing a fair score. We do not rely on advertising revenues or industry freebies. We value that someone reading us, could make a purchase based upon our review. Therefore our integrity is paramount and why we are valued by many. If you feel we are biased or negative then I suggest that you refrain from posting further comments that are not constructive, or open to debate, and visit another site that will give you the high scores you so desire.

    Thanks, Jason.

    1. Avatar
      Theon says:

      Oh Taylor had to call in his daddy for help…if you really want to help him, Jason, you should teach him how to write fair reviews.

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