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.
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.