Jefferson's Presidential Select 18 Year

In 2009, Jefferson's founder Trey Zoeller released Jefferson's Presidential Select 17 year old wheated bourbon to rave reviews.  The next year, he released the Jefferson's Presidential Select 18 year old wheated bourbon, which has proven controversial to say the least.  While very few serious bourbon drinkers criticize the quality of either offering, many have questioned the proclamations on both labels- that the contents were "distilled from wheat in the Fall of 1991" and "aged in Stitzel-Weller barrels."

Zoeller is, of course, a non-distiller producer (NDP) and "master blender" who created a company with his father and named their brand "Jefferson's" as a marketing crutch.  The fact that he is a successful NDP is a presumptive knock against him for many whiskey geeks, and I sympathize with their view considering how difficult it is for smaller operations to actually produce, age, market, and sell spirits.

Many commentators (e.g. Bourbon Truth and Red, White & Bourbon) have discussed whether the Presidential Select bourbons are what they say they are and whether Mr. Zoeller's practices are ethical.  While there is no question that JPS17 and 18 contain bourbon aged in Stitzel-Weller barrels, it's not entirely clear if ALL of the bourbon released was aged in Stitzel-Weller barrels.  Some may have been finished in used S-W barrels.  Some may have been blended with non S-W bourbon.  How Mr. Zoeller acquired S-W aged bourbons was a mystery to most.

In the video below (around the 6:00 min. mark), Mr. Zoeller revealed that later batches of Jefferson's Presidential Select 18 were blended with 20 year old rye finished bourbons.  This revelation proved for many that Zoeller is more of a used car salesman with great family connections than he is a "master blender."

Recently, I popped in to my local whiskey-focused watering hole, Bourbon in Columbia, SC, and sipped on some JPS18, batch 8, bottle 1210 (relatively early release).

Bottom line: Jefferson's Presidential Select is delicious.  Many bloggers go so far as to compare it to Pappy Van Winkle 15.  It's certainly not that good, and neither of the batches we've tasted are worth the $40/pour one has to pay at a bar like "Bourbon," but it's an almost extinct/outstanding bourbon with a controversial backstory, indicative of the wild whiskey times in which we drink.

Jefferson's Presidential Select 18 Year

Stitzel-Weller Distillery
94 proof
$100 at Liquor Barn in Lexington, KY; $40/oz. at Bourbon, Columbia, SC

Color: Deep, rich crimson red.

Nose: Like other super premium bourbons, the notes are classic, but remarkably pronounced- caramel, vanilla, dark fruits, oak.  JPS18 is worth the money just to smell... 

Tasting Notes:  Rich and sweet- the mouthfeel coats the tongue as notes of honey, caramel, cinnamon, chocolate fudge, and plenty of dampened oak swirl around.  Woody, but not overly so.  

Overall: A.  Obviously, it's a bottle you must buy if you discover one on a dusty shelf- very unlikely.  The batches we've tasted are definitely worth the MSRP of $100 (not that they're out there for MSRP...) but they're absolutely not worth some of the crazy gray market prices out there.  As a wheated bourbon, it's difficult to compare JPS18 to other wheated offerings (i.e. it's way, way better than Maker's; not as good as PVW 15).  Consider that after I sipped JPS18 at "Bourbon," I ordered some Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2014).  OFBB has a MSRP of $60, can be found for less, and provided a similarly exciting, albeit different, drinking experience. 

Peer reviews:

Sour Mash Manifesto

Whisky Advocate (review of blended batch 27)!

 I don't normally put ice balls in $$$$ whiskey, but time was of the essence the week I left for a place called Afghanistan for a while.