When it comes to fine bourbon, they just don’t make ’em like they used to. Strike that—they just don’t deliver ’em like they used to. That’s the theory of Jefferson’s Bourbon founder Trey Zoeller, who is spending this summer skipping modern-day interstates. He’s instead floating two barrels of bourbon down the rivers of middle America and then up the Atlantic seaboard to see whether the transportation methods used 150 years ago—bourbon delivered by boat—will affect the way the final product tastes.
He started in Louisville, Kentucky, the home of Jefferson’s Bourbon, and is making the first stop on his 23-foot Sea Pro boat in New Orleans. From there, the bourbon will go aboard a renovated rum runner owned by New Orleans-based celebrity chef John Besh. The rum runner will take the bourbon to Key West, Florida before it is transferred to a sailboat to head for its final stop and tasting party in New York City at the end of September.
Will all that boating, sunshine and salt air enhance the bourbon’s taste?
Zoeller thinks yes.
“My personal theory is that as the bourbon sloshed around in the barrels, the constant contact with the wood accelerated the maturation process,” Zoeller says. “The barrels also sucked in the salt air and the sun caramelized the sugars in the wood and sped up the maturation process, producing a much different final product than we know today. It’s a bourbon that, in my mind, tastes much more similar to Jefferson’s Ocean than bourbon that is now aged in Kentucky. That’s what made Kentucky bourbon so desirable and unique 150 years ago and why buyers in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston demanded the bourbon from Kentucky and were willing to pay more for it.”
When it’s all said and done, some lucky buyers will be able to purchase bottles of Jefferson’s Float Trip Experiment, which will be sold in a nationwide auction. Some bottles also will be available at The Home of Jefferson’s distillery in Kentucky this November. A portion of proceeds will benefit the John Besh Foundation, which gives scholarships to promote the preservation of New Orleans and Louisiana history.
Want to follow the bourbon’s journey? Follow @jeffsbourbon on Twitter and Instagram, or search for Jefferson’s Bourbon on Facebook.