MakingWaves by Michael Tisserand

JIM BEAM is one of the best-selling bourbons in the world. Seven generations of Beams have run the Clermont, Kentucky distillery, beginning with founder Jacob Beam, a farmer, who used his father’s whiskey recipe to distill his excess corn. He sold his first barrel of Old Jake Beam Sour Mash in 1795. By the 1800s, that bourbon, renamed Old Tub, had become a national bourbon brand. In 1920, Prohibition brought bourbon production to a halt. When it restarted, the distillery was refounded and renamed. Jim Beam White Label is made from a recipe nearly 230 years old. A mash of 77% corn, 13% rye and 10% barley – note, the more corn the sweeter the whiskey – is fermented using the same yeast colony kept alive since Prohibition’s end. The mixture is distilled twice, then aged for four years, which is twice as long as the required two years. Originally aged for eight years, Jim Beam Black is now aged for six years.

Starting any business is a journey, but none more so than Jefferson’s Bourbon, which partners with the nonprofit organization Ocearch — which studies and tracks sea creatures including great white sharks — to experiment with aging bourbon out on the open sea on Ocearch’s vessels. It’s just one of many experiments that Jefferson’s Bourbon founder and master blender Trey Zoeller has launched. He recently took some time from his bourbon journeys to recall how this one began. Q: There were many ways to cause the motion of liquid in barrels. You decided on boats. How did you decide to partner with Ocearch? A: Chris Fischer, the owner and expedition leader of Ocearch, is a longtime friend of mine. We celebrated our 40th birthdays on his ship, which was named Ocean at the time, in Costa Rica, where we fished, surfed and — being Kentucky boys — we drank lots of bourbon on the bow. I noticed the bourbon sloshing around in the glass and thought that it would do the same thing in a barrel. I then suggested to Chris that we put barrels on his ship. Chris did not think that was a good idea, as his crew caught and tagged great white sharks. But the more he drank, the more he thought about this great idea: Let’s put barrels on the ship! I have followed Chris and Ocearch since day one, and really appreciate what they are doing for the future of the world’s oceans. Their ultimate goal is to maintain and even increase the abundance to make sure our grandchildren can enjoy fish sandwiches. How can you not get behind that! A: I graduated from Tulane in 1990, and I have a lot of relatives in Louisiana. As my grandmother would say, “We are everything that came down the Mississippi.” There is a great relationship between Louisiana and Kentucky, and specifically bourbon, as it [New Orleans] was the first marketplace for Kentucky bourbon. The flatboats that the bourbon barrels floated on were dismantled and broken down to build the houses in New Orleans in the mid-1800s. Q: When did you first taste the bourbon that you had prepared via the boat journey? From the moment you tasted it, did you realize you were on the right track? A: The barrels traveled on the Ocearch for three and a half years. It was “new fill” bourbon when it was originally loaded on the ship, which means it was clear as water. Three and a half years after it was loaded — mainly hanging out in the Pacific around Mexico — the ship returned to Key West for repairs, and I took three journalists to come taste it with me. We did not know what to expect. We tapped into the barrels and it was black in color, extremely thick and absolutely delicious. It was like three spirits in one: like an Islay Scotch because of the salt influence; like a dark rum because the sugars really came alive in the extreme heat around the equator; and it is a bourbon. Or, as the Charleston Brown Water Society dubbed it, the “salted caramel popcorn bourbon.” Q: You call yourself a Kentucky boy but I understand there is a connection between you And Tulane University?

BOOKER’S is one of several small batch bourbons produced by the Jim Beam distillery. Its namesake is Fredrick Booker Noe II, who was Jim Beam’s grandson, and the master distiller at Jim Beam from 1965 to 1992. (He was succeeded by his son, Jim Beam’s current master distiller, Frederick “Little Book” Booker Noe III.) Booker’s is the highest-proof bourbon in the Jim Beam small batch collection, between 121 and 131. That, and up to six to eight years in the barrel, gives it plenty of bite. KNOB CREEK is a traditional, small batch Jim Beam bourbon that takes its name from Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home in Kentucky. Launched in 1992 under the direction of Booker Noe, a sixth-generation Beam family master distiller, Knob Creek has become one of the most popular premium bourbons on the market today. It shares the same mash bill as Jim Beam — 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley — and it’s made at the same distillery and aged in the same warehouse as Jim Beam. Knob Creek stays in the barrel up to nine years, compared to Jim Beam’s White Label, which is aged four years, and Jim Beam’s Black, which is aged up to eight. This bourbon is both bold and sweet. There is also a Knob Creek Straight Rye and a Single Barrel Reserve, which comes in at 120 proof. BASIL HAYDEN’S is a longer-aged version of Old Grand-Dad, the high-rye bourbon that has been around since 1882. (Rye adds dry, spicy, peppery flavors to the whiskey.) Both are made at the Jim Beam Distillery. Basil Hayden’s is named after Old Grand-Dad’s original distiller.




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