Jefferson’s Bourbon Review – Presidential Select 21 Year Old

Almost a month ago, I posted news about Jefferson’s planned April 1st release of their new Presidential Select 21 Year Old bourbon. After waiting impatiently for weeks I was thrilled to arrive home a few nights ago to find a tasting sample nestled in the safety of a well-padded FedEx box.

Jefferson's Presidential Select 21 Year-Old Bourbon

Almost a month ago, I posted news about Jefferson’s planned April 1st release of their new Presidential Select 21 Year Old bourbon. After waiting impatiently for weeks I was thrilled to arrive home a few nights ago to find a tasting sample nestled in the safety of a well-padded FedEx box. As I carefully removed the sample bottle all I could think about was whether or not the Presidential Select 21 would measure up to previous Presidential Select releases like their 17 and 18-year-olds which consisted of stock from the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery.

Here are a few details about this release that we received directly from Trey Zoeller, Jefferson’s Master Blender:

  • There’s no wheat in the mash bill
  • Bourbon was not distilled at Stitzel-Weller
  • Aged in barrels with a No. 3 charr
  • Release yield is 1,800 6-bottle cases
  • Big flavors with an outstanding finish

Add it all up and it’s plain to see – Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 Year Old is going to be totally different juice than previous Presidential Select releases.

The lack of common ground with previous Presidential Select releases is part of the reason I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on a sample. I need to know if it measures up to previous releases and is worth the hefty price tag set by Trey and his team. The other reason I’ve been looking forward to it is the fact that I really enjoy older bourbons. Many folks regard 8-12 years as the sweet spot for bourbon, but I have to say that an older and well-aged bourbon is something really special. I can only hope that Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 year is worthy of that distinction.

Before we get into my official review let’s revisit the official press release issued by Jefferson’s Bourbon in early March:

Castle Brands is proud to introduce Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the latest addition to its line of “Ridiculously Small Batch” whiskies and the Presidential Suite (Jefferson’s Bourbon, Jefferson’s Reserve, Jefferson’s Presidential Select and Jefferson’s Rye). Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey is aged in new oak barrels for 21 to 24 years and bottled at 94 proof (47% ABV). Inspired by its namesake Founding Father, this mature, complex and exceptionally full-bodied aged Bourbon will be released nationally on April 1, 2013.
“This is precious bourbon since there are very few bottles of this age with this complexity,” says Jefferson’s founder and master blender Trey Zoeller. “This limited release whiskey aged beautifully. Because of the nuanced flavor profile, this Jefferson’s Presidential Select Straight Bourbon Whiskey is sure to become one of our most coveted bottlings.”
Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey consists of 15 lots of bourbon aged from 21 to 24 years. Bourbon of this age is extremely fragile; Zoeller discovered that these stocks had aged undisturbed for many years in a cooler area of the warehouse, which added further nuance to the spirit’s flavor profile and engendered a later peak. The resulting blend is a uniquely robust and extremely flavorful bourbon with deep, concentrated notes of vanilla, toffee and leather that finishes extraordinarily smoothly. Because of the evaporation that occurred over the aging period, Jefferson’s will have just 2,000 cases to release of this rare, complex spirit that embodies a presidential combination of age, purity and strength.
To learn more about the Jefferson’s line of spirits, please visit Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey is priced at $119.99 for a 750ml bottle and is available for purchase at fine spirits retailers across the country.

Sounds really good, right?

I love the marketing and mystique around bourbon and Trey’s team are some of the best at telling the story of their “Ridiculously Small Batch” releases. Fortunately for them, and for us, their bourbon typically lives up to the marketing hype. However, even though I’ve come to expect great things from Jefferson’s Presidential Select line, the new release’s $119 price tag concerns me a bit. That’s a lot of money, in my opinion, considering that one of my favorite bourbons, Elijah Craig 18 Year, was available for $55 in my part of the country until they put a hold on releasing it.

Trey promised me that I won’t be disappointed. If it’s as good as he says, I’m sure the price won’t be an issue. The issue will be finding a bottle locally before it’s all gone.

Let’s get on with the review and dive in to see if it measures up to my expectations.

Jefferson's Presidential Select Straight Bourbon Whiskey


Bourbon Name: Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 Year Old

Proof: 94

Age: 21 years

Year: 2013


How I Drank It:  Neat, in a Glencairn whiskey glass.

My Nose Noticed:*  Leather | Oak | Lots of Spice | Hint of Orange

First Sip:  Honey | Vanilla | Spice & Black Pepper | Oak

The Burn:**  Much to my surprise there wasn’t much of a burn. It finishes extremely smooth and is rather mellow. There’s a faint lingering burn in the back of the throat but if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss it.I really expected something a little bolder based on its nose and was a little disappointed. But then again, once you get used to it being a lighter profile bourbon, especially compared to its nose, it’s actually pretty nice. There are also some very pronounced (strong) wood notes in the finish that linger quite a long time.  But that’s to be expected from a bourbon of this age. If you’re not a fan of a strong oak finish, you’ll probably not enjoy this one.

Neat, Splash or Rocks:  I enjoyed it neat but when I added a bit of water the honey and vanilla notes became more pronounced. At the same time, the pepper/spice flavors got bolder and help to drive the oak into the background a bit.  And then the big surprise, by adding in water it actually accentuated the burn and got closer to the type of lingering back of throat burn that I really enjoy. I can’t explain why it caused it to happen but I’m glad it did. I would definitely repeat adding water whenever drinking this one.

Share With:  As with any older bourbon there is a price premium associated with drinking Presidential Select 21. That alone changes who I would drink it with, but I think that despite the price, it’s best shared with someone who has a good base level of bourbon knowledge and is interested in comparing how this fairs against previous Presidential Select releases. I’m afraid it’s not quite up to the task of knocking someone’s socks off so don’t invite your boss over unless he’s really into bourbon.

Worth The Price:  Is it worth it worth $119? That’s the million-dollar question. To help answer that I question I had a small glass of Presidential Select 18 for a quick comparison. The Presidential 18 is in a totally different class. It’s richer, more complex and has the flavor profile that I really enjoy. In comparing the two I think the Presidential 21 is ultimately too oaky and lacking in flavor complexity to suit my tastes. That doesn’t mean you won’t like it but it’s definitely something to consider.

Bottle, Bar or Bust:  After comparing it side-by-side with Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18 Year, my recommendation is to buy yourself a glass at your local bourbon establishment before investing in a bottle. As much as I was looking forward to this one I have to say that this one misses the mark for me. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for my money I’d rather hunt down a few more bottles of the 18 Year where no one is looking for them.

*I like to let my bourbon sit in the glass for at least 5 minutes before I start to smell it or have a drink. I personally find that it’s better to let some of the alcohol waft off before diving in. If I’m drinking bourbon on the rocks I skip the waiting and dive in both feet first.

**Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?

In summary let me say that while Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21 didn’t meet my expectations, it is still a well-crafted product and Jefferson’s continues to impress me with their ability to put out solid bourbons as a blender. I personally prefer their Presidential 18 over this new release and I’m glad that I stocked up before it disappeared from the shelves. I’ll be happy to enjoy this one again though if you want someone to help taste your newly purchased bottle. I just won’t be going out and spending $119 to get my own.

If you happen to get a bottle please let us know what you think in the comments. As one of the first official reviews of this release, I’m curious to hear what others have to say about it.