Q&A with Trey Zoeller of Jefferson’s Bourbon

A few weeks ago I sat down with Trey Zoeller of Jefferson’s Bourbon before our bourbon dinner & tasting.  I was able to ask him a few Bourbon & Banter questions, along with some reader-submitted questions. Here’s a recap of our conversation.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with Trey Zoeller of Jefferson’s Bourbon before our bourbon dinner & tasting.  I was able to ask him a few Bourbon & Banter questions, along with some reader-submitted questions. Here’s a recap of our conversation.

What was your goal when you set out to launch Jefferson’s? How has that changed over the years?

Originally it was to bottle this unbelievable juice and build a brand that would someday finance the construction of a distillery. Now, it is to make Jefferson’s one of the most respected brands/portfolios in the industry. To expand brand awareness domestically and globally and put the best juice in our bottles possible.

What’s your perception of the bourbon industry/market now compared to when you started?

I feel like the consumers have caught up to the producers. We had this wonderful juice that was not respected until recently. Now bourbon is getting the respect that it deserves, and consumers are asking for more innovative extensions of their sacred spirit. It is wonderful to see you men and women ordering bourbon, neat on the rocks or in cocktails with pride.

Do you believe that we’re in the Golden Age of Bourbon?

I believe it is one of the Golden Ages. We have been there before. Prior to Prohibition and WWII, bourbon sold more than all other spirits combined. Consumers appreciate bourbon for the time, effort and money it cost to bottle. I argue that there is no other whiskey as expensive to age as bourbon with the new barrels and the excessive angels share. Now the consumer agrees, and even if someone does not appreciate the way bourbon taste, you are not ridiculed for drinking it.

What is Jefferson’s current yearly production?

We will sell about 50,000, six-bottle cases this year.

You once said getting a hold of bourbon was your biggest challenge. With the increase in interest in bourbon and elevated small-batch innovation by the big brands, is it getting tougher to get barrels?

It is more difficult to find hyper-aged bourbon, but not impossible. We will launch both bourbon and Rye products of over 20 years in the next year.

What are your favorite non-Jefferson bourbons?

That is hard. I like to try anything new and revisit those brands I have not tried in a long time. That being said, I prefer bourbon with big flavors that are balanced.

What advice would you give wannabe distillers?

Follow your dream and be patient. Whiskies are not overnight successes. Young whiskies are a work in progress. If you have the time and wherewithal to allow the whiskey to work in the wood, it is only then that you know what you have.

Here are the questions submitted by Bourbon & Banter readers.

I would love to know about the bottle's design, an elegant, stately promise of good things to come. (perfume bottle?)

With a minimal budget, we choose a stock “flask” style bottle. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me, it was also the bottle for Elijah Craig. Heaven Hill asked us to change our bottle, and we chose one that was a bit more compact, similar to cologne bottles. Our goal in the design was to be stately, crisp and uncluttered. This was all done t the kitchen table. As I said, we had a meager budget.

With the success of the Ocean Bourbon, do you see any other types of experiments like that in the future?

Absolutely, as a non-distiller, I feel I have control over the nurture of the bourbon or the maturation process. I can affect how the bourbon is influenced in the years after it was born or distilled. There has been very little experimentation in bourbon in the last 100 hundred years, now, the consumer has caught up to the understanding of better bourbon and is challenging the industry to evolve with them. We will tweak and expand the Ocean experiment. However, we will have more of a commercial quantity this time. We also have many experiments aging as we speak. Hopefully, one or two of them will demand us to expand the experiment to a commercial basis.

Did Chet and his Dad develop the recipe for Jefferson? Do they plan to build their own distillery, or is that simply too expensive?

We did not develop the original recipe. We were able to source a fantastic recipe of age that we loved. This was due to consolidation in the industry. As we dug deeper, we found other great bourbons of other ages and recipes and decided to blend them to evolve the flavor profile. Trying to make it more balanced and complex. Initially, I wanted to build a distillery, however, as exciting as it would be, I have a hard time believing that I could match the production from the larger distilleries that have been doing it for hundreds of years with the knowledge of generations.

What are the youngest barrels actually used for both Jeffersons' expressions?

6 and 8 years.

When are you going to visit my house?

Where is the invitation?

There you have it folks. Q&A with Trey Zoeller of Jefferson’s Bourbon.  I hope you enjoyed a little peak into the mind behind Jefferson’s. Send in your questions for Trey anytime and we’ll look into doing this again with him in the future.