There are the big guns scattered around the state — Woodford, Four Roses, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, Wild Turkey, to name a few. And then there are the smaller operations, who may not have rows of rick houses but who still carve out a niche in the overflowing bourbon market. One such bourbon is Jefferson’s, and soon it’ll add its name to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.
Last year, Jefferson’s Bourbon, which was started by Trey Zoeller and his father Chet in 1997, struck up a relationship with the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Ky. The small craft distillery, developed by Chris Miller, makes everything from spiced rum to limoncello, and they were looking for a bigger name in the bourbon world to partner with, putting them on the map as a destination place to visit.
As most bourbon aficionados know, Jefferson’s doesn’t distill its own bourbon but rather blends new and aged bourbon from established distilleries — and experiments with aging, agitation and environmental processes. One such product was 2012’s Jefferson’s Ocean, which was aged four years on a boat at sea. Jefferson’s Reserve is the company’s most well-known brand.
(New product alert: We learned Jefferson’s soon will be releasing Jefferson’s Groth Reserve Cask Finish, a bourbon matured in used cabernet sauvignon barrels. A bottle was on display during our recent visit, but sadly, no tastes were offered.)
Jefferson’s, which is owned by New York’s Castle Brands Inc., wanted a home base for its operations, and so an alliance with KAD seemed like a great fit.
Next month, Jefferson’s Bourbon and KAD will open a visitor’s center at 6230 Old Lagrange Road in Crestwood — just about 20 minutes from downtown Louisville. Visitors will get an inside glimpse at how a small craft distillery operates and learn the story of Jefferson’s Bourbon. A retail shop and tasting room also will be part of the tour.
Insider got a sneak peek at the operation, and it’s definitely worth the quick trip. The tour takes you past Zoeller’s experimental barrels, through the hand-labeled bottling operation, and back into the working stills and grain storage area. The distillery has fashioned rick houses out of storage units, which is an interesting take on the aging process. And you get to see the inside of Zoeller and KAD’s experimental lab, which was full of fancy equipment, beakers, measuring tools and more — it had the haphazard atmosphere of mad scientists at work.
For anyone interested in getting an early look, there will be an open house on Saturday, May 23, from 4-8 p.m. It’ll feature free distillery tours, food, ice cream and a drawing for a Jefferson’s Reserve corn hole board. The visitor’s center will officially open in early June.