Whisky Advocate

Bourbon goes coastal

May 2nd, 2012

We’ve all heard of smoky and briny Scotch whiskies, but smoky and briny “bourbon”? That’s a new one!

Two different whiskeys (from different producers) are going to hit the market soon. One’s got some smoke in it, and the other has a sea influence.

Let’s talk about the briny one first. I received a call last week from Trey Zoeller, who puts out the Jefferson’s bourbon and rye whiskeys. He told me he’s got a few barrels of “bourbon” that have been in the belly of a ship for nearly four years. One mysteriously leaked (into the mouths of the crew?) but two others survived. A few stories have been written in the press about it already, including this one.

Take a look at the bottle samples in the picture when compared to standard Jefferson’s. It sure looks like all that sloshing around in warm climates accelerated the oak influence. That’s what I call dark! Trey tells me that one of the barrels in particular is distinctively briny. Samples are on their way. I’ll let you know my thoughts after I taste them.

The second whisk(e)y I want to tell you about is called “Campfire,” courtesy of David Perkins over at High West. David is no stranger to creative blending. He’s already put out Bourye (a blend of bourbon and rye) and Son of Bourye (a younger version of the same). The soon to be released “Campfire” throws in some smoky single malt scotch into the mix. Yes, that’s right: a whiskey comprised of bourbon, rye and smoky single malt scotch.

David just bottled this stuff and is debuting it this weekend. (I tasted some “work in progress” samples. The ones I liked most had the least amount of smoky scotch in the mix.) He also plans to have a special version of Campfire (possibly aged in French Oak) to debut at the WhiskyFest New York seminar program in October.

It sure is a fun time to be a whisky drinker. Let’s just hope these whiskeys taste as good as the stories behind them.

Update: Of course, I just received my sample and press release of the Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon right after I posted this. Here are some more details:

Price: $90. Number of bottles: only 600 nationally. ABV: 44%. More importantly, how does it taste? Contrary to my fears, not bad! It tastes like an 18 or 20 year old bourbon. Yes, there’s a heavy dose of oak, but there’s also a sweetness to tame some of it. And I do pick up some sea influence in all that oak, toffee and molasses. Definitely worth a look!

No Responses to “Bourbon goes coastal”

  1. PeteR says:

    I’ve done some bourbon/Scotch blending at home when I’ve ended up with a particularly mediocre bottle, just to make it a little more drinkable and it usually works, though I’ve never ended up with something I’d like to share with friends. I’m curious about High West’s results. Do you think David will share where the single malt came from?

    • John Hansell says:

      We will leave that up to David, but it’s possible that part of the deal sourcing the whisky is that he has to keep his source anonymous.

      • Tim Read says:

        I asked David about this and he said his question to the producer of the whisky was never answered, and he felt that was implicitly a “no”. Plus, with the general stuffiness of the SWA, you never can tell if the SWA would make this arrangement impracticable for the original producer in the future if their identity was known.

  2. JC Skinner says:

    Curious to see where this leads. I’ll be interested when they start peating the mashbill for bourbons. That could make an interesting drink.

    • sam k says:

      The tradition of peat belongs to Scotch whisky. Shouldn’t we do something unique? I’ve always thought that cob smoking would be a nice twist for bourbon.

      • Jordan says:

        Copper Fox has done some smoked malt for single malt whiskey and rye. The reviews have been a bit mixed, but I’m pretty tempted to pick up the rye.

        Balcones “Brimstone” is actually a smoked whiskey rather than smoked malt, but it’s done with scrub oak.

        • Jason Pyle says:

          Jordan, I really love what Copper Fox is doing. Craft whiskey to the core. At an age where floor malting is dwindling, Copper Fox is doing it, and doing it with fruit wood. It’s young stuff, but it’s good whiskey.

          • PeteR says:

            I agree. While the apple-wood and cherry-wood rye is a little young tasting, it also has a nice character, which I enjoyed much more than in their single malt sibling.

      • JC Skinner says:

        Cob smoking could be fascinating alright. I like the sound of these smoked American whiskeys too. I’m also a fan of the McCarthy’s malt, which utilises Scottish peated malt. I’m pretty sure American distillers could push smokey whiskeys in a lot of interesting new directions, which could still be in keeping with the indigenous distilling tradition.

  3. Rick Duff says:

    I’ve had some bourbon that was created with 51% corn, 39% peated barley, and 10% rye. The peat came through loud and clear, and it could still be technically defined as bourbon.
    I can’t tell you where I got this sample from, but it’s some nice stuff.

    The brine flavour is interesting. Always wondered how much the distilling in a coastal area played a part over aging… since so much of the coastal scotch whiskys are actually aged in warehouses far inland.

    • JC Skinner says:

      Exactly, Rick. The ‘brine’ is a peat note.

      • Rick Duff says:

        I’ve had brine in non or extremely lightly peated scotch whisky though. Old Pulteny for instance.

        • John Hansell says:

          Yes, you can have briny whiskies that aren’t infused with peat smoke. Springbank is another example.

          • JC Skinner says:

            I wouldn’t dare doubt your palate, John. But speaking for myself, I’ve never found the saline note outside of a smokey whiskey. What I’d specifically query is the romantic nonsense propagated on Islay that the sea somehow infuses into casks. This is demonstrably not true, since the majority of casks are not matured anywhere near the sea.
            I also await an explanation for why this briny note doesn’t occur in Bushmills, where the casks are matured adjoining the very same stretch of sea as Islay whiskies.

          • Luke says:

            Bunnahabhain (unpeated) might surprise you with its briny notes, particularly the new 18YO, If you can get it!

          • John Hansell says:

            I don’t want to go on a tangent here, but there are several Island and coastal whisky distilleries whose whiskies are matured on the Scottish mainland that still show a briny, coatal influence. And the distillery managers and blenders have agreed with me. I have written about it on more than one occasion. Some things are still a mystery with whisky, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

            I remember once asking the (then) distillery manager of Talisker where the brine notes came from in Talisker (knowning fully well the whiskey was being matured in the mainland). He agreed with me on the brine notes. His response: “it’s a discussion worthy of debate over a pint or two in a local pub.”

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Also check out *unpeated* Caol Ila, JC. Stuff is real briny.

          • JC Skinner says:

            Again I ask, how come there’s no brine in Bushmills, then?

    • JoshK says:

      I’m surprised more distillers haven’t experimented with imported, peated barley. Or maybe they have and we just never hear about it because the results weren’t any good.

  4. John Hansell says:

    I just received my sample and press release of the Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged bourbon right after I posted this. Here are some more details (which I will also update in my post above).

    Price: $90. Number of bottles: only 600 nationally. ABV: 44%. How does it taste? Contrary to my fears, not bad! It tastes like an 18 or 20 year old bourbon. Yes, there’s a lot of oak, but there’s also a sweetness to tame the oak. And I do pick up some sea influence in all that oak. Definitely worth a look!

  5. Hi John,

    With regards to the briny bourbon, does it have a name and only 600 bottles being released, any idea where in the United States it will be available? Will both these whiskies be at WhiskyFest New York or only the Campfire?

    Where can we get a bit more information on these products? Please let me know and thanks!

  6. Jason Pyle says:

    I can’t speak for the Jefferson’s, but High West Campfire at the very least gets High West back into the “pushing the envelope” category. I love that about them. But it’s not just a gimmick because this stuff is very good whiskey. The bottle that will be released was right in the middle in terms of the 3 individual components (5.5 year old Rye, 6 year old Bourbon, and 8 year old Peated Malt Whiskey). Having tried all 3, I liked something about all of them, and High West couldn’t really go wrong with releasing any one of them. Looking forward to trying it again soon.

  7. sam k says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Jason!

  8. Red_Arremer says:

    On the update, John. The stuff in the bottles on the left and right is way darker than any whiskey I’ve ever tried. I’m inclined to trust your opinion, but I still won’t be surprised if these “ocean aged” turn out to be a little rough and gimmicky.

    • John Hansell says:

      He combined the two barrels into one bottling, Red. I really expected something much worse that what I got. It will score somewhere in the 80s because I did enjoy drinking it yesterday.

  9. sam k says:

    And, as it turns out, everything old is new again.

    In the 1800s, Outerbridge Horsey, the man responsible for Old Horsey Maryland rye, loaded barrels of his Golden Gate rye whiskey onto ships in Baltimore and sent them around Cape Horn to San Francisco where they were moved onto trains for the return trip to Maryland. He was trying to replicate the journey that rum took in reaching the U.S., thinking that the movement of the ships created an exceptional aging regimen.

    Much more can be found at the best whiskey history site on the web, John and Linda Lipman’s

    • JC Skinner says:

      Something similar led to the creation of Linie akvavit in Norway. It goes by boat to Australia and back, I believe.

  10. Gary Gillman says:

    The shipment of all kinds of spirits on the water has long been considered to improve them. Madeira started this way too.

    In the 1800’s, much bourbon and rye was sent out to Bremen, England, Hamburg, parts of the Caribbean, South America, and elsewhere to improve them in this way. There was a duty exemption on these exports, which is possibly why some distillers and merchants shipped liquors far away, i.e., to defer payment of duty until the liquor came back to the U.S. Of course in many cases it was sold at destination or after.

    It’s a cool idea, 4 years at sea might be the longest it’s ever been (intentionally) tried.

    John, do you know how old the Jefferson bourbon was when it was first placed on board?


    • Jason Pyle says:

      Gary, good information. Question for John, you and anyone else. I am sure that salinity and briny qualities are likely something that can be explained by the coastal area, the ship, or at least an area that gets a great sea breeze inland. But how much of these whiskeys you mention actually improving had to do with the constant agitation in the barrel vs. where/what they were being agitated on/by?

  11. Bob Siddoway says:

    Wow, both of those sound interesting. Even if they are only mediocre, I’m still liking all of the experimentation going on these days. I always enjoy trying new things…

  12. Joshua Powers says:

    I would add to the two listed whiskeys–Balcones Brimstone. This is Texas BBQ in a bottle. I do not work for the company but if you are looking for smoky bourbon this is a whiskey for you. I also think adding scotch to the bourbon is cheating a little. No offense to those who love to blend but then I don’t think it really should be called a bourbon. Balcones Brimstone is 100% Blue Corn and the smoke comes from Texas Oak. Available through online retailers for $55.99.

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