Friday, February 24, 2012

Bourbon Review: Jefferson Presidential Select 18 Year Old.

Jefferson Reserve Presidential Select 18 Years Old - 94 Proof; aged 18 years; Distilled at the Stitzel-Weller distillery; Price: ~$100  Also, a point of interest is that the bottle tells you that it is a wheat based bourbon.  Which means that the secondary grain is wheat whiskey (since by law bourbon must be at least 51% corn whiskey, we must assume that they mean that the other percentage is wheat, though it's impossible to tell exactly what the corn/wheat ratio is).  For most bourbons rye is the primary secondary grain.  I will go into more detail with this in the taste section.

Packaging - This is a gorgeous bottle.  Everything from the plastic/wax stamp, to the silver clasp around the neck, to the wooden top, the elegant lettering.  If you collect bourbon, you almost want this one just for the bottle.  The label has the relevant details written by hand (the batch and bottle number), which is a nice touch when it's actually done.

Appearance - medium gold/amber in color.

Smell - faint vanilla and alcohol.  Very subtle smell for bourbon.

Initial Taste - Tastes like slightly sweeter, smoother Maker's Mark.  Extremely easy to drink.  Almost no burn.  Taste is a subtle mix of vanilla, very light corn syrup and caramel.  Feel in the mouth is lighter than many premium bourbons, but heavier than your average bourbon.  A very balanced feel in the mouth.  The taste is smooth and subtle.  I don't know that I would call it complex, as there aren't many different flavors here.

While the smoothness isn't surprising, given that this is a wheated bourbon, and wheat whiskey is generally smoother than rye, it is fairly extreme here.  If you want your bourbon smooth, this is it for you.  While I don't mind the smoothness, I feel that the bourbon lacks character.  When I was in college I really enjoyed Maker's Mark, but slowly I began to feel that it was a good tasting, but ultimately boring bourbon.  And that's what I feel about this Jefferson.  While it is smooth, subtle, sweet and tastes good, there just isn't anything there that wows me.  It seems a bit odd to me, because this is a bourbon that is obviously geared towards aficionados with its price tag, and most aficionados don't enjoy that flavor profile.  However, it is different from other super premium bourbons, and perhaps therein lies the angle.  Until Maker's Mark introduced their Maker's 46, there simply wasn't a super premium wheated bourbon.  Many of the super premiums tasted fairly similar, most being a variation on the vaunted Jim Beam flavor profile.  Here it was decided to take a different approach.  And while it's not my favorite, it is different and could find its place in a well balanced collection, as a counter balanced to the more usual rye based super premiums.

Finish - Oaky and cinnamon, with some lingering corn syrup.  Not a particularly long finish, but if you like oak and cinnamon with a touch of sweetness, it's a good one.  No mouthwash astringency taste at all (what most people refer to as simply 'bad aftertaste' when referring to bourbon).

Overall - I don't love it.  It's a little too subdued for my tastes in bourbon.  But it is extremely good at what it does.  You won't find a smoother bourbon, with an easier aftertaste.  I find it a bit weird, because this is the kind of flavor profile that non-bourbon drinkers would really love in bourbon.  It seems almost marketed to two very different groups: 1) People who don't drink much bourbon, but want super high quality of whatever it is that they drink.  ie the rich, yet casual bourbon drinker and 2) The completist.  The kind of bourbon drinker that just has to try a bottle of everything, if for no other reason to say he's had it and have it in his collection.  This is a bourbon I want in my collection but doubt I will find myself turning to very often.  More there for guests who complain of my other bourbons being too much for them to handle, yet still wanting them to try something nice.

Ultimately it's hard for me to come down too hard on this bourbon, because it hits the mark it shoots for very well.  I don't care for the flavor profile, in the same way that I don't love Maker's Mark any more.  However, if you are one of Maker's Mark's legion of fans, you owe it to yourself to try this bourbon out.  It's the Maker's Mark flavor, but with extremes in richness, smoothness and great taste.  And it's certainly a conversation starter as well.


  1. I'm confused by "until Maker's Mark introduced their Maker's 46, there simply wasn't a super premium wheated bourbon". Of course there was always Pappy van Winkle, which the Jefferson is very close to in character -- not surprising considering that it came from Stitzel-Weller.

  2. Meant to say widely available, sorry, and pappy 15, 20 and 23 aren't really widely available. The newer incarnations of Pappy seem to be a lot more rye based than the versions made pre 2000 (post 2000 are made at buffalo trace).

    I'd say pappy van winkle 20 is very similar to jefferson presidential, and is most likely the same exact bourbon, just two years older. Pappy 15 is extremely different to my tastes, and the van winkles aren't real keen on going into the differences (which are CERTAINLY just more than aging).

  3. Great review, FJR.

    I agree with you nearly 100%. This bourbon absolutely does not wow me. It's a real shame, too, because the bottle IS awesome! Super distinguished. Unfortunately, the flavor profile just doesn't add up to all the hype. I question whether the label stating that this bourbon was aged in SW barrels is a need for marketing to make up for a lack in character. Every Pappy I've tasted has character. The PVW 15 and 20 are worlds apart from anything I've tried (haven't had the 23 yet...yet!). I can't accept that this is simply Pappy 15 three years older or Pappy 20 two years less matured. It falls way short of either in my book. In my journey the older a whiskey is aged the smoother it gets. This is smooth, but doesn't carry the layers upon layers of flavor that the Pappys do.

    It is a very nice drinkable bourbon. I, like yourself, prefer a more complex, full mouth-coating type of bourbon and this just isn't that.

    All in all, I guess I'd say this is worth a try since I like trying just about anything I can get my hands on. However, I wouldn't expect the chills up your back or the hairs standing up on the back of your neck that I've gotten from the PVWs. A bit disappointing considering the price tag.

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