Over A Barrel

Published: Spring 2014

Photo of Trey Zoeller, founder of Jeffersons Ocean Bourban

We all know boating and alcohol don't mix, but for one bourbon maker, mixing alcohol aboard is proving successful, if slightly cumbersome.

Trey Zoeller, founder of Jefferson's Bourbon in New York, had a dilemma. He wanted to help accelerate the aging process of his whiskey, which can take years of sitting in oak barrels to gain its mahogany color and caramel flavor. But what if he had a way of keeping the golden liquid in perpetual motion?

Enter Chris Fischer, an old high-school classmate of Zoeller's, and formerly of the History Channel's “Shark Wranglers” fame. Conveniently, Fischer is chairman of Ocearch, the nonprofit organization that facilitates research on sharks and oceans and that also happens to have a sizable research vessel at its disposal. As the boat spends most of its time riding the high seas, the natural sloshing around, Zoeller reasoned, might help the bourbon infuse more of the barrel's oaky essences, which would speed up the aging process. Throw in some salty air and who knows how rich those flavors might get?

Fischer agreed to take an initial five barrels aboard for his pal’s experiment. Three-and-a-half years later (and two barrels less, due to bursting), the result, much to Zoeller's delight, was a russet-colored bourbon, matured way beyond its years. Named Jefferson's Ocean, thanks to its well-traveled status and hint of salinity, it sold out immediately.

Naturally, Zoeller is eager to continue to experiment. Last year he gave Fischer another four barrels to stow below decks, and he also loaded an extra 72 barrels onto a container ship that crossed the equator four times in six months.

Round two of Jefferson's Ocean is due for release early this year. So next time you're sitting safely by the fire enjoying a nightcap, consider that your beverage might have logged more ocean miles than you have.