Is it just me, or have whiskey labels started to look a lot more like page one of a dissertation? Bourbon lovers have always had to sift through terminology like “small batch,” “kentucky straight,” “bottled in bond,” and a long list of technical words with varying levels of importance, but these days you’re seeing a lot more marketing copy in the name. And sometimes it can make for more confusion, not less.
Jefferson’s Presidential Select 16-Year Twin Oak is the latest run-on name for a (really tasty) whiskey to try and look more desirable by adding words, but this one is surprisingly simple to decode.
So we decided to break it down for you, partly because it’s fun and mostly because it’s a damn good whiskey.
Well, that’s just the brand name. You know them from such projects as Jefferson’s Ocean, where the gimmick is that they send barrels of whisky on an oceanic voyage to mimic the swells a barrel would have endured on the high seas before 18-wheelers and glass bottles took over. But there are other lines, such as…
Basically, this is the stuff they don’t have a lot of. The highest echelon of limited-edition whiskeys from the Jefferson’s brand. We haven’t seen one of these in a few years, but previous bottles have been wheat or rye bourbons, and whiskeys as old as 30 years. In other words, this is the stuff you’d serve the president if he came to your distillery.
Okay, so this is where things get tricky. In bourbon rules, the age is the number of years the youngest whiskey in the bottle spent in a barrel. So if you make a bourbon using 12, 13, and 15-year-old whiskey, it’s a 12-year-old. But this bottle isn’t labeled bourbon or rye, so we have to go further to figure out what’s actually inside…
So “twin oak” has no legal meaning. I could say twin oak on just about any bottle of whiskey ever produced, and define it a month later, and you couldn’t argue with me, kind of like when you try and talk physics with a Star Wars fan.
Twin Oak, in this case, refers to the whiskey having rested in two different sets of oak barrels, and we only know that from press material. Essentially they took high-rye bourbon and rested it for 10 years in new American oak barrels, then took it out and put it in a new set of American oak barrels for another 6-ish years. It’s still bourbon because even though they finished it, it’s all new, charred American oak
Overall we’d give Jefferson’s about a B- on the name execution, but there’s really no reason a whiskey’s name should matter as long as it tastes good.
So does it?
Twin Oak is deeply flavored and surprising the way a dry-aged steak can be: though the initial whisky is full of rye and wood intensity, it finishes with a bass note of leather and tobacco rather than the sort of high-note spice and tingle you’d expect.
It’s full of vanilla and burnt sugar flavor (usually this dissipates over time, so we have the second barrel to thank for it) but that’s all balanced by these deep raisiny, resin notes from the first barrel and the change of time.
For $200 this bourbon is exotic and unique and absolutely worth the spend, especially if you like your sipping whiskey with less heat and more finesse. They made 10,000 bottles, but it wouldn’t hurt to get looking sooner than later.
A final thought: this is an old whisky with a lot of flavors, but it’s at the perfect proofpoint. We’re not the kinds of guys to tell you to preserve your fragile masculinity by only drinking whiskey straight, but in this case, ice or water is going to throw off one of the more perfect balances we’ve encountered in a long time.
Besides, they already tried to do that with the name.