Jefferson’s Newest Aged at Sea Bourbon Takes Cues From NYC Bagels

A bottle and glass of Jefferson's Ocean in front of the NYC skyline
Jefferson's Ocean

Jefferson’s whiskey, the creator of the modern “aged at sea” bourbons and ryes, has pulled into port in New York City with a deliciously clever new gimmick: using NYC water to proof their whiskey.

The new Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea® New York Limited Edition is a standard ocean-aged whiskey for the distillery’s portfolio, but these seafaring barrels have been proofed to their final ABV with New York City’s renowned tap water instead of the typical extra-filtered proofing water used by most distilleries today.

The key is water

Water is one of the least-talked-about ingredients in the whiskey-making process, both at the beginning and at the end. That said, you’re unlikely to spend much time in Kentucky without hearing tour guides and master distillers discuss the softness of their limestone water, and how it has a crucial hand in making some of the best whiskey in the world.

Brands like New Riff and Scotland’s Glenmorangie swear by their water, and when you listen to the moonshining history that birthed modern whiskey making, it starts to become clear that many distillers set up shop where and when they did for one reason in particular: access to a good, clean source of water.

Point being: cutting with good water is not really a gimmick, though it’s fair to call it one. Jefferson’s Bourbon, which spirits giant Pernod Ricard bought in 2019, has arguably been among the most successful “gimmick brands” in whiskey history—to the point that it’s unfair to call them a gimmick brand. And yet that’s just what aging whiskey at sea was: a gimmick, a publicity stunt, an experiment.

Getting NYC water into whiskey

So you may be wondering: how exactly is New York City water getting into this bourbon? Let’s start with the whiskey. When any whiskey comes out of a barrel, it’s at what they refer to as cask barrel proof or cask proof.

The numbers can vary widely, but in the bourbon world, barrel proof is typically well over 110 proof. We’ve seen them into the high 140s. The whiskey you buy at the shop at 90 proof, 100 proof, or other numbers is “cut to proof” with filtered water. Most distilleries these days use either filtered well water or water that has been filtered through reverse osmosis to proof their whiskey.

Using New York City tap water—often regarded as some of the best quality tap water in the world—is really clever for the simplicity of the idea. New York water comes all the way from the Catskills. Experts describe it as soft with a light salinity. It’s what the makers of the best bagels and pizzas in the world swear by.

With Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea® New York Limited Edition, that leads to distinct flavors. There is caramel, cigar, leather, creme brûlée and nutmeg, and a distinctly salty finish. That’s something you’d otherwise only see from the brine-splashed coastline distilleries of Islay.

New York Limited Edition will mostly be available in New York City, starting in November. Retail price is $99, but if you’re ordering it in a bar, things can be a little pricier. Our advice? Take it neat, with a glass of water on the side. And yes, tap is just fine.

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