In the first weekend in May, where better to turn than Kentucky for a subject? Even as I write this, steely colts are warming up for this year’s Derby barely a handful of miles from where Jefferson’s Bourbon is distilled by the folks at McLain & Kyne.
As it hits the glass, the arrestingly deep colour of the almost ruby liquid grabs the eye. At 47% ABV, the scents seize hold of your nose just as startlingly, but fortunately in an entirely welcome manner. There is a fantastically rich – almost overpowering – sweetness to the nose. The first wave is distinctly fruity, as cherries, blackberries and rhubarb vie for olfactory attention. They’re followed by scents that, while sweet, are also a little more complex: custard, sticky cola, vanilla and ginger. In the background is a dusting of cocoa, together with piquant pine needles. Last of all to reveal themselves are the comforting warmness of polished mahogany and old leather. On reflection, what stands out about the nose is the impressively robust overall structure: the fruity facade masks a symphony of more complex and contrasting scents, all supported by an impressively solid base.
The initial mouthfeel is wonderfully creamy, as the nose leads you to expect. It continues to meet every expectation, greeting you with an array of incredibly luscious fruit, particularly orange and cherry. They are palpably juicy. Next you’ll find rich dark chocolate, which turns out to be the prelude to a surprising bitterness, akin to red lettuce or even sprouts. That sounds unutterably bizarre, but in the context of the dram it somehow makes sense. It’s not overpowering, but it nicely offsets what could have become a cloying sweetness. The fine oak of the barrel makes a welcome appearance to wrap the main body of the taste up, and very satisfyingly too.
The finish is powerful and tangy, with a real presence of its own. A woodiness gives way to hazelnut before a long trail of pipe smoke – perhaps appropriately, since tobacco was such a central part of the American economy that Jefferson knew. Diluting the dram refines the nose, sanding off some of the sharper edges; it introduces a gently citric aspect to the taste, with similarly slippery fruit – grapefruit and pineapple, for example – lurking.
The whiskey is as bold as its illustrious namesake must have seemed when he and some like-minded colonial gentry decided to club together and declare some self-evident truths. That is no bad thing. It’s a fine accompaniment to conversation or contemplation, pleasant enough to enrich an evening and complex enough to provoke thought. Jefferson’s Presidential Select is surely an important part of any meaningful pursuit of Happiness!
Nose 23 Taste 20 Finish 20 Balance 23