Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old: American Whiskey Has Grown Up So Fast

Last week a padded envelope arrived at my desk containing nothing but a small bottle of whiskey with "Jefferson’s Presidential 21" handwritten on a white label. There was no note or press release, but I soon figured out that the bottle contained Jefferson’s Presidential Select 21-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the latest expression from Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon. Having recently tasted a selection of bourbons, I was eager to give it a try. What makes Jefferson’s Presidential 21 interesting to me is that American whiskey is rarely aged for 21 years. That’s upscale Scotch territory. Most bourbons are aged for less than ten years, and when you get to 12- and 15-year releases, you start seeing age statements, because it’s a big deal.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that bourbon is less refined than Scotch, of course, it just means that it ages faster. Whiskey aging is largely a function of the climate. Warehouses that store bourbon barrels tend to be located in Kentucky and Tennessee, places that have a wide temperature range, with torrid summers and chilly winters. The climate in Scotland is more moderate. So, while many other factors contribute to the flavor of whiskey, bourbon tends to lose its alcoholic astringency and gain the flavors of the oak barrels at least twice as fast as Scotch.

And here we have a 21-year-old bourbon. Is it comparable to a 42-year-old Scotch, and should we even care? I’m of the view that people worry a bit too much about the age of spirit while undervaluing other factors. All the same, it’s hard not to wonder, so I went home and poured a shot’s worth into a small tumbler. The aroma’s striking, with a pleasant spice note that’s quite an eye-opener. Taking a sip, I noticed lots of cinnamon and pepper that grabs the tongue before mellowing into flavors of butterscotch, honey, and dried fruit. And it’s very woody, with a dark color and vanilla notes from here to Louisville. To be sure, it’s mellow, but still brings the heat like a bourbon should. It’s bold and interesting and delicious neat, but it wouldn’t be a crime to drop an ice cube in the glass if that’s how you like your bourbon.

For comparison, I poured some Glenlivet Archive 21-Year-Old, one of my favorite single malt Scotches (and yes, I do have a quite well-stocked liquor cabinet). The big difference between the two was apparent right away: the flavors of the Glenlivet, which was aged for the same 21 years, were subtler and more complex. There’s all kinds of stuff going on in the glass, including many of the same flavors, but there’s a restraint to the Glenlivet where the Jefferson’s Presidential is outspoken. The Glenlivet whispers in the forest, while the Jefferson’s climbs a tree and hollers. (I didn’t have a 42-year-old Scotch on hand–my liquor cabinet’s not that good–but I’ve tasted a couple of 50-year-old Scotches at events before, and recall deep wood flavors that bring to mind the Jefferson’s, while being a bit softer with the spice.)

I refuse to pick a favorite, though, because I love bourbon and Scotch for different reasons, and, regardless of the age, they’re radically different beasts. But with summer coming, the feisty nature of the bourbon seems to suit the season of active days and sultry nights perfectly. It’s a shame I only have that one tiny sample bottle. Jefferson’s Presidential 21 is available in limited quantities at upscale liquor stores for $120 a bottle. Buy one and invite me over.

Sample both whiskey and whisky at New York bars like Whiskey Ward and the Brandy Library. For more drinking spots, peruse the BlackBook New York Guide.

[Related: Update Your Liquor Cabinet for Summer with Six Brilliant American Bourbons; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]

Update Your Liquor Cabinet for Summer With Six Brilliant American Bourbons

As the sultry days of summer approach, it’s important to update your whiskey collection accordingly. Don’t laugh, there’s a seasonality to this stuff that keeps you from falling into a boring routine. Scotches take the chill out of winter. Irish whiskies are perfect for welcoming the first green buds of spring. And summer, with its hot days and wild nights, calls for the sweet, fiery flavors of bourbon. (We’ll worry about autumn when it gets here. Rye, maybe. Or Japanese.) Befitting the casual season, bourbon is by far the most laid-back of all brown liquors. It’s affordable, accessible, and versatile. Drink it neat, add some ice, or dilute it with Dr Pepper. Nobody’s going to criticize you. Made from at least 51% corn mash and aged in new, charred-oak barrels, bourbon is the quintessential American spirit, so I spent part of my winter researching some of the best bottles that you might not be familiar with at various price points. Round them up, grab a friend and a couple glasses, and enjoy the ultimate American summer.

If you like the affordability of the most popular bourbons but are curious to try something different, pick up a bottle of Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. At just $25, it’s easy on the wallet, leaving you with enough cash for ice, lemonade, and red plastic cups. But don’t think mixing is a requirement. It’s smooth enough for sipping straight, with vanilla flavors and notes of dried fruit. The label’s cool too, and you can impress your drinking buddies by explaining that Buffalo Trace was the name for the ancient paths carved by migrating buffalo that led early American explorers westward.

Creeping upscale, Basil Hayden’s ($37) is a festive whiskey that elevates even the quotidian bourbon-and-cola to great mixological heights. With flavors of banana, vanilla, and pepper, it delivers a quick, satisfying hit with each sip, followed by a relatively ephemeral finish. Refreshing on ice, impressive in cocktails.

Don’t write off Tuthilltown Hudson Four Grain bourbon whiskey just because it’s from New York State. The addition of rye to the standard mix of corn, wheat, and barley gives it a spicy edge that would make any Kentucky distiller proud, while the rest of the cereals add a backdrop of smooth complexity. At $41 for a 375 ml bottle, it leans upscale (there’s the New York part), but it’s so flavorful that a little goes a long way.

Booker’s Bourbon ($50) is bottled at cask strength, from 121 to 127 proof, which makes it a punch in the face when you swig it neat, yet it’s still far smoother than many overproof whiskeys I’ve tasted. That said, it’s at its best when poured over ice and allowed to rest for ten minutes. That’s an eternity, of course, but one that rewards you with a bouquet of woody aromas and opens up a magical forest of flavors, from orange and honey to butterscotch and grass.

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($55) is unique in that it seeks to accelerate the whiskey aging process by transferring it from one oak barrel to another. The second barrel is toasted twice as long as the first, releasing the vanilla flavors from the wood and allowing notes of banana, pear, and port wine to develop. At this quality level it’s best enjoyed neat, or with one happy ice cube.

My favorite of the bunch also happens to be the most expensive, but not by much. Colonel E.H. Taylor Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey of Topmost Class ($60), from the Buffalo Trace distillery, is a classy pour. At 100 proof, it’s one of those a rare cask strength whiskey that you can drink neat without putting your fist through the wall. Sure, you’ll find some fire in your tumbler, but it gives way to flavors of cinnamon, birch, and the faintest wisp of cream, followed by a finish as long as its name. It’s at once rustic, classic, and upscale, and I’d love to see somebody order it as their bottle service spirit of choice at a fancy nightclub. Clear all those mixers off the table, just leave the water and ice. It’s nice to have something this upscale in the bourbon category. It’s loose and mellow like any of its contemporaries, just a bit more refined.

[Into experimenting with bourbon? Drop by a bourbon-centric bar or restaurant, like Manhattan’s Whiskey Ward or Brooklyn’s Fette Sau. Not suprisingly, some of the best bourbon bars in the country are in Louisville, Kentucky, so peruse BlackBook’s Louisville City Guide for a rail that’s right for you. It was compiled by Louisville.com’s Zach Everson, a bourbon enthusiast and longtime friend of BlackBook.]

Holidays: Get Your Drink On

Hungover from last nights holiday party? Indulged in a little midnight rendezvous? Panicked because you thought there would never be sun again? Regardless of your life choices, your stomach is a bottomless pit and thirsty for more responsible drinking. Let’s all keep riding this festive train with some impressive libations by our friends over at Women & Whiskies. They’ve got a large array of recipes for everyones taste buds this holiday season. Myself and Natasha Kaser made em, drank em, and are now sharing our faves with all yall. You’re welcome. 

Bourbon Balls
One of my favorite things in life is when you can curb your appetite and get your drink on all in one shot. These delectable bite size Bourbon Balls are the perfect blend of sweet and boozey, once you pop you cant stop. One bite and you wont need much else to get the party going, because it will already be poppin..in your mouth!

Bourbon Balls
2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers
1 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts (lightly toasted)
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tbsp light corn syrup
1/4 cup Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon
Powdered Sugar or other Topping

Combine first 4 ingrediaents in a medium bowl. Stir in corn syrup and bourbon. Shape mixture into 1-inch balls. Roll in powdered sugar for a classic finish or get creative and roll in unsweetened cocoa powder, crushed nuts, or dip in melted dark or white chocolate. 

Glen Grant Zinger
Have you ever had a drink that is so dangerously delicious you end up downing about 15 of them in 45 minutes? With the Glen Grant Zinger its nearly impossible to not let it take over your body and mind. Whiskey? Apple Cider? You probably feel refreshed already. I recommend making a vat of this cocktail, just scoop and drink, scoop and drink. Christmas came early, to your taste buds!

Glen Grant Zinger
1 oz Glen Grant 10 year old

4 oz Sparkling Apple Cider Juice

Squeeze of Fresh Lime Juice

Combine and serve over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with an apple slice.

The Major’s Afternoon Tea
Here is a simple refreshing drink that packs a punch, and harks back on the pre-civil-war south. Ignoring the obvious troubles with slavery and what not, you can imagine Scarlet O’Hara kicking back and enjoying a boozy afternoon with one. The ‘Afternoon’ in the title insinuates that it is more of a day drink, although I’d easily start my morning with one. Although perhaps that says more about me than the drink…

The Major’s Afternoon Tea
2 oz. Glen Grant

1/4 oz. Dolin Blanc

1/4 oz. Qi white tea liqueur

Stir and serve up.
Garnish with a lemon twist


The Groundswell
This dangerous combination of sweet and sour flavors with a pretty considerable alcohol content, goes down like a treat. One could innocently enjoy a few of these only to find themselves decently drunk. The sort of drunk where you think singing ABBA in a karaoke bar full of metal heads is a pretty solid idea. I still have no regrets about that one. 

The Groundswell 
Created by The Drink in Brooklyn
10 oz. Glen Grant Major’s Reserve

7.5 oz. Japanese sencha green tea

5 oz. lemon juice

5 oz. simple syrup

4 oz. Combier peach liqueur

1 teaspoon blood orange bitters (Brooklyn Hemispherical brand)

Stir ingredients. Pour over ice into punch bowl. Contains approximately 10 servings.

Will-O-The Wisp
As mystical as the name implies, this drink is actually surprisingly earthy. Combining apple cider with Earl Grey Tea and Lemongrass Syrup, instantly floods the taste buds with fresh notes, undercut by rich kick of the Auchentoshan whiskey. 

And the garnishes literately reflecting the ingredients would certainly make Ina Garten proud.

Will-O-The Wisp
1.5oz. Auchentoshan Three Wood

1.5oz. Earl Grey Tea

.5oz. Martinelli’s Apple Cider


.25oz. Lemongrass Syrup

3 dashes Creole Bitters

3 thin apple slices (soak in Whisky, bitters & lemon juice)

Lemongrass blade

Soda charged

Combine all liquid ingredients, including lemongrass blade and shake vigorously with ice. Pour over fresh ice in high ball glass and garnish with apples slices.

 

For images and more recipes, check out Women & Whiskies.

New York Opening: The Flatiron Room

New Yorkers are not the most loyal lot when it comes to drinking establishments. They have a few signature cocktails here, then there,  then off to somewhere else. But the owners of the new Flatiron Room have sorted a way around such traitorous habits: give drinkers something to own.

At The Flatiron Room, you can polish off half a bottle of your favorite bourbon or rye, and the bartenders will brand it with your name, and store it for you until your next visit. But then, you’d pretty much want to come back here anyway, with its staggering collection of more than 400 whiskies, high-minded classic cocktails, live jazz, and vintage-chic (coffered ceilings, Chesterfield-style banquettes). Proximity to the Ace and The NoMad hotels promises a cool international crowd. 

 

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