Jefferson’s Bourbon Sails Bourbon From Louisville to New York City This Summer

Founder Trey Zoeller and Chef John Besh To Reenact Transportation Methods From 150 Years Ago By Transporting Barrels of Bourbon By Water To See How Delivery Method Of The Past Affects Maturation and Taste


On June 7, Louisville’s Jefferson’s Bourbon launched an excursion as old as whiskey production in this country – floating two barrels of bourbon down the river system of middle America and up the Atlantic Ocean as a means of transportation. Founder and whiskey maker Trey Zoeller has taken a 23-foot Sea Pro boat downstream and will land in New Orleans in early August for a launch party in partnership with Chef John Besh, award-winning chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and philanthropist. Zoeller and Besh collaborated on this project, as it closely links Louisville and New Orleans. From New Orleans, the bourbon will be loaded onto Besh’s renovated rum runner boat and transported to Key West with Zoeller and Besh before being loaded on a sailboat to sail north up the Atlantic, landing for a tasting party in New York City at the end of September.

The purpose of this reenactment is to gauge the different ways in which the bourbon matures on water, as opposed to in barrels on dry land, and figure out how transportation means of the past affected the taste and finish of early bourbon production. Since the beginning of whiskey production in the United States, buyers and sellers in cities up and down the East Coast clamored over barrels coming from Kentucky, west of the Appalachian Mountains. Zoeller theorizes that this is due largely in part to the transportation method: floating on water.

“My personal theory is that as the bourbon constantly sloshed around in the barrels, the constant contact with the wood accelerated the maturation process,” said Zoeller. “The barrels also sucked in the salt air and the sun caramelized the sugars in the wood and sped up the maturation process, producing a much different final product than we know today. It’s a bourbon that, in my mind, tastes much more similar to Jefferson’s Ocean than bourbon that is now aged in Kentucky – that’s what made Kentucky bourbon so desirable and unique a hundred and fifty years ago and why buyers in cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston demanded the bourbon from Kentucky and were willing to pay more for it.”

Much like what the brand has seen when making its own Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea, in which barrels of 8-year-old bourbon are loaded onto container ships and sailed around the globe, Trey thinks the rocking motions, the briny air coming off of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean are the reason why this bourbon is so unique.

As the whiskey from Kentucky landed in New Orleans, the French unloading the barrels first formed an affinity for the whiskey that had been aged. As a steward of Louisiana dedicated to preserving the regional traditions and cuisine of his city, Besh was a natural fit for this collaboration. Upon arriving in New Orleans, Zoeller and Besh will host a landing cocktail party to celebrate the first leg of the journey. The event will offer the best of Chef’s Creole, Southern fare complimented by Jefferson’s Bourbon cocktails and neat pours.

“I am very excited to be a part of this adventure of helping Jefferson‘s Bourbon reenact its historic journey from Kentucky down the Ohio, Mississippi and from the Port of New Orleans to the world! Trey embodies those rare passionate qualities that enables him to create the most interesting and exquisitely delicious bourbons on the market today and it’s an on honor to be a part of that process,” added Besh.

A month later, in late September, Zoeller and team will have a launch event in New York City as the journey comes to a close. For more information on the Jefferson’s Bourbon Flatboat Experiment, follow the progress on Instagram (@jeffsbourbon), Facebook (Jefferson’s Bourbon) and Twitter (@JeffsBourbon).

Jefferson’s Float Trip Experiment will be available in rare allocation via nationwide auction and The Home of Jefferson’s distillery this November. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the John Besh Foundation.


Jefferson’s Bourbon is a collection of bourbons made in ridiculously small batches, which was founded in 1997 by Trey Zoeller and his father Chet, a famed bourbon author and historian. The two seek out new and aged barrels of bourbon from established distilleries that have perfected distilling over hundreds of years. Then they do some old-fashioned experimenting, building balance and adding complexity through different selection, agitation and environmental processes until they find the taste Jefferson’s is now known for. Trey compares his process to nature vs. nurture – the distilled product represents the bourbon in its natural state, which is then nurtured, or manipulated, by Trey to enhance the flavors, maturation and quality of the finished product.  The Jefferson’s Bourbon portfolio includes Jefferson’s, Jefferson’s Reserve, Jefferson’s Presidential Select, Jefferson’s Rye, Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration, Jefferson’s Ocean: Aged at Sea, Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Cask Finish, Jefferson’s & Esquire: The Manhattan, and Jefferson’s Wood Experiments. To see the whole Jefferson’s portfolio and learn more about upcoming releases, please visit


A Louisiana native, Chef John Besh founded the Besh Restaurant Group with Octavio Mantilla and opened his first restaurant, August, in 2001 in New Orleans. Today, BRG is made up of fifteen restaurants: thirteen in New Orleans, one north of Lake Pontchartrain, one in San Antonio, and one in Baltimore as well as one event space and a bar. The restaurants range from casual to fine dining but are unified by the company’s commitment to the guest and their experience. Dedicated to the culinary riches of Southern Louisiana, John aims to preserve the rich culinary heritage of New Orleans in all his properties, entrepreneurial pursuits and public activities. At the core of the organization is John’s nonprofit The John Besh Foundation. Founded in 2011, the Foundation works to protect and preserve the culinary heritage and foodways of New Orleans through initiatives such as the Chefs Move! culinary school scholarship and “Milk Money” microloans for local farmers.

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