Jefferson’s Presidential Select 20 Year

Batch 1, Bottle 0390, UK release (2016)

MASH BILL – Unknown

PROOF – 94

AGE – 20 years

DISTILLERY – Bottled for McLain & Kyne (sourced from an unnamed distillery)

PRICE – $242 (includes shipping from the UK)

BUY AGAIN? – No, because $$$ not taste… Then again…

Having enjoyed a few Jefferson’s offerings, when an opportunity to nab this 20-year edition in their Presidential Select line came up I didn’t think too long. Even though I purchased it from a UK shop and had it shipped to me, the overall cost was comparable to—perhaps even a bit less than—what I would expect to pay for such a well aged bourbon in the United States. A shame that the bottle had to travel from Louisville to the UK and then to San Francisco. But there it is.

I opened it the day it arrived—something I’d never done with a unicorn before. I was so glad I did! There was the immediate satisfaction. But also, it was good. A few weeks later I sampled it for the second time in a comparison with the Elijah Craig 18 Year Single Barrel. I wasn’t quite as impressed with it that night. Both bourbons hit under my expectations for their age and stature. But I thought it deserved its own tasting. So here we are.

Here first are some notes, taken almost a quarter of the way into the bottle and tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a soft but vibrant burnt orange, verging into red…

NOSE – dark cherry pie, juicy plump raisins, dusty thick cut oak, a faint eucalyptus menthol, some kind of fancy candy with chocolate and cherry truffle, everything deep but relaxed

TASTE – dark syrupy cherry, a bit of those juicy raisins, smooth gooey caramel sauce, some rich chocolate, dense and refined oak, thin but silky texture

FINISH – those dark syrupy cherries, chocolate, the oak in the background, all lingering gently but… for… ever…

OVERALL – silky, smooth, deep and dark, almost cooling in its soft warmth, with those cherry aspects taking the lead from nose to finish

Okay. On its own, without my attention dialed in on comparing it to the Elijah Craig 18 Year, I’m much more impressed with this tonight, as I was at this bottle’s uncorking.

It’s worth noting, earlier this evening I also sampled some of the Elijah Craig 18 Year, and likewise enjoyed it more than I did during its prior comparison with the Jefferson’s. But whereas the Elijah Craig 18 Year is tasty in the moment and then quickly forgotten, this Jefferson’s Presidential Select 20 Year is like a high-end cherry cordial candy of some kind—something I don’t want to like but can’t help having another.

McLain & Kyne source their bourbons, and, as one comes to expect, do not reveal their sources. But they have demonstrated time and again their excellent taste in selection. And their experiments with aging bourbons on boats that travel down the Mississippi and around the world’s oceans, or finishing them in a variety of barrels, have yielded very tasty results.

So they are a very interested company, clearly curious about bourbon, and well connected enough to secure high quality barrels for their various experiments in aging, barreling, and blending. McLain & Kyne started buying up barrels of good bourbon in 1997, before the bourbon boom had boomed. So they were able to get really good barrels. This 20-year release is one of them.

The always well-aged Presidential Select series are served up in a very attractive rendition of the Jefferson’s standard bottle, with an ornate metal choker around its neck sporting the line’s initials. The presentation befits its contents.

If this isn’t Elijah Craig juice sourced from Heaven Hill I’m a monkey’s uncle. The taste is so remarkably similar to the Elijah Craig 18 Year, and an Elijah Craig 23 Year I recently sampled—that unmistakable combination of syrupy cherries, caramel, and highly refined oak.

But I’ll never know for sure. I’m left to wonder. That’s frustrating. But it’s also a part of the fun. A good mystery keeps an audience’s attention. And Jefferson’s continues to hold my attention. Their Ocean Voyage 19, for example, sits beckoning on my shelf awaiting its uncorking. It’s their second wheated bourbon in the Ocean series, the previous (Voyage 15) having made a solid impression, if not one strong enough to warrant my buying a second bottle. The prices of these experiments aren’t generally very approachable.

But a 20-year age stated bourbon, exported and then imported, for $240? In today’s market that’s not bad. The Stay-at-Home mandate had just kicked in when I saw it up for sale, so, let’s call it an indulgent self-care purchase. 😉

If you generally like the well-aged Elijah Craigs, and if the flavors cherry, caramel, chocolate, and oak are your jam, I wholeheartedly recommend this bottle as your next splurge. It may already be gone. In which case, keep an eye out for future Jefferson’s Presidential Select offerings. They bely the bad rap sourcing often gets. These are well-sourced bourbons, and very well cared for.

I’m gonna have another pour right now.


P.S. As I was typing up these notes, I poured some Pappy 15 Year. Woah! These also taste like cousins. Not what I expected. The Pappy 15 Year’s 107 proof pushes its flavors more forwardly than the Jefferson’s 94 proof does. But the similarities in their profiles are remarkable. Is the Jefferson’s sourced from Buffalo Trace…?!

With some sleuthing: No, it’s not possible, since it was in 2002 that Buffalo Trace took up the task of distilling the Van Winkle line, and this 20-year Jefferson’s would have been distilled and barreled in 1995 or 1996 to then be released in 2016.

Also, this May 2019 notice at The Bourbon Exchange suggests the Jefferson’s 20 Year is “expected to be a high rye mash bill.” Hmm…

This tasty mystery continues…!

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