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Jefferson's Marian McLain

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Jefferson's, as my palate and their various expressions don't always jive. With a retail price of just under three hundred dollars, their recently announced Marian McLain bottling leaves me wondering, is shelling out that kind of money worth it? Following on Jefferson's 25th anniversary, late last week Jefferson's began releasing their new expression as a tribute to Trey Zoeller's (the distilleries founder) eighth generation grandmother, Marian McLain, who was one of the earliest women on record for distilling and selling whiskey in America.

The Particulars

The first thing that you should know is that Jefferson's Marian McLain bottling is a blend of not two, not three, not four, but five whiskeys, as noted below.

  • 21 percent fourteen-year-old Tennessee straight bourbon whiskey

  • 40 percent eleven-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey

  • 14 percent wheated double barrel bourbon

  • 17 percent rum cask finish bourbon

  • 8 percent eight-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey

Early reviews suggest that Jefferson's has done a great job of balancing this blend overall by pairing complex spicy notes with waves of molasses, tucked away underneath those are notes of banana which collide with a resiny woodiness. The dram is also apparently matured in "freshly drained" Jefferson's Ocean barrels from their line of whiskey aged at sea. This extra step is suggested to have accentuated the softness of the dram.

Aging Bourbon at Sea

Although the Marian McLain bottling uses barrels to mature the spirit from Jefferson's Ocean line, it doesn't age this release at sea. The use of these seafaring barrels, however, provides a novel opportunity to add a bit more nuance to the dram. As bourbon is set adrift in containers on vessels, the spirit is exposed to constant agitation and changes in climate on its journey from the distillery to your glencairn. Similar to that of a dark rum, this exposure imparts a caramelized sweetness paired with a brininess from the salty sea breeze and spray from the ocean. The barrel is responsible for the lion's share of the flavor profile, so expect that the act of marrying the five whiskeys in these barrels may provide something a bit "plus, plus."

Marian McLain | An Early Bourboneur

The "whiskey tax" became law in 1791, and was intended to generate revenue for the war debt incurred during the Revolutionary War. The tax applied to all distilled spirits, but consumption of American whiskey was rapidly expanding, so the tax ultimately became known as the whiskey tax.

During the Revolutionary War, Marian McLain's husband died leaving her to support five children. To provide for her family, McLain began moonshining and bootlegging which were illegal at the time. Ultimately, McLain was arrested in 1799 and galvanized her place as one of the earliest documented women in American whiskey as a result.

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