In an 1818 letter to the French Ambassador to the United States, Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, described whiskey as a “poison” responsible for “desolating” middle-class households. If Jefferson hated whiskey so much, why would a company name their bourbon after him? In order to answer that question, we need to go back to the year 1791.
The Revolutionary War left the United States in financial ruin. Alexander Hamilton (the musical guy) was the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. It was his job to lower the debt and ease the nerves of anxious overseas creditors. Throughout history, whenever politicians needed money, they usually turned to alcohol for help. Sin taxes (alcohol, cigarettes, those things that make people look like a steam train when they exhale) are rarely met with heavy resistance. Instead of showing restraint (this was the first tax thrust upon citizens in US history), Hamilton’s whiskey tax was, in a word, ridiculous. Small-scale distillers were required to pay between 9 and 25 cents per gallon. To put that into perspective, the average person back then made 25 cents a day. Every distiller, no matter the output, also needed to keep records of everything they made, sold, and had on hand. Lastly, tax inspectors could enter any premises, day or night, if they suspected foul play, much like the British did prior to the Revolutionary War when they entered homes unannounced looking for things to tax.
In the late 1700s, whiskey was an important part of everyday life in rural America, something Hamilton grossly underestimated. Whiskey was also used as currency to buy much-needed supplies. Money, on the other hand, was rarely used or found on the frontier. Some farmers went decades without seeing a single cent of hard currency. For Hamilton to expect these people to pay in dollars was absurd. Equally ridiculous was Hamilton’s insistence upon accurate record keeping. Most westerners at the time were illiterate. What a bitter pill this tax must’ve been. Many of these men fought to free themselves from the chains of colonialism and unfair taxation just a few years prior. The tax was ignored by many in protest. Things got heated. Fearing another revolution, 13,000 militiamen were dispatched to western Pennsylvania. In the end, the Whiskey Rebellion went out like a lamb. Only a few people died in the conflict.
Jefferson hated Hamilton’s whiskey tax, and saw little difference between it and the taxes placed on colonists before the Revolution. Once he became president, he scrapped every tax aimed at citizens. He also took a meat cleaver to the federal budget, and decimated the military. This “very small” (you’ll get why I used quotes in a bit) government approach managed to reduce the deficit by a third. The whiskey tax was brought back to pay for the War of 1812, but Jefferson was long gone by then. I guess this explains why Jefferson’s is called Jefferson’s, but that still doesn’t make it a good fit. Jefferson was a wine drinker. He dreamed of a day when wine would become America’s drink of choice, believing it would, “Carry health and comfort to a much enlarged circle.” Jefferson also wasn’t a fan of overseas involvement in American affairs. Jefferson’s bourbon is owned by McLain & Kyne, which is owned by Castle Brands, which is owned by Pernod Ricard, a French multinational.
Jefferson’s Reserve has an interesting label. It isn’t old, it’s very old:
“How old are the bourbons in this blend?”
“Could you be more specific?”
“They’re older than 4 but younger than 100.”
Jefferson’s Reserve isn’t a small batch, it’s a very small batch:
“What does very small batch mean?”
“We took a batch of whiskies that were small and made them even smaller.”
The Jefferson’s website is quite the experience. Every link takes you to a magical world of nothingness, where fields of flowery rhetoric grow freely. I swear the person who wrote the Jefferson’s Reserve description got paid by the adjective:
“This small batch blend of mature bourbons exhibits incredible nuance and complexity of flavors that only a masterful blender can unlock. The end result is a big, sophisticated bourbon whiskey with a bold, substantial palate and a long, delicious finish.”
Wait. No tasting notes? This is supposed to be a whiskey blog, remember?
You’re right, sorry. Jefferson’s Reserve is masterful, big, sophisticated, bold, and substantial.