Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon​ Review [In Depth]

Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon

Alex author
Founder, writer
Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon header

Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon​ Details

Distillery: Jefferson’s (Kentucky Artisans?)

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 45.1%

Composition: Unknown

Aged: Not stated

Color: 1.2/2.0 on the color scale (chestnut, oloroso sherry)

Price: $55-60

From the company website:

The oldest and most robust bourbon whiskey in the core Jefferson’s family, our Reserve is a perfect example of the artistry of blending. 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. It’s robust enough to satisfy even the most discerning bourbon snob and smooth enough for the whiskey novice. A truly quintessential bourbon whiskey.

Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon​ overview

If the Jefferson’s brand confuses you, you’re not alone. I find the brand to be very opaque, as widespread as it is. The thing is, they’re not that young. Early on in the late 90s and early 2000s, they sourced some absolutely insane 15+ year old whiskey, which is now the stuff of legend.
But as is the case with all whiskey, the really old and really spectacular whiskey is gone, or at least relegated to the super limited and expensive releases. I unwisely passed up a 20 year old bourbon for $200 in 2020. I’m pretty sure I skipped another rare Jefferson’s release in 2019 too. Those misses still hurt and I really regret it. Oh well.
But for most people, you’re likely more exposed to Jefferson’s Very Small Batch Bourbon (the base version), Jefferson’s Reserve (the step up) and Jefferson’s Ocean (partially aged at sea). But as you know, this review covers Jefferson’s Reserve, the extra $30ish upgrade to the standard Very Small Batch. Why? I guess it’s because it’s “very old”.
But let’s be honest, $60 for a “very old” bourbon has very little meaning. If you’re lucky, it could mean that there’s a meaningful amount of old bourbon in the blend. At worst, it could be borderline misleading. The lack of an age statement on the bottle or website, and no indicators for distillation and dump date mean that it’s all non-transparent.
The part that puzzles me the most is who makes their whiskey. When I search the internet, I keep reading that Kentucky Artisans Distillery makes it, which I’ve never heard of before. Well, it could mean that that distillery makes it now, although Jefferson’s of old was sourced from all over Kentucky. Now uh…I don’t know what’s happening. I do know that this is bottle 01629 from 374, whatever that means.
I’ll admit that this is a strange introduction, but Jefferson’s is not a beacon of clarity like Bardstown Bourbon Company is. But you know what, maybe in the end it’s fine because the bourbon is so good, so let’s find out if that’s the case in this Jefferson’s Reserve Reserve review.
Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon front
q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B003VAWA68&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=thewhiskeyshe 20

As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon​ smell

Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon starts with dry corn and nutty caramel, vanilla, dried orange peel, dry and toasted oak (not that burnt or dark), licorice, mint, peach, dried cherry, toasted cracker and grain. This one takes a while to open up, ~25 minutes the first time. It starts off more dry, but that calms down and becomes a little more fruity and herbal.
What’s weird, I guess in a good way, is that I get faint hints of dusty bourbon with dried cherry, apricot, and licorice. It comes and goes. Maybe that’s the “very old” part making an appearance. At the same time, Jefferson’s Very Small Batch has this herbal dryness that’s sticks out. I don’t know if I love it, but I don’t hate it.
So far, it smells good, but it’s not complex, deep, or rich. It reminds me a lot of Frank August Bourbon: it gets the first part right but doesn’t deliver a deeper experience.
After swirling and about 12 minutes of rest, I smell herbal and dry honey, licorice, dried pineapple, roasted oak, clove, cinnamon, orange peel, vanilla, dried grain and cracker, and a little dry nuttiness, grapefruit peel, and earthiness. I’m baffled at how Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon is so herbal and rye-driven to the point that it’s like a rye whiskey. It sounds crazy, but I swear it does.
So yes, Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon is pleasant to smell, with nice fruitiness and herbalness, but it doesn’t have roundness, depth, or expressiveness to be exceptional or even great. Nice, but generally shallow.
Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon neck

Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon​ taste and aftertaste

On my first sip, I taste herbal and licorice-y honey, pineapple, roasted oak, cinnamon, clove, pineapple, and rose. This is surprisingly herbal to the point that it feels like a rye whiskey, like Sagamore Spirit Rye. I like herbal rye whiskeys, so I can’t complain, but it’s jarring to experience since this is a bourbon. Nonetheless, the strange herbalness brings a nice brightness, but there’s also this oaky dryness. It’s a weird juxtaposition. Maybe it’s the “very old” part?

So far, Jefferson’s Reserve Very Small Batch Tastes good, but it’s all a surface level experience. Maybe a little “very old”, but not “very deep”.
With “chewing”, I taste herbal honey full of licorice and fennel, followed by pear, lychee, roasted oak, clove, cinnamon, and pepper, and then some spicy and alcohol kick. This somehow becomes even more herbal. You could fool me into thinking that this was Sagamore Spirit…if you drink this I think you’ll understand too.
For 45.1%, it also has surprisingly more spicy and fire-y burn and bite than I would expect. The flavors have some fullness, but the heat also has a full kick. It’s not necessarily hot or harsh, but it bites a surprising amount. It doesn’t mean it’s bad, but it’s rowdy…which is not a “very old” type of character. 45.1% can often be blamed for being more thin and watered-down, but that’s not quite the case here, both good and strange.
The finish starts with honey, licorice, fennel, pineapple, lychee, roasted oak, cinnamon. To no surprise, it’s very herbal and rye forward with a little drying herbalness and oakiness in the back. After “chewing” it leaves honey, licorice, fennel, pear, roasted oak, pepper, cinnamon, and clove, with lingering herbal sweetness with a little roastiness. Seriously, this has the finish of a rye whiskey.
So, Jefferson’s Reserve Very Small Batch is definitely not bland or boring, but it also doesn’t feel  particularly developed or rich. It’s easy enough to enjoy with enough character to be somewhat interesting.

If you’re shopping on Amazon, support The Whiskey Shelf by shopping through my affiliate link – Shop Amazon. I may earn a commission from your Amazon purchases.

Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon​ Rating

Mid shelf+
Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon is strange, but it’s still good. I guess it’s kind of unique…in a rye whiskey kind of way? As for the “very old” part, well it’s probably in there somewhere, maybe coming through as a little extra dried fruit and spice. Otherwise this drinks like a 5-7 year old bourbon with a rye whiskey complex.
I keep going on and on about the rye whiskey feeling because it’s so…strange. I don’t get that feeling very often from bourbon, but when I do it usually comes from Willett-made bourbon. My main experiences with Willett are with Old Bardstown and a Japanese store pick Purple Top, so only 2 bourbons.
Bear with me because this may or may not come from Kentucky Artisan Distilleries, which I still know nothing about. Both Willett bourbons were so herbal and borderline like rye whiskey that I’ll never forget my feeling of confusion and befuddlement, and Jefferson’s Reserve lands squarely in that same area. Do not quote me on this as fact, it is just my speculation based on how it drinks. I really can’t think of another Kentucky bourbon that is so rye-like, not even the super high rye Four Roses.
So at minimum, there’s an interesting twist to the whole experience. Is it $60 good? It’s not terrible value but I don’t think it’s all that compelling at that price. At $60, you’re up against some stiff competition like Wild Turkey Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, Baker’s Bourbon, Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof Single Barrel (at the low end of prices at least), and even slightly more affordable bourbons such as Michter’s Small Batch Bourbon and Still Austin Cask Strength.
Shoot, at the lower ABV give me Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. The point being, maybe consider it after you’ve had the moderately long list of bourbons I’ve already mentioned.
Jefferson’s Reserve Very Small Batch is yet another a bit too expensive (but not crazy expensive) sourced bourbon (the sourced part is up for debate) that delivers a solid experience, but leaves quite a few things to be desired and lands squarely as a “Mid Shelf+” bourbon.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

There are no sponsors, no media companies, and no nonsense. Support The Whiskey Shelf by Buying Me A Shot.
q? encoding=UTF8&MarketPlace=US&ASIN=B07GL6Z1X3&ServiceVersion=20070822&ID=AsinImage&WS=1&Format= SL250 &tag=thewhiskeyshe 20

Shattered glass really sucks, so if you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)