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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – After braving thunder, hail, and navigating the river systems in the Midwest and South for two months, a small boat carrying two 500 pound barrels of bourbon, docked on Lake Ponchartrain this weekend.

Now Jefferson’s Bourbon founder and maker Trey Zoeller can try this special bourbon; that’s been matured the way it was done centuries ago.

Related: The Bourbon Boom and Its Ties to New Orleans

“So when bourbon ages in Kentucky, what typically happens is you distil it, and you put it into a rickhouse where it sits on its side. It gets all the flavors and textures out of the wood, and that’s what really turns whiskey into bourbon,” Zoeller explained. “So instead of waiting for that to happen over seasons, it constantly happens when it’s rocking back and forth on the boat. As you can see right now.”

In the 1800s, bourbon was shipped all over the country from Kentucky. Zoeller firmly believes that process of days past creates a quality bourbon that we have not seen for decades.

“We haven’t tapped into these barrels yet, so this is the first time this has happened in 150 years,” Zoeller said. “I think you’re going to see a much darker color.”

Zoeller also predicts the bourbon will have a lot more flavors. “I think the wood is really going to strip the stringency out of the alcohol, and now that it’s in salt water it’s going to really suck in the salt air and give it a kind of briny taste as well.”

Following Tuesday evening’s private tasting party, famous New Orleans Chef John Besh and Zoeller will take to the high seas together, with the barrels – aptly named “Fantastic Voyage” and “I’m on a Boat”.


How did Besh and Zoeller meet? It was a partnership born out of good bourbon.

“We were working on another project, and I was telling him [John Besh] what we were doing. He jumped on it, and he said ‘if you don’t have a boat to take it from New Orleans to Key West, I’d love to put it on my boat,” Zoeller said.

The four will travel throughout Florida, and then pass the barrels on to another sailboat in late September. The barrels will make their final stop in New York City roughly around Halloween. There, the bourbon, roughly valued at $500 a bottle, will be auctioned off to raise money for the John Besh Foundation.

Financially, the trip will be a loss for Zoeller, but he said nothing beats bourbon and a boating adventure.

“I got a history degree out of Tulane in 1990, and this is actually the first time I’ve done anything with the history degree, so maybe that’s the one thing I get out of it,” he said.