The Good Life: Bourbon aged at sea

Steve Palec on Bourbon

Steve Palec

Last updated on April 24th, 2023 at 11:05 pm

Of my 7,548 annoying habits, the one my wife constantly mentions is my tendency to embellish.

I might have just embellished again. But I like my stories to be entertaining, and I don’t think it is that troublesome. She, however, will correct me every time. One running joke between us involves how many cruises I have taken. I can’t remember exactly, so instead of saying five or six, I claim that I have been on hundreds.

As much fun as I’ve had on all of them, they pale in comparison to what occurs when Jefferson’s Ocean Aged at Sea bourbon is created.

While all bourbon has to age in a brand-new charred oak barrel, where the initial liquid interacts with the wood, imagine what the motion of the sea does to that interaction. At the risk of sounding like a cheap romance novel, just think of that constant pulsating churn, moving back and forth and back and forth and back and forth.

So how did this idea come about? In 2008, Chris Fischer, founder of OCEARCH, an organization dedicated to advancing the science of the life history of white sharks and other giants of the sea, along with Jefferson’s founder and master blender, Trey Zoeller. were on a ship watching their whiskey swirl in their glasses.

Much like the time my former roommate John and I had the idea that nobody would ever rent the upstairs unit of the duplex we lived in if we acted like raving lunatics whenever the landlord tried to show it, these two friends thought together, “What if we aged bourbon at sea?”

Not only would the motion impact the process, but so would the extreme and variable weather conditions, they surmised.

Fischer grew up in landlocked Louisville but somehow became a world-renowned explorer, researcher, and shark advocate whose work with OCEARCH has had a major impact on maintaining ecosystems.

His collaborator Zoeller is also a disruptor. Instead of becoming a distiller of bourbon, which takes time and money (lots of it), he elected to experiment by blending whiskeys and started Jefferson’s Bourbon in 1997. The brand has a solid flagship bourbon and some great blends with wines.

As an aside, his Jefferson’s Wood Experiments come in small bottles that I find a perfect size for sneaking into events in my suit coat pocket.

Steve Palec and Gary Ellerson

The Jefferson’s Ocean bourbons turned out to be not only unique but darn good. Each bourbon-carrying voyage crosses the equator twice and, on average, passes five continents, 25 ports and possibly a dozen places you could get off and get your hair braided. I embellished only that last point.

I have to credit former Wisconsin Badger, former Green Bay Packer and my consistent bourbon drinking buddy, Gary Ellerson, with first introducing me to the story of Oceans.

We have shared a number of bourbons over the years, but as you will note from this photo, I still wouldn’t open my bottle of Pappy Van Winkle for him or anybody.

Oceans was one of the first bottles I sought out to add to my collection, and I have gone through a number of them since. Each voyage is numbered, and there is even a link through which you can track the ship’s logs. (

I think it is a great bourbon. and while it is a bit expensive–just like cruise lines probably have to drop their prices during certain times of the year to entice new passengers–it does go on sale occasionally.

Steve Palec is chief marketing officer of Wauwatosa-based commercial real estate development firm Irgens. ‘The Good Life: Steve Palec on Bourbon’ lifestyle feature appears regularly at

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