Edward Lee and Trey Zoeller are longtime friends. One night while they were out having some drinks, they got hungry. They started discussing which wines to pair with their dinner. “Then we said, ‘Why the hell do that? Let’s pair bourbon with it,’” Zoeller said. But they couldn’t find a bourbon that paired perfectly with the big, spicy dishes they both prefer. So they did what any famous chef and whiskey-maker would do: They created their own.
The result, after 18 months of tasting and tweaking, was Jefferson’s Chef’s Collaboration, launched last night at the Wine Studio @ 610 Magnolia, across the street from Lee’s signature Old Louisville restaurant. Lee also created MilkWood at Actors’ Theatre and has competed on “Iron Chef” and “Top Chef Texas”; Zoeller is founder of Jefferson’s Bourbon.
Chef’s Collaboration joins Jefferson’s line of “ridiculously small batch” whiskies, and as you’ll notice on the label above, it is indeed a blended whiskey and not a bourbon – a combination of 5-year-old and 8-year-old bourbons and a 14-year-old rye bottled at 92 proof.
The rye was the ingredient that gave the whiskey the power to stand up to spicy foods like Lee’s Korean fried chicken (“which I dream about”), Zoeller said.
Lee said another goal was to create a whiskey that wouldn’t be “too precious” from a price standpoint to enjoy with food; the 750ml Chef’s Collaboration retails for around $40 and will be available nationwide.
So: What’s it like? The nose is subtle – probably a good thing, so as not to overpower the accompanying food – and sweet, mostly vanilla and faint oak, with little spice in evidence. In the mouth, the whiskey is rye-forward, but not as spicy as I was anticipating given its description as a “bold” blend and the fact that the rye was 14 years old. Zoeller said rye isn’t typically in wood for that long, and the oak actually mellows the whiskey. The initial white-pepper spice is followed by fruit notes and then a sweet bourbon finish. That finish initially seemed rather short, but I noticed after a few minutes that I was still enjoying a nice cinnamon-y tingle.
Chef’s Collaboration did pair well with the appetizers that Chef Lee prepared, but I look forward to trying it with an entire meal to see how it works with different courses.
Collaborators Edward Lee, left, and Trey Zoeller