Every year, Jefferson’s Bourbon founder Trey Zoeller looks forward to his family’s annual boisterous Thanksgiving celebration at his parents’ home in Florida.
Usually, the day kicks off early in the morning with a fishing trip that will help determine, at least in part, what he and his family will enjoy for dinner. “Depending on what we catch—usually redfish, snook, trout or sheepshead—we incorporate that into the meal, so it’s not just your traditional turkey and stuffing,” says Zoeller.
That means grilled or stewed fish, or sometimes even locally sourced stone crabs, alongside broccoli casserole, green beans, mashed potatoes and, naturally, a bourbon-glazed turkey.
“My maternal grandmother always hosted Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners and everything that she cooked was smothered in bourbon—bourbon balls, pecan pie and turkey,” he says. “It’s very much a Kentucky-style holiday.”
In addition to fishing and eating, there are usually afternoon games of football and dominoes, as well as an inevitable nap. Zoeller’s family then makes their way to the beach for a bonfire and closes out the day with a bourbon nightcap.
This year, however, is unusual to say the least. And like many people across the country, Zoeller is putting his holiday traditions on pause. Rather than going to Florida, he’s instead heading to Telluride, Colorado, with one of his sisters and her family as well as his 15-year-old twin sons.
“If you know it’s not going to be the same and if it’s a little depressing that it’s not the same, then run towards the light instead of away from it,” says Zoeller. “If it’s not going to be traditional, let’s make it not traditional.”
He’ll be flying into Denver and driving across the state, spending as much time as possible outdoors, skiing, fly fishing, hiking and rafting along the way.
Zoeller will, of course, have several different bottlings of Jefferson’s Bourbon waiting for him in Denver, which he plans to enjoy and share with friends and family. And when it comes time for the big meal, the whiskey will offer plenty of options for pairing with different dishes. His advice on matching whiskey with food is pretty simple: Whatever you’re eating, look for a bourbon with similar flavors. Or, better yet, pick a bourbon and then pair your food to it.
For classic Thanksgiving dishes, he prefers 15-year-old Jefferson’s Reserve’s big, sophisticated flavors. But if you’re going to replace the turkey and stuffing this year, don’t worry, he has plenty of spirited suggestions, too.
For those folks grilling steak, “I’ve got a Cabernet-finished bourbon called Pritchard Hill Cask Finished, which I think is the quintessential steak house bourbon,” says Zoeller.
If you’re planning on serving dishes featuring spicy flavors, he recommends checking out the edition of his Chef’s Collaboration Bourbon made in conjunction with Louisville-based celebrity chef Edward Lee. It was created specifically to pair with Korean fried chicken, but Zoeller says it would also pair well with any dish that has a good kick of heat.
Whether you’re closing out your meal with a homemade pumpkin pie or a bowl of your favorite ice cream, the Jefferson’s Rum Cask Finish is the way to go as it “brings in banana and coconut flavors,” says Zoeller.
So what will Zoeller be eating on Thanksgiving Day? That is still to be determined, but he is planning to incorporate bourbon as well as another nod to his family’s traditions.
“I’m going to have stone crabs shipped out to Colorado for Thanksgiving,” says Zoeller, who, of course, has the perfect drink to accompany them. “The brininess that comes out of the Jefferson’s Ocean Bourbon would pair great with the stone crabs.”
Now, that’s one tradition that tastes great no matter where you’re celebrating the holiday this year.
Please sip responsibly