How To Age Bourbon With Sharks

Whiskey and shark-catching? It’s a manly double whammy.

Aging is a key part of the bourbon-making process, so distillers have to think very carefully about where they can let their precious cargo rest undisturbed. Unless the distiller is Trey Zoeller, owner of Jefferson Bourbon, in which case it gets aged on a boat designed to catch sharks. Keep reading, it’ll all make sense.

Step One: Find A Boat

“The shark boat kind of picked me,” said Zoeller. “Sharks and bourbon, it’s pretty manly.” The idea of aging bourbon on a boat came after hanging out with his longtime friend Chris Fischer, the Expedition Leader and Founding Chairman of OCEARCH, a non-profit group that studies sharks by capturing and releasing them all over the world. The pair was aboard Fischer’s boat in Costa Rica and, as they enjoyed a nightcap on the bow, Zoeller became hypnotized by the movement of the bourbon in his glass. “It just kind of hit me,” he said. “If we aged barrels on the boat it would be swaying in the barrel and have contact with the wood, and that would accelerate the aging process.” Zoeller asked Fischer if he would take a few barrels on his ship, and Fischer was, in Zoeller’s words, “dumb enough to say yes.”

Step Two: Find Sharks

After loading five 600-pound barrels onto the ship, it’s time to travel the world looking for sharks. A good place to start is South Africa, the only place in the world where Great White sharks jump out of the water like a whale. Here, the OCEARCH research vessel found Perseverance, an eight-foot female shark, as well as many others.

Step Three: Leave The Bourbon Alone

Leave the barrels to stand sentry as you examine the creature you’ve just hauled out of the ocean, then make sure to put shark back in the sea. Do not feed the shark the bourbon.

Step Four: Keep Leaving The Bourbon Alone, No Matter How Much You Want To Drink It

Continue to repeat steps two and three for approximately three and a half years.

Step Five: Taste The Bourbon

“When I tapped in to it, it completely blew my expectations out of the water,” said Zoeller. “It had opened up so much caramel, and the barrel acted as a filter to take out the astringency – I couldn’t want for anything more.”

Step Six: Remove Bourbon From Boat


Step Seven: Give The Gods Their Share

Accept that Poseidon will have his due, in the form of – in Zoeller’s case – two barrels mysteriously bursting (or more likely, mysteriously secretly drunk by the crew).

Step Eight: Bottle Your Spirit

Give it a clever name like Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea, and donate the proceeds to more shark research. The latter part helps lay the groundwork for more barrels to be put to sea, so you end up with more bourbon. It’s what’s known as a “delicious circle.”