Woodford Reserve – Review
Perhaps it’s how the horses stay so cool and collected during the race? It is, after all, the “Thoroughbred of Bourbons”.
This small batch bourbon comes from a distillery originally built by Elijah Pepper in Versailles, KY in 1812.
It is currently one of the oldest of the nine still functioning distilleries in Kentucky. In 1878 the distillery was purchased by Leopold Labrot and James Graham, who (except during Prohibition) operated it until 1941.
Despite the sale, the distillery retained the Labrot & Graham name. Brown-Forman sold it after just three years, only to re-purchase it 23 years later in 1994 and subsequently spent over seven million dollars renovating the property.
The distillery was officially renamed as The Woodford Reserve Distillery in 2003 and is one of the official stops on the Bourbon Trail.
While Woodford Reserve was originally bottled from extra-aged honey barrels of Old Forester, it is now primarily bottled from bourbon made in old-fashioned copper pot stills (as opposed to modern column stills).
Their barrels of bourbon are aged in a 100 year-old stone warehouse, whereas many other whiskey warehouses are built from wood. The stone better retains heat, allowing the warehouse to heat and cool more slowly as the seasons change. This means the whiskey shrinks and expands in the barrel more slowly as well. Some claim that this allows for more predictable aging and consistency in taste.
The barrels are aged for at least 6 years and then poured and bottled at 90.4 proof.
Since 1999, Woodford Reserve annually releases a special bottling for each running of the Kentucky Derby. Additionally, they have also created two other special release whiskeys, their Sonoma-Cutrer Finish whiskey and the Master’s Collection Four-Grain Bourbon, which I will write about in a later review.
The nose is quite woody and has light notes charcoal and dark chocolate. On the palate, it is smooth with subtle spice. It has a delicate woody sweetness, but not quite as potent as the nose. The finish is long and dry with a flowery twist. A hint of wood still lingers.
For me, the inviting and markedly strong nose stands out.
Should you ever find yourself in the neighborhood of Versailles, KY (pronounced “vur-sales”, not “vair-sigh”), it is worth your while to do some exploring and visit the distillery. Tucked away among endless acres of beautifully scenic Thoroughbred horse farms you’ll find the Woodford Reserve Distillery. The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark since 2000.
They welcome visitors, and guided tours are $5 per person. In addition, if you’re serious about your Woodford Reserve, you can even buy your own custom batch. They’ll pair you up with a craftsman to help you pick out the barrels you’d like, and then bottle you 180 1-liter bottles of your own special bourbon, complete with custom labels with your name on them. You also get a private tour of the distillery when you do your barrel selection.
If you don’t plan on picking up and heading to Kentucky any time soon, I suggest you at least venture out to the corner store and treat yourself to a bottle of Woodford Reserve. You can usually pick up a 750ml bottle for around $34 – $38. Most higher end liquor stores should carry it.
Overall, I find Woodford Reserve to be a solid bourbon. It has a medium complexity with high woody notes, yet it remains fairly smooth. It’s not too sweet, but it’s also not too spicy. In my mind, Woodford Reserve has a nice balance that lends well to mixed drinks, and is often a go-to for me at Derby time when I’m mixing up mint juleps — which seems fitting given its Kentucky Derby sponsorship.
If a bar or restaurant carries any upper-shelf bourbon, this is very likely to be one of them (Brown-Forman definitely has the distribution game down). I would say I’ve seen it in 4 out of 5 major airport bars I have been to in the U.S., so it is a good one to get to know if you travel much.
My only complaint about Woodford Reserve is that it may be a little over-priced in my mind, so I have to dock it a few points in terms of value.
How do you rate Woodford Reserve? Let us know by leaving a comment.