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Thursday, September 09, 2010

Day 252 Drink: Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Tasting

Today is one of those days when 30 years of beverage writing for magazines and keeping a regular blog about beer, wine and spirits pays off. I joined a group of drinks journalists for a 13 hour tour of the Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville and the Woodford Reserve Distillery.

It was a long day, but a good day. The event was well organized by Svend Jansen of Brown-Forman, packed with plenty of information and interesting events. Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris gave an extensive tour of both facilities and overview of the Bourbon making process. Woodford's chef in residence Ouita Michel walked us through a food and whiskey pairing and Brown-Forman's Chief Entertaining Officer Tim Laird presented a mixology session.

The Woodford Reserve site was first used for a distillery in 1812 by Elijah Pepper. The facility changed hands several times before it became the Labrot & Graham Distillery. Brown-Forman acquired that company and in 1973, during a long slide in Bourbon sales, the company ended up abandoning the distillery. It was not until the 1990s, when Bourbon sales had rebounded and Brown-Forman was looking for a location to house a new premium spirits brand, that the property was re-acquired. The first Bourbon started flowing at the site in 1996. On an annual basis more than 100,000 tourists visit the Woodford County location, which is about an hour outside of Louisville in the midst of major thoroughbred horse farms.

A highlight of the day was a tasting that Morris conducted of the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection, including the new Maple Wood Finish that will not be released publicly until Nov. 1. Brown-Forman decided to expand the Woodford Reserve brand franchise back in 2005 with the release of Four Grain. Since then, the distillery has released Sonoma-Cutrer Finish in 2007, Sweet Mash in 2008 and Seasoned Oak in 2009. The session was a rare opportunity to taste these five whiskeys alongside Woodford Reserve.

Woodford Reserve: This is the base whiskey for four out of the five members of the Master’s Collection and lightest in color. The whiskey has some toffee and fruit aromas. The flavor displays apple, spice from the rye and hints of caramel in the finish.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Grain: Morris came up with the idea for this whiskey after going through a defunct distillery and finding a 1903 recipe card. In addition to corn, rye and barley malt, wheat is added to the mash bill. The flavor of this whiskey is a bit grainy and nutty. It has a nice vanilla note in the finish.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Finish: The distillery aged this whiskey in 66 former chardonnay barrels that had been seasoned with five vintages in California. The nose is mellowed on this one. The flavor starts off slightly sweet, but the oak comes forward in the middle and it finishes very full and round.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sweet Mash: Morris did not add the 6 percent sour mash that is used in making Woodford Reserve at the start of the Bourbon. He said the yeast struggled a bit in the making of this whiskey and they lost a couple of fermentors as a result. There are dark chocolate notes in the base flavor of this whiskey. Hints of berries and some pepper emerge, before the drink finishes dry.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Seasoned Oak: Working with the Brown-Forman Cooperage, a supply of 5 year old seasoned oak was found in sufficient quantity to build 70 barrels. This is the darkest of the Master’s Collection. There is a nice hit of molasses in the nose of the Bourbon. The flavor is big, but pretty smooth with notes of cinnamon and the oak showing through.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish: The distillery tested several potential native woods before having the cooperage build the sugar maple barrels that were used to finish this whiskey. The liquid spent between three and 12 months in the maple casks. The whiskey is slightly more amber in color than the other members of the line and has a fruit note in the aroma. You will not get any type of maple syrup experience from this whiskey, instead you will find the maple wood has pulled out some of the acidity, making this a smooth drink with some floral notes and a hint of caramel in the finish.

Morris said the distillery has new members of the Master’s Collection in the pipeline through 2018. For next year, Woodford Reserve will release a rye whiskey as part of the series.


Liz said...

In your pictures - a man standing next to a copper kettle_ plese tell me the name of this kind of kettle? Did it hold the mash before it went into the still? I am an artist who just painted at Woodford for an upcoming show and I don't know the name of the kettle which Ineed to name my painting?

Lothar said...

Took some bottles with me to Germany. A gift from my best friend on earth Steve P. Wathen out of Columbus OH.

Taste is great, not a standard stuff.

You have to try it.

Lothar Rieck Wertheim-Bettingen / Germany