It is a rare pleasure indeed to be asked to come along and sample a fine whiskey, expertly crafted and finished for effect by a distiller that has spent his life learning how the grain of the wood interplays with a spirit of the grain.
It is something else entirely to be asked to saunter through three such drops, but that is exactly what I was lucky enough to enjoy, three weeks hence, when Dan Woolley and Stuart Reeves hosted a food paired tasting of four of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Bourbons. After the not so simple pleasure of a measure of the “standard” bottling of the Woodford Reserve, matched with a sliver of peach, wrapped in smoked duck breast and garnished with a mint leaf, we were off faster than a horse that has been feeding on bluegrass.
First out of the gate was the Sweet Mash.
Almost all of what is available in Australia in the bourbon segment is produced using a technique known as Sour Mash. Essentially, ingredients are introduced to the mash (the ferment of grain) from a prior distillation. In a sweet mash, this step is missed out, resulting in a higher pH ferment that delivers a much sweeter taste and finish, carrying a lot of maple and fruit. This distillation is claimed to be the first sweet mash production of any real scale since the heady days of Prohibition. Certainly a bottle to track down and try in some pre-prohibition cocktails then. Paired with a date and orange nougat it is a delicious way to wind day into night.
Coming round the bend Maple Wood swept up the outside.
Aged in barrels made from previously unusable sugar maple wood staves that are imbued with a sap that contains as much as 3% sugar. The resulting whiskey is not so much about pancakes as treacle, sea salt ginger and leather. Probably my favourite of the night. Om Nom Nom.
Obliterating everything on the home straight, the Seasoned Oak has what can only be described as a mighty finish.
One of the rarities of the Woodford Distillery is that it has its own cooperage. This facility to make new barrels gives a huge amount of creative scope to the distiller, and this, perhaps the most robust bourbon in existance, is a grand example of that. In making a barrel, the planks, or staves, that are used to form the barrel are left outside, exposed to the elements and allowed to develop a wider range of flavours, also reducing the overall tannins as well. The Seasoned Oak uses staves that have been left out for longer than any before it, the industry average is around three to five months, these are left out for three to five years. It leaves a big result, a big mouthfeel whiskey that will satisfy even the most ardent fan. Partnered with pork and duck liver terrine it was an experience that left me trampled underfoot.
These bottles are, unfortunately, extremely difficult to find. Being vintage releases of a limited run, you should snap them up if you come across one and feel free to whack a link to a purchase site on-line in the comments if you find one.
Keep an eye out too for the recently released Rare Rye. The joy of this release is that instead of a single 750ml bottle, you get two 375ml bottles, one rye aged in an old cask, the other in a new. Sounds truly spectacular.