Woodford Reserve is one of the products that I get asked about the most, once I have outed my pastime as a cocktail and spirits blogger. While the name doesn’t often make it into the conversation, the tombstone shape of the bottle makes a firm imprint in the minds of anyone lucky enough to slip a measure or two of this fine bourbon past their lips.
The bourbon itself has history. Distilling began on the site of the Labrot & Graham Distillery in 1797. The current distillery building was erected on the site in 1838, making the brand of the ten oldest distilleries to be still operating in the great state of Kentucky. Dr James Crow, a one time employee of the first owners, codified many of the processes that perfected the production of sour mash bourbon. This isn’t the right place to explain what sour mash means, but suffice to say bourbon as we know it today was defined by the method and it’s kind of a big deal. The distillery changed hands again in 1878 to the two fine gentlemen who gave their names to the building and the bottle pictured above. In 1941, we get a little closer to the current day, with the purchase of the marque by Brown-Forman, the current owners and distributors. In 1968 the distillery was mothballed and three years later, sold.
The history of liquor has many stories of brands lost to bad decisions, and unable to be rescued when smarter heads prevailed. Luckily, Woodford Reserve is not one of them. Brown-Forman repurchased the distillery in1993, refurbished and fired up the stills. Three years later product hit shelves, a small anomally given the legal requirements for bourbon under 4 years old to carry an age statement on the bottle, and the lack of an age statement suggesting the early bottlings were made off site at a different location.
The liquid itself is fantastic. The mash bill (the make up of grains that go into the wash) carries a relatively high percentage of rye, coming in at 18%. Despite this the flavour profile is quite simply balanced. Not too sweet, not too spicy. Woodford is a great choice for use in cocktails, and by itself gives a pleasing mouthfeel and taste for any fan of the American version of oak aged grain spirits.
The only other thing that’s really left to say is that one of the most remarkable things about Woodford Reserve is not about the bourbon at all, its the barrel that it is aged in. Brown-Forman is the only spirits company in the world that makes its own barrels. This gives the brand amazing scope to play with, and it shows through in the unique character of spirits the company produces; Jack Daniel’s, Old Forester, Early Times and Herradura amongst them.
If you’re looking for a bottle, the cheapest place right now is the Master of Malt site online, but unless you’re looking to stock up, the delivery fees make the price, well, pricey. Dan’s prices it at $55 and it’s still good value at that.
Buy yourself a bottle. Today.