In a refreshing departure from mainstream bourbon brands releasing LDI/MGP rye under their own labels and then claiming some kind of “heritage” of rye distillation, Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve actually went out and – gasp! – made themselves a rye! After a few experimental batches that were limited releases so limited I never even heard of them, Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey was released in 2015 as a regular part of the portfolio at the same proof as the company’s bourbon (45.2% ABV). The rye (like the bourbon) is made from a combination of pot-still rye whiskey from the historic Woodford Reserve distillery and column-still rye whiskey from the Brown-Forman distillery in Shively, KY.
Unlike a lot of recent rye releases crowing about their “high-rye” mashbills, the Woodford Reserve Rye mashbill can only be called “low-rye”: 53% rye (the legal minimum is 51%), 33% corn, and 14% malted barley. Woodford Reserve claims this mashbill was chosen to maintain the house characteristics familiar from its bourbons, and is thus sweeter than most ryes. With no age statement on the bottle and the “straight whiskey” declaration, one must assume the rye is at or slightly above 4 years of age.
My bottle was #2166 from batch 52.
Nose: Baking spices greet the nose, in classic rye fashion. Deeper in, there is a strong cherry liqueur aroma, plus marzipan, dry corn, and a malty-but-not-too-sweet grain presence. Beneath this is a vegetal layer of mild sweet grass and – weird – dill.
Palate: Medium bodied. Distinct tongue burn (I would have said this was 50% ABV), which starts out dry and slightly bitter, and then turns malty and sweet and mildly bitter (fruity bitters, though, like Angostura or Peychaud’s).
Finish: Medium-short in length. Spicy, with cinnamon red-hots and clove, fading into ginger (candied; dried). Not overly bitter on the finish.
With Water: Several drops of water open up a little vanilla buttercream frosting and some dark, sticky caramel notes on the aroma. The palate seems fuller and somewhat sweeter. The finish unchanged. I recommend a little water with this – at 45-ish% ABV, it can’t hurt.
Overall: The aroma (ignore the dill, that’s probably just me) is a nice full balance of dry rye spices with welcome bourbon-y cherry and oak. The “bitters” flavors on the palate are interesting – as if the glass were just an ice cube and a teaspoon of sugar away from being an Old Fashioned. It’s unusual, but welcome. That bitterness is adequately balanced with oaky sweetness. The finish is run-of-the-mill, if on the short side. The occasional green/vegetal note means the batch could use some additional time in oak, but the effect is faint and I’m just nitpicking. This is a decent sipper, and at a well-chosen strength makes a fine choice for your Manhattans.