Way back in 2011 when I was just getting introduced to bourbons after launching the blog with the intention of only covering scotch, I had a relative stinker of a 50ml sample bottle of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, and was called out in the comments by Woodford adherents that I was doing the whiskey a disservice by reviewing it based on the sample bottle. Normally, my opinion is that since many people use 50ml sample bottles to try out new spirits before committing to a full bottle, it’s on the head of the manufacturer if those samples don’t represent the real product. Still, I had an opportunity to revisit Woodford Reserve recently – this time from a full 750ml bottle – and thought it would be appropriate to review it again for National Bourbon Heritage Month. Does my review from 4 years ago hold up?
Woodford Reserve, made by Brown-Forman in Kentucky, is Kentucky Straight Bourbon. It’s somewhat unlike other bourbons, in that it contains some percentage of whiskey made in copper pot stills and triple-distilled – in the Irish style of whiskeys such as Redbreast. Unlike Redbreast, Woodford Reserve uses a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, and also re-uses some of each run’s fermented mash in the next batch – a tradition called “sour mashing”. This pot-still whiskey is combined with column-still whiskey and aged in new toasted oak barrels for between four and six years. It is bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% ABV). My bottle is from Batch #941, Bottle #6643.
Nose: Toasted marshmallow. Marzipan, cherry pits. Candied apple (the red kind). Over all of that is a blanket of paint thinner or fresh plastic.
Palate: Sweet, medium bodied. Almost syrupy. Oak and cashew butter up front, then dried apple, and barrel char.
Finish: Medium-long. Continuing flavors from the palate – dried apple, nuts, oak and barrel char. Fades with slight bitterness, some more plastic-like flavors, and a little tobacco.
With Water: A splash of water really wakes up the cherry notes. Fresh, tart cherries as well as dried ones. However, it adds some extra paint thinner / varnish on the palate and a slight rotten fruit note that fades quickly. Ups the bitterness of the charcoal notes. Try this one both with and without water to see how it works for you.
Overall: First, I should note that my original review was done from a 50ml sample “airline” bottle. This time, from a full 750ml glass bottle, I thought the aromas and flavor were a little more in line with what I expect from a bourbon. There is a nice balance of acidity from the fruit notes (mostly cherry and apple) and the intense nuttiness on the front of the palate. Unfortunately, this is waylaid by what I call “paint thinner”, which is really a slightly bitter, slightly chemical aroma and flavor that I get when tasting especially cheap (although this is not cheap) spirits. This does make an excellent cocktail, where the sweetness, fruit, and nuttiness comes through, although for the price you’re probably better off with a bottle of Eagle Rare (or a Costco 1.5L of Buffalo Trace!).
I know there are a lot of Woodford Reserve fans out there, so I’ll qualify my conclusion by saying that this bourbon simply isn’t to MY tastes, although if you don’t detect the plastic/chemical notes that I get, you’d probably find this to be a quite tasty bourbon and worth your money. I’d be the first to admit that my 2011 review was flawed but after tasting from a full bottle, I’ll have to stick to my conclusions.
Update: Check out my review of Woodford Reserve ‘Double Oaked’ here.