Woodford Reserve Rye

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.

Woodford Reserve Rye
45.2% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $30 - $43
Acquired: (750 ml bottle) Purchased at K&L Wines in Redwood City, CA, $33

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    • Good question! I just tried them head-to-head:
      The Rittenhouse has a sharper aroma profile, with a lot more tobacco, dry spices, and caraway. The Woodford, in comparison, seems sweeter, fruitier, and has a more solid, oaky presence. On the palate, the Rittenhouse is hotter (5% higher ABV), and drier. The spices shine through, reminding me why people refer to rye as having “spice cabinet” attributes. There is distinct cinnamon on the finish. The Woodford is softer on the palate, with a slightly heavier body. There is more balance between fruit and spice, although the corn shines through here, shifting the experience more in a bourbon direction. The spices recur on the finish.

      Overall, the two are VERY similar in regards quality. I would recommend the Rittenhouse to the value-minded, or those who like spices (clove, cinnamon, etc.) in their whisky. I would recommend the Woodford to someone looking for a more balanced experience, or someone who generally prefers bourbon to rye but wants a rye to bridge the gap.

      To answer your question, though, no I don’t think the Woodford is specifically $10 better than the Rittenhouse. If I just want to make spicy Manhattans, I’d go Rittenhouse full stop. Cheers!