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Review: Woodford Reserve Four Wood Bourbon

Last Tuesday I posted about the latest release as a part of Woodford Reserve’s annual Master’s Collection release. For more insight on this release please check out the post here.

I received an advanced sample of this new whiskey. Here are my thoughts

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Wood Bourbon, 47.2% abv (94.4 Proof), $99/bottle
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Sweet and fruity – butter pecan, maple and toffee meets lush ripe orchard fruits (peach,, golden delicious apple, and muscadine jelly). An almost floral oak aroma adds interest.
Palate: Rustic, youthful, and corn laden up front on the palate. Maple and butter pecan flavors add needed sweetness before a drying oak tannin builds. The fruit hints at showing but never quite breaks through.
Finish: Buttered corn, maple sweetness, and bitter tannin.
Overall: Four Wood begins with an epic bang. The nose is absolutely phenomenal with lush fruit and candy shop sweets everywhere. It’s truly gorgeous and as unique a nose in all of whiskey. And that’s where things sort of get all wobbly. The palate is a patchwork of disjointed flavors with awkward transitions through the sip on to the finish. Frankly it’s a bit of a mess – not without some high points, but never coming together. It tastes a lot more youthful than standard Woodford. What I’m left with is too much of the toasted maple wood dryness on the palate and not enough of the fruit and lushness that the nose demonstrates. It’s not bad whiskey, in fact it begins (as I noted) with a boom, but it finishes with a flutter. Not something I’d recommend at this price. I’m a fan of Woodford Reserve. It gets piled on by enthusiasts but I’ve always felt it’s a very good, quality bourbon. The Master’s Collection releases however come across as a complete money grab by Brown-Forman. That I cannot get behind.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.2 (Good)

Woodford releases new “Four Wood” Bourbon

Each year Woodford Reserve releases a limited edition whsikey as a part of their Master’s Collection. The collection refers to Master Distiller, Chris Morris’s utilization, or focus, on one of five components in the whiskey making process – grain, water, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

The latest Master’s Collection release is Four Wood Bourbon, which is mature Woodford Reserve (which ages in new oak barrels like all bourbon) that is put through a “finishing” process (additional maturation/aging) in Maple Wood, Port Wood, and Sherry Wood barrels. It’s not known as of yet, where the Port and Sherry barrels were sourced, but I’m going to try to find out. Each of these barrels were married together in varied proportions to create the finished bourbon.

I must admit that I’ve had very mixed experiences with the Master’s Collection products. At their best the whiskeys have been “very good” (Maple Wood Finish), and at their worst (last year’s Rare Rye) they’ve been terrible. At a retail price of $99.99, there’s some risk involved for the consumer.

This Four Wood Bourbon however has me very intrigued. I should point out that I’m “bought in” on the whole “finished whiskey” thing that has caught on with distillers and independent bottlers in recent years. Is it gimmicky sounding? Perhaps. But there’s no question that finishing in Port wood barrels moved Angel’s Envy from a merely good bourbon to something of definite merit. Last years Parker’s Heritage Collection, which was finished in cognac barrels was downright superb – one of my highest rated whiskeys of the year. Hooker’s House, a bourbon finished in pinot noir barrels, didn’t disappoint either. In short – my experiences with many of these finished whiskeys has been good.

Each bottle of Four Wood will be offered at 750M, retail at $99.99, and at 94.4 proof. Will Four Wood set a higher standard for the Master’s Collection series? I’m expecting to try it within the next week – my thoughts and review will follow soon after.

Review: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon

Woodford Reserve has released a new bourbon called Double Oaked in the last couple of months. The whiskey starts with standard Woodford, which is distilled in both copper pot and column stills before aging in heavily charred white oak barrels. Double Oaked starts off with standard Woodford Reserve before undergoing an inventive finishing process.

Once the standard Woodford is dumped, it’s then placed in a second barrel for an additional 9 months of aging. These barrels have been toasted twice as long, and charred far more lightly, than the first barrels. The result is a different type of “seasoning” to the wood that is designed to provide a dramatic impact on the flavor of the finished whiskey.

Let me say that I’m a big fan of these finishing processes. Mashbills (grain recipes) can only be tweaked so much. Significant flavor variations are hard to gain by tweaking grains a few percentage points. Same is true for distillation – it is what it is. Distillers are left with but a few weapons at their disposal, one of which is the wood – a HUGE flavor impact on the finished product. I hope to see more finishing out there. To me this is not a “tired” trend in the least.

Here are my thoughts on Woodford Reserve Double Oaked:

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, 45.2% abv (90.4 Proof), $49/bottle

Color: Dark Copper/Amber

Nose: Huge wafts of butterscotch and toffee with a bit of heady molasses. Vanilla cream, baked peaches, apricots, and clove provide some interest along with a heavy dose of toasted wood. The nose is far creamier, more buttery, and also much sweeter than the standard Woodford.

Palate: Butterscotch, vanilla, and toffee notes at the front of the palate, eventually giving way to cinnamon, clove, and rum raisin. As the sip finishes, a concentrated wood tannin and bitterness begins to emerge.

Finish: Flavors of butterscotch do their best to tone down the lingering bitterness. Moderate length with ample warmth.

Overall: It’s interesting that this is named “Double Oaked”, because it comes off literally with a bit of a dual personality. What we have here is clear evidence of standard Woodford Reserve, but it’s had a veneer applied to it that makes it quite different. The additional barrel finishing comes off best on the nose – an almost creamy quality emerges. Unfortunately from mid-palate through the finish, an increasing bitterness sets things a tad off course. The intensely sweet aromas and flavors juxtaposed against the bitterness almost speaks of two different whiskeys. I do applaud the process immensely. The results are also good, but don’t measure up to the original Woodford, which I enjoy very much. Factoring the additional $15-20 in cost makes it tougher to justify for me. But I can tell from comments and emails that many are already enjoying this new Woodford release immensely despite the price.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.1 (Very Good)

Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Woodford Reserve, 45.2% abv (90.4 Proof), $30/bottle

Color: Deep Amber/Copper

Nose: Wonderfully comforting with butterscotch, toffee, crisp green apple, Christmas mulling spices, lightly dry oak, and barrel. Sweet, rich nuances with bracing freshness.

Palate: Old fashioned butterscotch candy, maplye syrup, buttery popcorn, toasted oak, cinnamon, flinty minerality, and fresh, crisp green apples.

Finish: Moderate length, cinnamon, apple cider, and some bitter oak tannins remain.

Overall: The mouthfeel is a little thinner than I expected it would be considering it’s partially copper pot distilled. Perhaps a higher proof might help that and thus would carry the flavors and drill them home a bit more forcefully. I think with a little more texture, this bourbon would be elevated nicely. But even still, this whiskey has some wonderfully comforting flavors and aromas. I love the really intense butterscotch flavors – perhaps the most pronounced I’ve had with a bourbon. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.5 (Very Good/Excellent)

Woodford Reserve Releases Limited Edition Maple Wood Finished Bourbon

I received the following press release today from Woodford Reserve. Their new “Maple Wood Finished” Bourbon sounds pretty darn fantastic. I cannot wait to try it.

Woodford Reserve Releases Limited Edition Maple Wood Finished Bourbon

Industry’s First Bourbon Finish Aged in Maple Wood Barrels Available November 1

November 1, 2010, Louisville, Ky. – Woodford Reserve announces the latest extension of its acclaimed Master’s Collection which will be released on November 1. Called ‘Maple Wood Finish,’ it is the fifth in the series of limited edition bottlings and continues Woodford Reserve’s tradition of crafting rare whiskeys that extend the category in bold new directions.

This whiskey is one of the most unique Master’s Collection’s to date as it is the industry’s first bourbon to be finish aged in barrels made from sugar maple wood. Barrels play a key role in producing bourbon, with approximately 70 percent of the spirit’s flavor and aroma and all of its color provided by the barrel. Woodford Reserve’s new offering features bourbon finish-aged in uniquely crafted barrels made of maple wood, something never before done in the industry.

“Sugar maple trees have a complex natural chemistry, rich in calcium, potassium and other minerals, but they are best known for their flavorful sap which contains as much as 3% sugar,” said Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. “Though it was thought that whiskey barrels could not be crafted from sugar maple wood, our Brown-Forman Cooperage has done just that. Of all the distillers in our industry, we are the only bourbon company that crafts its own barrels, giving us unique knowledge and control of the process. The Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish uniquely finish-ages Woodford Reserve in a toasted, not charred, maple wood barrel, resulting in a whiskey enhanced with hints of maple, honey and cinnamon.”

Ever year, one of the five sources of flavor is changed for the Master’s Collection expressions. These five sources – grain, water, fermentation, distillation, and wood-aging – are unique to bourbon whiskey, and altering just one of them creates a totally new flavor profile.

“Bourbon must be matured in new, charred oak barrels, and in our quest to fully understand the contribution oak wood makes to bourbon, we have studied other Kentucky hardwoods as well,” said Wayne Rose, brand director for Woodford Reserve. “This has led to some exciting discoveries and innovative barrel finish concepts. One of these – Maple Wood Finish – is a first for the spirits industry and has resulted in an amazing, elegant whiskey.”

Maple Wood Finish is the fifth in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection series following the Four Grain, Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, Sweet Mash and Seasoned Oak offerings. Released periodically at the master distiller’s discretion, the Master’s Collection whiskeys are extremely limited in quantity and bottled only once, in a proprietary package inspired by the copper pot stills of The Woodford Reserve Distillery.

The inspiration for the Master’s Collection is rooted in the rich history and tradition of what is today known as The Woodford Reserve Distillery. In the mid-1800s distillery owner Oscar Pepper and Master Distiller James Crow studied and recommended use of key processes like sour mashing and charred barrel maturation at the historic Woodford County distillery. These practices are still maintained in the bourbon industry, and today the distillery receives more than 100,000 visitors annually and is the only one in America to use bourbon triple distilled in traditional copper pot stills.”

Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish will be sold in 45 U.S. markets, and a limited quantity will be available in Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Each bottle is individually hand-numbered and presented at 94.4 proof. Available in major metro markets, only 1,676 cases are available with a suggested retail price of $89.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Tasting Notes for Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish
Color: Golden brown.
Aroma: Rich and sweet with hints of brown sugar glazed baked apricots, milk chocolate and fresh toasted oak.
Taste: Warm with cinnamon spice, faint hints of maple syrup, berry fruit and a touch of nuttiness.
Finish: Crisp with delicate maple syrup notes lingering on with a touch of warm fruit.

Woodford Reserve is a product of the Brown-Forman Corporation, a producer and marketer of fine quality beverage alcohol brands such as Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort, Finlandia, Fetzer, Korbel, Tequila Herradura, Sonoma-Cutrer, Chambord, Tuaca, and Bonterra. Please enjoy your bourbon responsibly. For more information on Woodford Reserve, visit www.woodfordreserve.com. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 45.2% Alc. by Vol., The Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, KY ©2010.