Woodford Reserve Distillery - Woodford Malt Whiskey Introduction with Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall and Master Distiller Chris Morris

Woodford Reserve Distillery is expanding its Distiller’s Select whiskey product line. Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall recently invited a small group of people together to announce an upcoming addition to the product line. The current Distiller’s Select lineup includes their flagship Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey as well as Woodford Reserve Double Oaked and Woodford Reserve Rye. Woodford Reserve will soon by moving from a trilogy to a quadrilogy with the introduction of a Malt Whiskey this summer.

Woodford’s Five Sources of Flavor

Woodford Reserve Distillery 5 Sources of Flavor
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The four products in the lineup all use the same three grains – corn, rye and malted barley. All the whiskies are based on Woodford’s “Five Sources of Flavor” concept.

  1. Grain Recipe – Percentages vary by brand. See the chart below for details.
  2. Water – Kentucky, iron-free well water.
  3. Fermentation – Traditional jug yeast process.
  4. Distillation – Crafted in triple copper pot stills.
  5. Maturation – Woodford makes its own barrels that are toasted then charred.

As Chris Morris explained, “The only difference between our bourbon, rye and malt is the grain recipe. The water, the fermentation, distillation, maturation processes are identical. So when you actually see, nose and taste a difference between these three products it’s because we’ve changed the grain recipe. Double Oaked is a significant change but that’s in the maturation side of the equation. Woodford Reserve is provable via analysis, as you all have heard us say many times before, it is the most complex bourbon made on a continual, everyday basis. We can prove that scientifically. In terms of organoleptics, we know there are 212 flavors, congeners, some of these flavors are nose or palette sensitive but they all combine to give us this very elegant balanced whiskey.”

Morris and McCall guided the group through Woodford’s history and a tasting of all three Distiller’s Select expressions before presenting their new Malted Whiskey. You can watch the entire process in the video above or listen to the podcast below.

Woodford Reserve Maturation – Aged for Flavor Profile

Woodford Reserve doesn’t include age statements on their bottles. Morris said, “All of our products are crafted in batches. None of them has a specific age profile. We target a standard flavor profile for each. A batch will run between 110 and 130 barrels depending on how the flavor profile develops. We do not use barrels that are under 5 1/2 years of age in a batch. Our inventory has barrels that go up to 10 years of age. So a batch will have barrels of many different ages and production dates in it since our goal is to craft a consistent flavor profile rather than meeting some arbitrary age claim.”

Woodford Reserve – 1st Bourbon Whiskey to Use a Toasted Barrel

Brown-Forman Cooperage 70 Year Celebration Barrel
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Brown-Forman introduced Woodford Reserve Bourbon back in 1996. One of the things that made Woodford Reserve Bourbon unique at the time was the process of ‘toasting’ the new oak barrel prior to it being charred. The process is not that unusual today but according to Morris, Woodford Reserve was the first bourbon maker to use the process.

“When we introduced Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey in 1996, most people didn’t realize that we had developed a new style of barrel for this product. Your typical bourbon barrel is charred, that’s what the requirements are, a charred barrel. And our industry has gotten the toast effect, as an after effect, as a consequence of charring. But because Brown-Forman was also producing wine barrels on the West Coast at the Mendocino Cooperage, we were making wine barrels. We were making wine barrels for major wine producers beyond the Brown-Forman experience. We learned how certain toasting processes worked and were recommended by companies such as Gallo. We put that work, that knowledge, to use at the Brown-Forman Cooperage and the Woodford Reserve barrel was the first whiskey barrel in the history of whiskey barrels to be purposefully toasted prior to charring. Knowing that we would give up some of the toast with the charring process, we have a deep set toast. So it was absolutely a unique barrel. It’s a 10 minute toast and a 25 second char.”

What is Double Oaked? Uses 2 “New” Barrels for Maturation & Finish

Many distillers these days use a second barrel to “finish” a distilled spirit. It allows them to take an existing spirit and offer it with a slightly different flavor profile. For example, a bourbon maker may finish their spirits in a used port wine barrel or a rum maker may choose to finish their spirit in a used bourbon barrel. In the case of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Morris says they are the only company to purposefully create two ‘new’ barrels specifically for a product.

Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall lead the tasting of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. McCall said, “This one is near and dear to my heart because this is when I fell in love with bourbon, with Double Oaked. I first experienced it on the rocks with a little lemon twist and it just blew me out of the water. It allowed me to enter the club of drinking bourbon, it didn’t have to be in a cocktail, just as is because it is spectacular. I call it a gateway bourbon. This product starts out as Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon. It’s the same exact liquid. But, instead of putting it into a bottle, we take it and we put it into a second barrel. The second barrel is heavily toasted and lightly charred. The toasting process is where you get into the sweetness of the wood. You are not setting it on fire, you are just simply heating it up. It gets into the lignin layer which is where all the vanillin is so when you get all the buttery notes on the nose, butterscotch, you think of a Wurther’s Original, that’s where it’s coming from. Then we flash char the barrel for just up to five seconds so that it is still considered a bourbon barrel. So we are caramelizing those wood sugars. Then we let it sit in that beautiful barrel for up to 12 months.”

Morris added, “To create the Double Oaked barrel we virtually reversed the parameters (of the first barrel.) A 40 minute toast, four times longer than a Woodford barrel and a five second char, one-fifth the time because the second barrel was to be used not as the original maturation vehicle because this is a finished whiskey.”

He added some additional insight into the process. “In crafting Double Oaked we take a standard Woodford Reserve Distillers Select batch and rather than bottling it at 90.4 proof it is entered into the Double Oaked barrels at approximately 95 proof. The finishing period is then up to 12 months in length. Barrels of Double Oaked are then batched together to craft a consistent flavor profile.”

Woodford Reserve Rye Uses Less Rye

Many rye whiskey’s today use a high rye mashbill. The Woodford Reserve rye only uses 53% rye vs. some that are super spicy with 95 to 100% rye. All of the Distiller’s Select mashbills are included in the chart below.

Morris said the rye and malt whiskies volumes will always be smaller than the core bourbon. He explained, “We prefer to craft the Rye and Malt whiskeys during the cooler months if possible. The malt, due to its high sugar content, tends to ferment more quickly than our bourbon mash and the cool temperatures help us implement our extra long Woodford Reserve signature fermentation. When we have the distillery set up for a special fermentation and distillation like the Malt we also like to have the Rye in line because that makes for a better schedule. Once these two members of the Distillers Select range have been produced we can then focus on a good long run of bourbon production.”

“Woodford Reserve is bringing the balance back to the rye whiskey industry.”
~ Jedi Master Chris Morris

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey Coming June 2018

Woodford Reserve will be introducing a new Malt Whiskey in June 2018. To be clear, this is not a single malt whiskey, it’s created in a similar fashion to the other whiskies in the Distiller’s Select series except for the mashbill. It uses the same three grains but in different ratios. The grains, the water, the fermentation, the distillation and the maturation are the same. This mashbill uses 51% malted barley, 47% corn and 2% rye. Fans can expect a sweet, soft whiskey.

“This is a three grain recipe. This is again bringing back the 19th century. Most people don’t realize that Americans, Kentuckians were making malt whiskies before Prohibition. Not a lot of them but there were malt whiskies being made right here in Louisville. It wasn’t a big deal. We made rye here in Louisville. We made other types of whiskey. But, it seems like Prohibition cleansed our consciousness of all these different whiskies, certainly cleansed the production of these whiskies. Coming out of Prohibition our ancestors, if they were in Kentucky returned to making bourbon, if they were on the East Coast they returned to making Rye Whiskey and everybody stopped making the old style whiskies they were making because that was just the practical thing to do.”

The new Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey is expected to be available nationally starting in June 2018.

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Product Lineup

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