You’ve heard the line, “You had me at Hello” right? Well when Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris starts his 10:00 A.M. remarks with, “Maybe the best part of the morning is about to happen, everyone is going to get a glass of Woodford Reserve.” You know he has everyone’s attention and it’s time to start the presentation.
“Everyone’s Going to Get a Glass of Woodford Reserve”
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Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gathering at its Versailles, Kentucky distillery this week. The ceremony celebrated Woodford Reserve’s accomplishments of the past two decades and concluded with a ceremonial barrel signing and toast to the next 20 years.
Chris Morris reflected on the start of Woodford Reserve brand back in 1996. “It was the time to innovate. We developed a new contemporary brand with an industry changing package that was filled with bourbon of balanced complexity,” said Morris. “Our Distiller’s Select, Double Oaked and Rye continue to experience amazing growth. And we are blazing new paths with innovations in our Master’s Collection and Distillery series.”
Jack Daniel’s is certainly the big dog at Brown-Forman but at a recent meeting with Chris he shared that Woodford Reserve has moved up the ranks at the company. He said, “Woodford Reserve, based on its potential, not on where it is right now, has been re-evaluated by the company and it’s now the second most important brand at Brown-Forman after the Jack Daniel’s trademark.”
It all makes sense today but back in 1996 brown spirits were not all the rage they are today and there was no bourbon boom. It wasn’t until many years later that bourbon saw a return to favor with consumers, new distillery openings, multiple new brands coming to market and tourists flocking to what were once viewed as factories to today’s distillery destination “Experiences.” Oh my how things have changed!
The success of Woodford Reserve mirrors the growth of bourbon tourism boosting the economy of the commonwealth. “It’s booming. This is a must visit spot in Kentucky and it has been for the last 20 years,” said Don Parkinson, Secretary of Tourism.
Attendance at the event included Brown-Forman current and former executive leadership team, Woodford Reserve current and former brand teams, Woodford Reserve Distillery team, Brown family members as well as government dignitaries.
Woodford Reserve Distillery Timeline
1812: Farmer distiller Elijah Pepper built a small log-cabin for his distillery on the south bank of Glen’s Creek, the source of the now famous Limestone water. (photo)
1838: The current Woodford Reserve limestone distillery was built by Elijah Pepper’s son, Oscar Pepper. This marked the transition from farm distillery to commercial distillation. The team was lead by Oscar Pepper and Master Distiller James C. Crow. The distillery was known as the Oscar Pepper Distillery
1878: The Pepper family sold the distillery to Leopold Labrot and James Graham. (photo)
1941: Brown-Forman Corporation purchased the Labrot & Graham Distillery.
1971: Brown-Forman operated the distillery until 1968 until it was mothballed and later sold to a neighboring farmer and returned to a farm property.
1994: History Repeats Itself – Brown-Forman buys the distillery back to start the Woodford Reserve brand to compete directly with Maker’s Mark. Brown-Forman invests multi-millions of dollars to restore the distillery to its former glory and create a destination for tourists, a place that Brown-Forman calls the “Kentucky Bourbon Homeplace.”
1995: The property is listed on the National Register of Historic places (photo)
1996: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon brand is launched.
2000: The property is designated a National Historic Landmark (photo)
2003: Labrot & Graham Distillery’s name is changed to Woodford Reserve Distillery.
2006: Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson retires and Chris Morris is introduced as the new Woodford Reserve Master Distiller
2016: Woodford Reserve Distillery celebrates 20th Anniversary