Distillery: Woodford Reserve (Brown Forman)
Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA
Composition: 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley
Aged: NAS, aged in virgin American white oak
Price: $30-40 MSRP (750mL)
From the Woodford Reserve website:
“The art of making fine bourbon first took place on the site of the Woodford Reserve Distillery, a National Historic Landmark, in 1812. The perfectly balanced taste of our Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is comprised of more than 200 detectable flavor notes, from bold grain and wood, to sweet aromatics, spice, and fruit & floral notes.”
Woodford Reserve, the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, is one of the many well-known bourbons from Brown Forman, who also owns Jack Daniel’s and Old Forester. While those brands are incredibly old, Woodford Reserve started its life in 1996 as a small batch premium bourbon meant to capture people’s growing interest in higher-end whiskeys. Unlike most other bourbons that are distilled twice before barreling, Woodford is triple distilled in pot stills, potentially impacting the end bourbon. Let’s find out if it lives up to its premium image.
Woodford Reserve introduces itself with a light to moderate sweet honey and vanilla notes with equal amounts of charred wood and dried corn. It’s a bready and grainy scent followed by a pinch of mint, fruits, and nuts. Unfortunately, the alcohol flexes its muscles and battles with the other scents for dominance, taking away from the sweet scents that already don’t particularly stand-out. With swirling, Woodford exhibits moderately sweet honey and nut scents with some vanilla buttercream, charred wood, dried corn, and freshly ground grains with leftover husks. Faint notes of grapefruit, cherry, and apples sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg occasionally appear in between the honey, wood, and dried notes, but they’re easy to overlook.
Woodford Reserve smells decent at best and is not particularly complex. It has pleasant-enough honey notes with a little citrus and fruit, but the rough dried and charred wood and corn take away from the overall pleasantness by adding noticeably sharp, brittle, and dry notes.
Light flavors of sweet honey infused with mint appear first followed by peppery and sharp wood that tingle my taste buds. On my second pass, “chewing” brings out a little more honey and vanilla marshmallow sweetness supplemented with corn mash, citrus, black pepper, dried corn, dried wood, and cinnamon. Woodford Reserve has some of the quintessential bourbon flavors, but overall there’s not a lot going on and it doesn’t seem to evolve as I chew. It’s about as sweet as it is woody and dried, with generally thin mouthfeel and flavor. I can’t say that it’s harsh, but it certainly tastes younger than it probably actually is.
Woodford’s finish starts lightly sweet from honey and vanilla with lingering wood dryness. The sweetness stays about the same after “chewing” with a little burnt wood that turns into fading mintiness.
Woodford Reserve is neither good nor terrible. It’ll get the job done but it’s far from deep or inspiring.
Woodford Reserve is a decent, if not unmemorable and uninteresting bourbon. It has some nice honey and vanilla flavors complemented with a splash of fruit, but the brittle charred and dried wood and corn traits take away from the overall drinking experience. It is richer and better than Jack Daniel’s Old No.7, another Brown-Forman bourbon, but that is a low bar to clear. The funny thing is that Woodford is priced as a mid-range bourbon, but pales in comparison to other bourbons that are in the same price range such as Wild Turkey 101, Knob Creek Single Barrel, and Eagle Rare 10. While it’s completely drinkable, I won’t be putting this back on my shelf anytime soon and don’t recommend it for you either.