90.4 proof -- $47.00
Woodford Reserve is a great example of brilliant marketing, and a pretty decent bourbon. Woodford is owned by Brown-Forman, and is made – sorta – at a beautiful old distillery in the horse farm country outside my old hometown of Lexington, Kentucky. It’s one of the first whiskeys I tasted, and I’m using my old notes on it, since I didn’t know much about it back then and I think it’s interesting to do so. Since then, I’ve been on several tours to the distillery, as it’s a lovely place to take tourists. Brown-Forman is, of course, the owners of Jack Daniels, the best-selling American whiskey. They also make Korbel, el Jimador tequila, Early Times Kentucky whiskey (not bourbon, as it isn’t made in new barrels), Canadian Mist, and that terrifying stuff known as Southern Comfort. They also own some pretty great Scotch distilleries, like Ardbeg.
Woodford Reserve is their premium American whiskey brand. Their big name is obviously ol Jack, but Old Forester is their old-school brand, with its distillery outside Louisville. The Woodford distillery was the first bourbon distillery to really take advantage of the whisk(e)y tourism industry that BF pioneered with their Jack Daniels brand and distillery. They re-opened a closed distillery and installed a fancy new brass set of old-school pot stills (more on those after the review). Now, Woodford Reserve isn’t all made at Woodford – it’s made from whiskey made at the Woodford distillery mixed (either before barreling or vatted after, not sure entirely, but assumedly the post-barreling vatting) with whiskey from the standard Brown-Forman Old Forester distillery. Probably the best of that whiskey that doesn’t go into their Birthday Bourbons. (Now, I polished off a bottle of Old Forester last year, and I’m a bit sad we can’t get it – I drank it before but never owned a bottle, and it grew on me quite a lot for its price.)
Brown-Forman’s huge Jack Daniels-fueled pull is why Woodford, despite being a relatively small brand, gets such broad distribution. After Maker’s, Woodford was the first premium/super-premium whiskey I remember encountering in local bars. Anyway, on to the review…
In general, Woodford has some pretty standard flavor notes for bourbon – oak and vanilla dominate the nose, taste, and finish, and that’s pretty much what I think of, other than the flavoring grains and some spice, when I think of bourbon. The nose itself is pretty pungent, almost like an Irish whiskey. This makes sense, as I would later find out, as my favorite Irish whiskeys are made with a pot still rather than a column still, which apparently gives it a creamier, rounder flavour (or are, as Woodford is, a mix of pot and column stilled whiskeys.) This review is already getting lengthy, but at some point I’ll do some more research on the two types of stills and write up an explanation.
The taste is pretty standard, with some cinnamon at the edges, and a nice viscosity – a bit oily and it coats the mouth. The finish is pretty darn good. Oak and vanilla, again; medium length, 2-4 seconds, with some nice spice at the back end. Overall, Woodford does nothing wrong and a lot of things right, but nothing about it is very exciting or unique (other than that pungent, and not always pleasant, nose). Honestly, it pretty much tastes like a bourbon should – it’s just not bold or interesting.
The only problem is the price. It’s the most expensive of the standard LCBO bourbons, but it’s also typically among the best bourbons available. It’s a premium that doesn’t do anything premium but taste pretty good, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just not sure if I want to regularly spend almost $50 on it when I could be trying interesting and unique new offerings at that price.
Another note about Woodford – like Elijah Craig, it has better and worse batches. It doesn’t swing as much as EC does from sublime to not-great (so its highs aren’t as high and its lows aren’t as low, but it is more expensive). I’ve been pleased with it every time I’ve drank it here in Ontario, barring a couple of less-than-great glasses that probably were from a bottle sitting open on a shelf forever at a bar. The bottle itself is pretty and functional but nothing too mindblowing, either, kind of like the whiskey inside.
Woodford's price hurts it, but I wouldn’t begrudge any high-rollers out there who keep a bottle of it as their go-to.
Next time: either Wild Turkey 80 or Maker’s Mark. Woooooo.