During Derby week, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Brown-Forman suite at Churchill Downs for a day of bourbon and horse racing. Seriously, who could turn down that combo?
The tasting event was held on the Wednesday before Derby, a day which I hope never gains a nickname as "cute" as Thurby, and which still retains the charm of a locals' day at the track. As Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall poured cups for tasting, we learned that a group of bourbon media professionals had been assembled for the first tasting of Woodford's new Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey, a product which will be available for purchase in some markets as early as next month.
If you ever have the chance to attend a Woodford Reserve whiskey tasting, you owe it to yourself to participate. The Woodford team puts so much care into the details -- whether they're doing the signature flavor wheel food pairing exercise or a comparative whiskey tasting, as we experienced on this occasion. Mr. Morris took care to explain that all four expressions in the brand's whiskey portfolio -- Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Woodford Reserve Rye, and Woodford Reserve Malt -- were comprised of the same three grains: corn, rye, and malted barley and are bottled at 90.4 proof. Of course, the percentage of grains in the individual mash bills as well as the special finishing process in the case of Double Oaked are what produce such distinct flavors in the different distillates.
We started with the original WR expression, the bourbon as a baseline spirit for tasting. We followed with my favorite expression in Woodford's portfolio, Double Oaked. The Double Oaked is traditional Woodford juice that, upon maturation has been finished in a second charred oak barrel. This produces more of the sweet caramel notes for which the brand is famous. I love this one as a sipping whiskey or as an after-dinner "dessert" drink, as it has prominent brown sugar notes; it's sweet without ever becoming cloying.
Next on the tasting menu was Woodford Reserve Rye. This one is Bob's go-to cocktail whiskey; it makes a fine Manhattan, sour, or Old-Fashioned. It's peppery and earthy, but doesn't enter into the high-rye herbaceous "bite" that so many ryes often display. We consider it the "house whiskey" of HerKentucky Headquarters; I love the idea that this rye whiskey is made from Brown-Forman's pre-Prohibition recipe.
Then it was time for a sip of the new malt product. This one was fascinating, y'all. It had a lot of the characteristics of traditional Woodford bourbon, but was somehow lighter. The nose was strong with notes of cherry and almond. The mouthfeel was quite different from any of the other whiskeys we tasted that day; I felt a strong evaporation on the front of my tongue, somewhere between the sweet and salty tasting zones. I think that the Straight Malt expression will make a really interesting whiskey for mixologists; it will create some unique cocktails!
Mr. Morris made the very important distinction that this whiskey is not to be considered in the class of single malt Scotch whiskeys, but rather it is an experimental expression of American whiskey. Elizabeth led us through the tasting notes, as you can see in the video below.
Elizabeth and I also had a chance to chat about some of our favorite Draper James pieces. She was featured on the brand's Love, Reese blog as part of the Real Women, Real Clothes series, and partnered with Draper James on her Derby Week looks. How perfect is that partnership? We posed for a #draperjamesgirl photo as the event wrapped up.
Thanks so much to Woodford Reserve for an amazingly relaxing and educational Derby Week event! Cheers, y'all!