Woodford Reserve Background
Woodford Reserve is distilled at the Woodford Reserve Distillery and is a part of Brown-Forman. Distilling was first done on site by Elijah Pepper on his farm in 1812. His son Oscar built the distillery in 1838 and was called the Oscar Pepper Distillery. Oscar along with Dr. James Crow of Old Crow fame built up the business until it was sold to Labrot & Graham in 1878 and later Brown-Forman bought it in 1940. Brown Forman was mostly after the stocks of aged Bourbon which would be in short supply during World War II. They operated the plant for years and then sold it in 1972 when Bourbon sales were falling. The distillery sat dormant for 20 years when Brown-Forman bought it back as Bourbon began to revive. In 2003 the distillery was renamed Woodford Reserve from Labrot & Graham Distillery, although Woodford Reserve bottles still say Labrot & Graham.
In 1993 Brown-Forman master distiller Lincoln Henderson and distiller Dave Scheurich set out to create a new premium Bourbon. They began restoring the site in 1994 and two years and $7 million dollars later it was ready to reopen. Woodford Reserve was introduced to market in 1996 and is named after its home in Woodford County Kentucky.
Since its launch, Woodford Reserve has been the sponsored Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. This review here is the bottle commemorating the 140th Kentucky Derby. The Bourbon itself is regular Woodford Reserve, but the bottle is a special 1L version featuring some cool artwork.
No age statement, but thought to be aged 6-8 years. Bottled at 42.5%. Mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley. Paid $36 MSRP.
Rich caramel. Butterscotch. Woody. Spices, Cinnamon. Leather. Some minty rye
Nice and oaky. Lots of caramel, toffee. Rye, minty spice. Roasted, charred flavors. Maybe a little cola in there. Some sweetness. Cinnamon and a sourness-bitterness in the finish with some mild astringent drying and some warmth.
If Woodford Reserve is the best bottle at the bar, you’ll be OK. This is a nice warm Bourbon with dark and cozy flavors. Rich and flavorful with not much in the way of rough edges. It seems to come together nicely. It hits a lot of notes with a good rye character and satisfyingly deep flavors of rich caramel, sweetness, and good oak profile. The flavor to me a little unique with its rich sweetness, which won’t always fit my mood.
Pricing on this is respectable. This bottle here is the Derby 140 special edition, so it was more expensive at 1L size. I listed it with the standard 750ml bottle price for comparison sake. Its popularity may hurt it some among Bourbon nerds, but it’s a nice Bourbon at a good price.
Woodford Reserve Recommendation
Buy a Bottle – 3/5 rating.
Buying Options and Further Research
Woodford Reserve is nice, but it has quite a few peers. I call this a standard rye Bourbon and in this price range you’ve got a number of options worth investigating. If you like Woodford Reserve, can’t find it, or just want to do some more research, I’d suggest checking out Elmer T Lee, Russell’s Reserve 10, Bowman Brothers Small Batch, and Evan Williams Single Barrel. I think it’s hard to go wrong with that lineup, whatever you choose. You could also try Old Forester Select, which has the same mash recipe, but about $10 or so cheaper.