Whisky Advocate

New Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection “Seasoned Oak”

October 27th, 2009

This will start being released next week. I ‘ve had a barrel sample of it for a month or two, but I’m waiting for the finished product (which I should get soon) before offering an opinion. The previous releases have varied significantly in flavor profile, depending on how the whiskey was made.

Woodford Reserve Releases Limited Edition Bourbon Featuring
Specially-Aged Barrels
Exclusive Master’s Collection Bottling Available Beginning November 1

WRMC Seasoned Oak bottle shotOctober 27, 2009, Louisville, Ky. – Woodford Reserve announces the latest extension of its acclaimed Master’s Collection which will be released on November 1. Called ‘Seasoned Oak Finish,’ it is the fourth in the series of limited edition bottlings and continues Woodford Reserve’s tradition of crafting rare whiskeys that extend the category in bold new directions.

Barrels play a key role in producing bourbon, with approximately 70 percent of the spirit’s flavor and aroma and all of its color provided by the oak barrel. Woodford Reserve’s new offering, Seasoned Oak Finish, features bourbon finish-aged in unique barrels crafted with wood that has been seasoned longer than any previously used in the industry.

“Of all the distillers in our industry, we are the only bourbon company that crafts its own barrels, giving us unique knowledge and control of the process,” said Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. “As the rough oak staves are exposed to seasonal weather changes and subsequently dried, this natural cycle develops a new range of flavors in the wood.”

This seasoning progression changes the wood by reducing tannins and ultimately creates a new range of flavor compounds. The staves for most bourbon barrels are seasoned for three to five months; however, Seasoned Oak Finish combines fully-matured Woodford Reserve with barrels crafted from wood that has been exposed to the outdoors for three to five years — the longest seasoning known in the bourbon industry.

“By ‘finish aging’ Woodford Reserve in barrels that have been crafted from oak and seasoned for several years, we created a bourbon unlike any other in the industry. It’s the most robust bourbon we have ever made,” said Wayne Rose, brand director for Woodford Reserve. “This special Master’s Collection release emboldens Woodford Reserve with ‘extra-aged’ oak character resulting in a new and complex flavor profile.”

Seasoned Oak Finish is the fourth in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection series following the Four Grain, Sonoma-Cutrer Finish and Sweet Mash products. Released periodically at the master distiller’s discretion, the Master’s Collection whiskeys are extremely limited in quantity and bottled only once in a proprietary package inspired by the copper pot stills of The Woodford Reserve Distillery.

The inspiration for the Master’s Collection is rooted in the rich history and tradition of what is today known as The Woodford Reserve Distillery. In the mid-1800s distillery owner Oscar Pepper and Master Distiller James Crow studied and recommended use of key processes like sour mashing and charred barrel maturation at the historic Woodford County distillery. These practices are still maintained in the bourbon industry and, today, the distillery receives more than 80,000 visitors annually and is the only one in America to triple-distill bourbon in copper pot stills.

Woodford Reserve Seasoned Oak Finish will be sold in 44 U.S. markets, and a limited quantity will be available in Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, New Zealand and Australia. Each bottle is individually hand-numbered and presented at 100.4 proof. Available in major metro markets, only 1,337 cases are available with a suggested retail price of $89.99 for a 750ml bottle.

20 Responses to “New Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection “Seasoned Oak””

  1. Mr Manhattan says:

    My week for asking odd questions…sorrry.

    So I took a peek at CFR 27-5 (Subpart C) which defines standards of identity for distilled spirits in the United States. Bourbon, of course, must be aged in new charred oak barrels, etc. Under what rule(s) can a bourbon be further aged in used barrels and still be legally labeled ‘bourbon’?



  2. Red_Arremer says:

    Buffalo Trace has been finishing some of their experimental bourbons in used casks for a while so there is some sort of precedent.

    On a semi-related note does anyone know how much of the Woodford that we get in the bottles comes from the potstills? A I read on this blog that they mix in Old Forester. Then, recently, someone told me that Woodford has column stills in addition to potstills anyways. So I’m just curious.

    This sounds like an interesting product. Kind of reminds me of Glenmorangie Astar.

  3. DavidG says:

    I believe “New” is defined as unused – here, the staves are aged longer, but have not been used before aging the whiskey.

  4. John Hansell says:

    Red,It is my understanding that all of the Master’s Collection whiskeys are from the pot stills at Woodford Reserve, while the regular Woodford Reserve also has some from Early Times Distillery (or whatever they’re calling it now) where Old Forester comes from. (They might be calling it the Old Forester Distillery now. They changed the names a while back.)

  5. Rick Duff says:

    Woodford only has the 3 pot stills. They do mix in “cherry” (very good) barrels of Old Forester (made in Louisville with the same mash recipe as Woodford). In the beginning it was a higher % than it is now.
    Actually in the beginning it was 100% Old Forester. These Master Collection releases are completely pot still though.

  6. Mike Dereszynski says:

    Hi John,
    As usual answers produce more questions and with Woodford Reserve there always seem to be questions as to their methods,wether it be their distillation or aging process ect. ect.
    My question pertains to the latest Masters Collection and the special aged wood or staves.Since the staves are aged by 3-5 years rather than months what does this in fact do? Is the rest of their proccessing of the wood,ie charring level ect. remain the same or is that also changed. I also remember Jim McEwan once saying that the thickness of the staves of a cask can effect the whisky. Did the extra aging change the thickness of the staves?
    I dont expect you to have the answers, just something to ponder while you sit in your easy chair by the fire sipping a little whisky/whiskey while you fight the flu.
    Mike Dski

  7. Mr Manhattan says:

    @David G: The press release indicates these barrels are used for ‘finish aging’ – which leads me to believe two barrels are used: one for the initial period of aging and another (made from the seasoned staves) for the finishing. So the whiskey spends time in two different barrels. I’m interested in understanding how that’s still considered ‘bourbon’ under existing standards. (And I’m not impugning the product, merely trying to understand the labeling.)


  8. Sean says:

    Michael, I believe because the second barrels are still new it should be ok. If I remember it only says new barrels it doesn’t say anything about reracking it into another new barrels. I believe there is another bourbon that doers this as well (isn’t it Pritchards double barrel bourbon or something close to that). Hope that helps.

  9. Red_Arremer says:

    Mike @6, have you tried Astar? The whole point of it is that it’s a young scotch, probably 6-8 years old, that gets aged in charred new oak that has been seasoned for a very long time. It tastes relatively more mature than you’d expect and is packed with vanilla notes, has barely any sappiness, and a little spice…. which makes me wonder if this bourbon will be too sweet. I guess we’ll see.

  10. John Hansell says:

    Red, I really enjoyed Astar. I should be getting this new WRMC release in a week or two and will let everyone know my thoughts on it.

  11. Gary says:

    Being a big Woodford fan I am looking forward to this release. Interesting points being discussed regarding the use of the wood and the “finish aging”. Is there a question as to whether or not this is a “legal” bourbon?

  12. William Gaunce says:

    All of the Masters Collection bottlings are 100% pot stilled at the Woodford Reserve Distillery. The regular Woodford Reserve is a batching of pot-stilled bourbon and hones barrels selected by Chris Morris at the Early Times/Old Forester distillery. The specifics of the batching are a secret. Woodford only has three pot stills while Old Forester is produced in Louisville. Flavor profiles of these two bourbons has become increasingly more alike as the years develop.

    The wood that was aged for three and one-half to five years had time for the extra tannins to leach out into the limestone gravel that the wood sits on. This resulted, when charred and toasted, in imparting different flavors. These were all charred new oak barrels. The flavor is robust at 100.4 proof.

    Brown Forman makes every drop of its bourbons in its own facilities and every barrel is aged in BF warehouses. This make them unique in the industry.

  13. This should be exceedingly good provided they have their past quality control issues under control.

  14. Michael Shoshani says:

    @Mr Manhattan: There should be no conflict with the law as to labeling it ‘Bourbon’ despite its finishing in other barrels. The legal requirement to be labeled ‘Bourbon’ is that it must be aged for a specified amount of time (I believe two years) in new, charred oak barrels.

    ONCE THAT PERIOD ELAPSES, the whiskey can legally be called ‘Bourbon’ even if it’s then dumped into galvanized zinc washtubs for a decade.

    There are distilleries that hold product in stainless steel tanks to prevent further aging, but these will all have aged for the required amount of time in the specified new charred oak barrels. Likewise, the bourbon we buy in the store can legally be called ‘Bourbon’ even though we’re actually buying it in transparent glass bottles. Its transfer to a different storage medium does not affect its status as bourbon.

  15. Levi says:

    PLEASE answer this… What is the deal with the “Batches” ??

    I found Batch #5 of this new Masters Edition, was there a “Batch #1” ?

    Any light you can shed on this would be VERY appreciated:

  16. Tanya says:

    I am looking for a place to buy this in Louisiana preferably in Baton Rouge. I am not even sure it has been distributed here.

  17. Red_Arremer says:

    Probably, each batch is a different bunch of barrels getting mixed together (though it’s entirely possible that the contents of one barrel might end up in two different batches). The profile of the whiskey might vary a little from batch to batch, but if they are aiming for consistency it shouldn’t be too huge a factor. And yes, I’m sure there was a “Batch #1.”

  18. John Hansell says:

    Thanks Red, for answering Levi’s question.

  19. Big Dog says:

    I just toured the distillery a couple of weeks ago. @Red_Arremer, @John Hansell: All the bourbon coming out of the Labrot and Graham distillery is triple distilled in their three copper stills on the premise. They do not mix with bourbon from other distilleries. Michael Shoshani is correct. The law requires that bourbon is aged in new white oak charred barrels, meaning that the barrel hasn’t been used for any thing else when the grain alcohol is put in it. The wood for the barrels for this Master’s Collection has just sat around a lot longer than normal before they were made into barrels. @Levi: Red is correct again, depending on the type of batch (small, very small) they mix two or more barrels together before bringing it down to the legally required bottling proof (around 90) for flavor consistency between batches. A barrel of bourbon can be aged from 5.5 to over 8 years (normally) before the master distiller releases it for bottling. That will give each barrel a slightly different flavor.

    Thanks John for the review. I’m stepping out to get my bottle now.

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