Woodford Reserve…Malts? Yes Indeed!September 11th, 2013
Fred Minnick tastes the latest Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection.
When master distiller Chris Morris revealed to me the latest Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection whiskeys, a single malt project, my first thought was that this will raise eyebrows with the craft distillers. The American craft distillers have carved out a nice niche with American single malts.
Woodford’s new Double Malt Selections—Straight Malt Whiskey and Classic Malt—are the first modern American malt expressions from a large-scale producer.
But Morris says the Double Malt project began before many craft distillers were in business. “Some might see this as following, but we were putting malt whiskey away nine years for maturation,” Morris says.
Morris has become accustomed to defending the Master’s Collection. Every year, he releases a limited edition with a change to one of the five sources of bourbon’s flavor: grain, water, fermentation, distillation and maturation. And every year, somebody says, “Well, that’s not really a bourbon.”
Morris calls the Master’s Collection the “Myth Busters” of whiskey making. “Old timers always told us we can’t do this and that,” he says. “We asked: Why not?”
Past Master’s Collection products also tested whiskey-making tradition, including Four Grain, Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay-barrel finished, Sweet Mash, Maple Wood and last year’s Four Wood.
Morris says the inspiration for the Master’s Collection dates back to the mid-1800s distillers Oscar Pepper and James C. Crow, who modernized the bourbon-making processes on the land that is now Woodford Reserve. “Our charter is to be the home of innovative whiskey,” he says.
The Double Malt Selections mark the eighth expression of the Master’s Collection. Interestingly, given Woodford’s pot stills and the obvious Scottish connection, both products were made from malt mashes vs. worts. Woodford doesn’t have the capability to separate the grain for a wort, Morris says.
The Classic Malt was aged in used barrels, while the Straight Malt was stored in new charred oak barrels. The two barrel variations are obvious with a much lighter color and less oily flavor profile in the Classic Malt. The Straight Malt packs a similar color to Woodford Reserve, but there’s no smoke or rye spice to balance the woody notes. Lightly fruity and grain-forward, both are undeniably products of malt and American oak.
But I cannot get past the labeling. Why Straight Malt instead of the obviously more popular and more consumer-friendly single malt label?
“Our legal department would not let us call it single malt because it’s not made in Ireland or Scotland,” Morris says.
The Double Malt Selections will be available for $99.99 per bottle with availability at select stores throughout the United States and limited quantities in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, and in duty free markets.