Whisky Advocate

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Sweet Mash

October 28th, 2008

This is the fourth of the 100% pot still whiskeys from Woodford Reserve in their Master’s Collection series (the previous being two different Four Grain releases and a Sonoma-Cutrer wine finish expression). All four have a common pot still character to them and their flavors really expand most bourbon drinkers’ concept of bourbon. The second batch of Four Grain is still my clear favorite of the releases so far. It’s balanced and complex. On the other end of the scale, the Sonoma-Cutrer wine finish release was just too sweet.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Sweet Mash, 43.2%, $90
Burnt orange/amber color. Sweet, fruity and spicy on the nose and palate. Notes of ripe orchard fruit (peach, apple), golden raisin, bramble, spice (cinnamon, mint, nutmeg and clove) on a bed of sweetness (maple syrup and honey). It’s thick and viscous in texture and quite sweet on the front end of the palate, but dried spices and oak emerges mid-palate and rescue it. Long, spicy, resinous finish. I would rather the whisky didn’t go from predominantly sweet to mostly dry and gritty. I wish these two components were better integrated. If they were, I would have given this whiskey a higher rating.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 81

6 Responses to “Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Sweet Mash”

  1. Gary Gillman says:

    Interesting comments, John. I had a small sample recently and will await the official release to deveop a more definite view, but so far the predominant taste I get is a pot still “steeliness”. I get the woodsy estery notes you mentioned too, but I wonder what this would be like with a few years more aging, rather better I suspect.

    I would say that so far, the melding of the matured Versailles pot still and Louisville-distilled column still whiskeys gives the best overall result for the Woodford Reserve brand, at least at the age range the brand is currently being released at.

    Gary

  2. John Hansell says:

    Gary, yes, what I called a “common pot still character” is what you are describing as a pot still “steeliness”. However one wants to describe it, it certainly is a common thread in all the pot-distilled Master’s Collection whiskeys.

    An extra year helped improve the Four Grain version. It might help with the integration of this whiskey too. Chili is always better the day after you make it. Who knows? Maybe Chris Morris is setting aside some additional barrels of Sweet Mash. Time will tell.

  3. sam k says:

    It would seem that they have yet to figure out how to make consistently good whiskey with that cantankerous still setup. I continue to be surprised at how difficult it seems to be for them. It says something when the best whiskey they can make consistently is one that’s blended with column spirit. I hope they’re getting a better handle on technique as time goes on.

  4. Gray Gillman says:

    Sam, I think the issue is, i) working with unmalted grains save for the small amount of malt used for conversion, and ii) aging around 7 years prior to release. What would Irish pure pot still whiskey taste like at such a young age…? True, the pot still whiskey made at Versailles is aged in new charred wood but I think the reputation of new charred barrels to age whiskey more quickly than reused wood may be overestimated. I believe the stills are likely fine and that the pot still element, to be really good on its own, may simply need a minimum of 10-12 years aging.

    I feel the best expression of Woodford Reserve is the regular one and that the combination of pot still and column still whiskeys produces a complex, most palatable drink. There is an analogy here, to a point, with blended Scotch and Irish whiskies.

    Gary

  5. Rick Duff says:

    I picked up a bottle of batch 4 in Kentucky last week. I have to say that it has a harsh “burn” much like the Chardonnay finish did last year. Could it be these just haven’t been aged long enough? It reminds me of young bourbon. I was disappointed and agree with the rating you gave.

  6. John Hansell says:

    Rick, I don’t think that the whiskey is necessarily to young (or too old). It’s just that the flavors don’t seem integrated properly (sweet and fruity at first, then dry and spicy). Sometimes additional aging does enhance integration (like eating a stew the second day), but I don’t know if it would have helped here or not.

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