Woodford Reserve Names Elizabeth McCall Master Distiller
February 7, 2023 –––––– Julia Higgins
Woodford Reserve has announced a major leadership change that’s been nearly a decade in the making: Master distiller Chris Morris will be stepping into a master distiller emeritus role and assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall will take over as master distiller. McCall is the third master distiller in Woodford’s 26-year history, and the first woman to step into the role to boot, making this a particularly historic announcement.
Before McCall joined Woodford, she was part of the distillery’s parent company, Brown-Forman, having come on board in 2009 as part of its research and development department. She then came under Morris’ wing in 2015, when she assumed the master taster role at Woodford; from there, it was only a short time until she became assistant master distiller, taking up that mantle in 2018.
Thus far in her Woodford tenure, McCall has been instrumental in expanding the distillery’s creative bounds, spearheading the inventive Distillery Series alongside Morris. Here, her inventiveness as a distiller was highlighted with limited-edition Woodford whiskeys like Chocolate Malt Whisper (a “happy accident” bourbon that saw some notes from Woodford’s Chocolate Malted Rye carry over into the following batch of whiskey) and Toasted Oak Oat Grain, which is Woodford Oat Grain bourbon finished in a heavily toasted barrel.
Since 2020, McCall has also been the driving force behind the Woodford Master’s Collection, which launched back in 2004 as Morris’ brainchild. Each annual Master’s Collection release is the result of experiments with different elements of flavor creation, like fermentation and maturation. Two years ago, Morris took a step back as the pioneering mind of the collection, instead letting McCall take the lead–and she’s done so with aplomb, releasing Batch Proof bourbon (91 points) in 2022 and Five-Malt Stouted Mash in 2021.
Her interest in creating innovative new grain recipes, as well as in the grains themselves, has led to her building strong relationships with local farmers and investing more in Kentucky agriculture overall. Shortly after she became assistant master distiller, she created a bourbon mashbill that called for red heirloom corn grown in the state; she tapped a local farmer for production and remained closely involved in each step of the process, from planting the corn to making visits to the fields as it was growing; somewhat unusual for a distiller at the helm of an operation as large as Woodford. In a similar fashion, McCall has been a driving force in bringing rye back to Kentucky farmlands—as a result of her dedication to reviving the grain and supporting local farmers in doing so, Woodford has committed to at least a decade of research into Kentucky-grown rye, and how it can be used in whiskey.
Even as Morris relinquishes the reins he’s held since 2003, the distillery notes he’ll remain an integral part of the production team.