Situated in Woodford County, KY, the Woodford Reserve Distillery is built on the site of the oldest standing distillery in the US. With a rich history dating back to 1812, Elijah Pepper was the first to begin distillation on the site. Elijah’s son Oscar Pepper eventually took over the distillery and continued distilation on the site under the famous Old Oscar Pepper brand with operations overseen by Dr. James C. Crow who is accredited with the creation and perfection of the game-changing sour mash technique still used today. When Oscar died in 1864 his estate and distillery were handled by the famous Colonel E.H. Taylor on behalf of his son James E. Pepper. However, in 1878 the distillery and site were sold to Leopold Labrot and James Graham. Labrot and Graham owned and operated the distillery, with the exception of during Prohibition, until it was sold to the Brown-Forman Corporation in 1940. Brown-Forman continued production until the late 1960s, then sold the site and lands to a local farmer. Brown-Forman then re-purchased the property in 1993, refurbished it, brought it back into operation, and launched the Woodford Reserve brand in 1996.
Today Woodford Reserve is thriving and is set to tip a million cases this year globally. As a small-scale distillery, Woodford are also consistently pushing the boundaries when it comes to producing experimental whiskies. Under Master Distiller Chris Morris and his dedicated team, the distillery produces a core portfolio consisting of all four distinctive styles of American straight whiskey: bourbon, rye, wheat, and malt, as well as their very popular double-oaked bourbon on an ongoing basis. They also produce several smaller, more innovative limited releases under both their Distillery and Master’s Select series.
First released in 2012 and produced by Brown-Forman, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked was Woodford Reserve’s first permanent line extension since the brand launched in 1996. As an innovative addition to the Woodford Reserve portfolio it features standard Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select that has been matured in an added white oak barrel. The original barrel is crafted from virgin white oak that has been seasoned outdoors for nine months and is completely toasted and charred on the inside and filled with Woodford’s new make bourbon. The second is also virgin white oak but instead has been toasted for more than twice as long as the first barrel and is then very lightly charred, thus still qualifying Double Oaked as a straight bourbon after the finishing period. The bourbon is first cut to bottling proof (90.4 – 45.2% ABV) then entered into the second barrel for an additional 6 to 12 months before being bottled at a lower proof than the standard Distiller’s Select bourbon (probably due to evaporation during the second ageing). Double Oaked marked a bold step towards Woodford Reserve’s goal of innovation in design evolution and overall leadership within the super-premium spirits category.
Today I’ll be taking a look at the standard release of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. A single barrel version is also available but to get a bottle you must either buy it directly from the distillery or a local store/bourbon group that have picked their own barrel.
Name: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Age: NAS (approx 6 years old)
Proof: 90.4 Proof (45.2% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight bourbon
Mashbill: 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley
Producer: Brown-Forman Corporation
Nose: The nose opens with deep butterscotch, warm toasted oak, a touch of red fruit, soft white pepper, melted dark chocolate, and earthy grain.
Palate: The palate is semi-viscous, opening with dry toasted oak, almost earthy burnt caramel, faint red fruit, and a kick of peppery rye spice, before giving toasted almonds galore and some bitter dark chocolate charred vegetal oak.
Finish: The finish opens with deep burnt caramel and peppery rye spice still lingering from the palate. It warms the throat as it travels down leaving an aftertaste of classic Woodford almonds, and vegetal charred oak.
Wow, this is a big step up from the standard Distiller’s Select! It’s bold, flavourful, and very complex. There’s so much deep Werther’s Original hard candy butterscotch notes in there it’s almost reminiscent of what you get from the right dusty bourbon. In fact, I’d say that you would be hard pressed to find a product on the market with more butterscotch on the nose than this bourbon. Add to that a healthy kick of bitter oak and warm rye spice and you’ve hit a winning combination. There’s so much goodness going on across the board with the second barrel evidently having done a lot to smooth out the minor shortfalls of the standard Distiller’s Select. Despite the standout notes of complex and deep caramel on the nose and palate it still retains its Woodford DNA with classic Woodford black cherry and almonds – but toasted to make them taste even better (even my wife said ‘almonds!’ when I asked her to nose this). The grain also still shines through but with everything else added in it contributes toward the final complexity instead of being a drawback.
Barrel ageing wasn’t exactly a new innovation when Woodford released Double Oaked. However, finishing bourbon in a second virgin barrel with a heavy toast and light char was a much rarer occurrence – to my knowledge. When producing a finished bourbon most producers would still use an ex-wine barrel such as port or sherry instead of a fresh oak barrel. Double Oaked was also the first readily available product of its kind that’s been easy to find on shelves at an accessible price as opposed to being an ultra-rarer limited release. Since its introduction several competitors have also released bourbons finished to various levels of success in heavily toasted barrels but even then Woodford’s expression has retained its proud reputation of great quality and flavour.
Try or Buy?
As I noted above Double Oaked comes in at a really reasonable price. For the extra bit you’re paying over the price of standard Distiller’s Select, Double Oaked gives drinkers a chance to try something delicious and innovative at a decent price. Of course if you’re not sure that the added oak influence will be to your liking you can probably find a dram of this at a bar for a pretty agreeable price. My advice is spend the money- chances are very high that you won’t regret it at all.