Life

Ranking The Core Bottles Of Woodford Reserve Whiskey

Woodford Reserve is a special brand of whiskey. Why? For starters, the stuff is just plain old tastier than the average bottle of American booze. That’s no surprise for those acquainted with their production process. Much like Irish whiskey, Woodford Reserve is triple distilled in pot stills and blended with column distilled whiskey. For the most part, standard bourbon is twice distilled in one type of still — pot, column, or otherwise (with a million exceptions, of course).

Beyond that, even the entry point bourbon from Woodford Reserve spends six to seven years maturing in heavily charred American oak inside a temperature-controlled warehouse before blending, proofing, and bottling. For comparison’s sake, the average affordable bourbon spends two to four years in the barrel. Jim Beam bottles their much-lauded single barrel Baker’s at seven years. With Woodford, you’re getting extra refined (distilled) and well-aged bourbon even with the entry-level expressions.

All this to say: We’re fans. So we decided to sample the full line and offer our thoughts. Woodford Reserve is fairly unique in that they don’t just make bourbon and rye, they’ve branched out to American malt and wheat whiskey (not wheated bourbon) alongside their Double Oaked expression. They also have a deep bench of limited editions, but we’ll get to that another time. Click the prices to order the expressions that look best to you.

Let’s rank some whiskey!

5. Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey

Brown-Forman

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This whiskey was a long time coming. Master Distiller Chris Morris tinkered with this recipe for nine years before it was just right. The juice has a fairly low-rye mash bill — for a rye, that is. The bill only calls for 53 percent of the spicy grain. The rest is made up of local corn and malted barley. The whiskey then spends up to seven years maturing at their Versailles, Kentucky facility before its blended, proofed with soft limestone water, and bottled.

Tasting Notes:

Grassy rye comes through with a nice note of sharp black pepper next to mellow pear and marzipan with a hint of cedar bark. The palate really delivers on the pear with a honeyed sweetness while the rye pepperiness ebbs and flows without overpowering the subtler notes of malt, clove, and even fresh mint.

The end is shortish and leans into the sweetness of the fruit with a sharp rye spice counterpoint.

Bottom Line:

Look, something has to be in this spot. This really is designed as a solid cocktail base for your rye cocktails. Sazerac anyone?

Overall, this is a mild rye and may not wow rye-heads out there who are used to 99 or 100 percent rye whiskeys these days. That being said, this is delicious — proving just how good this line gets.

4. Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey

Brown-Forman

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $39

The Whiskey:

This is a fascinating dram of whiskey. The mash bill clocks the wheat at 52 percent, just above the 51 percent required to officially be a “wheat whiskey.” The rest of the mash bill is comprised of 20 percent malted barley, 20 percent corn, and eight percent rye. It’s an interesting four-grain mix given the high ratio of malted barley. The whiskey then goes through the Woodford process of triple distillation and years of maturing.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted with a mix of vanilla next to pears stewed in cinnamon and butter with a note of dried roses and cedar. The palate holds onto those notes while adding in more of the stewed fruit spiciness with hints of chocolate mint and a very distant note of toasted coconut (more so when water is added). The end is chewy and the pear becomes more of a pear stem or core as the taste dries out nicely.

Bottom Line:

This is just an interesting sip of whiskey. It’s also fairly bold and will stand up to hefty cocktails like a boulevardier.

3. Woodford Reserve Malt Whiskey

Brown-Forman

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $39

The Whiskey:

This expression is sort of like Scotland meets Kentucky in a bottle. The mash bill utilizes 51 percent malted barley. So, it’s not a single malt whisky (those are 100 percent malted barley mash bills). The bill is then supported by a big dose of corn (47 percent), and a dash of rye (two percent). The hot juice is then treated as an American bourbon or rye and is aged in new American oak (single malts generally mature in old bourbon or sherry barrels).

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on here. The nose grows from a sense of rummy molasses, dried fruits, and nutty toffee towards soft cedar and a subtly savory fruit like squash. The palate leans into the velvety dark chocolates and toffees with hints of Christmas spices while the sweet fruits fade and the cedar becomes somewhat toasted. There’s an echo of coconut in the background as the fade leads back to that savory fruit with plenty of bitter chocolate and sweet and nutty toffee lingering the longest.

Bottom Line:

This is enthralling. It’s different in all the right ways. It makes for a fine sipper with a few rocks or in a highball. It’s also really rad as a cocktail base and can stand up to big flavor profiles in sours.

2. Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Brown-Forman

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $39

The Whiskey:

This is where everything comes together that makes Woodford unique. The mash bill on this bourbon is mid-range rye heavy with 18 percent of the grain in the bill for support. The triple distilling in pot stills and blending with column distilled whiskey is utilized. And yes, this bourbon rests for six to seven years — taking time to mature before barrels are pulled for blending, proofing, and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s that classic note of bourbon vanilla up top but it doesn’t overwhelm the notes of dark chocolate oranges, dried fruits, spicy tobacco, and a distant wisp of fresh mint. A lovely toffee richness creates a well-rounded mouthfeel as notes of spicy and chewy tobacco mingle with dark chocolate dust, more orange oils, and a touch of cinnamon sticks. The end is pure velvet, lingers for just the right amount of time, and brings the whole sip together.

Bottom Line:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that mint comes up a lot in Woodford Reserve’s notes. They’re the sponsor of the Kentucky Derby after all and the mint julep is that event’s official cocktail. While this is an excellent julep base, it also works perfectly well as a sipper on the rocks or neat.

1. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon

Brown-Forman

ABV: 43.2%

Average Price: $57

The Whiskey:

This expression takes the standard bourbon above and gives it a finishing touch. The bourbon is blended and moved into new barrels that have been double toasted but only lightly charred. The juice spends a final nine months resting in those barrels before proofing and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a welcoming aroma of marzipan, blackberry, toffee, and fresh honey next to a real sense of pitchy, dry firewood. The taste drills down on those notes as the sweet marzipan becomes more choco-hazelnut, the berries become more dried and apple-y, the toffee becomes almost burnt, and the wood softens to a cedar bark. A rich spicy and chewy tobacco arrives late as the vanilla gets super creamy and the fruit and honey combine on the slow fade.

Bottom Line:

This is a fine sipper, mixer, and all-around powerhouse whiskey. It makes a killer Manhattan. It works on the rocks or neat. In short… it just works.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

×