By Richard Thomas
Woodford Reserve is the product of the revived Labrot and Graham Distillery, a National Historic Landmark located in Central Kentucky. While this fine example of straight bourbon whiskey did not enter the market until the 1990s, the distillery dates back to the very roots of bourbon in the Bluegrass in the 1790s. Although it has not been in continuous operation throughout its lifetime (thanks to Prohibition, no truly classic Kentucky distillery has been), Labrot and Graham’s is the oldest of the currently running distilleries in Kentucky, and has names like Elijah Pepper and Dr. James Crow woven into its history.
Woodford Reserve’s is a small batch, not a single barrel, and is therefore blended. The whiskey was at least partially distilled using traditional copper pots (made in Scotland, no less), and aged for six years in oak barrels which have been toasted for 22 minutes and then stored in the stone warehouses at the picturesque Labrot and Graham distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky. The stone walls are an important aspect of the aging process, as they are better insulators than the more traditional wood warehouse. As a result, the temperature inside the warehouse changes only slowly through the seasons, resulting in a more predictable aging process. The standard Woodford Reserve is bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% alcohol).
Woodford Reserve has a distinctly woody nose, but comes across the palate with a smooth, even balance of flavors. The whiskey is a little smoky, a little sweet and a little fiery, all characteristics of a fine bourbon. The finish is smooth and without scorch. I’ve long had a soft spot for Woodford Reserve as an outstanding middle-of-the-road bourbon, ideal for the afficianado to sip on or to use to introduce friends to the wonderful world of bourbon whiskey.
The Price Tag
Woodford Reserve is usually priced at $32 per bottle, making it a major bang-for-your-buck bottle of whiskey. With a price tag that cheap, I used to always have a bottle on my shelf. Alas, now I live in Portugal and Woodford Reserve is priced at $130 a bottle, assuming I can even find it. What used to flow freely in my house is now careful poured drop by miserly drop.
The standard label of Woodford Reserve won a double gold from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2001 and 2005, double gold from the World Spirits Competition, and a gold at the International Wine and Spirits Competition. The whiskey has also won a gold from the International Review of Spirits, and a Best Bourbon in Show from the New England International Whisky Festival. It was a three-time winner of “Best Bourbon” from the reader’s poll in Kentucky magazine (a periodical where the readership surely knows its straight bourbon whiskey).