By Richard Thomas
Whenever I am in My Old Kentucky Home visiting the family, I always buy a bottle of bourbon (or two) to bring home with me, and I favor new and unfamiliar bourbons in particular. It was with the latter sentiment in mind that I bought the last bottle of Woodford Reserve’s Maple Wood Finish bourbon from the locked cabinet where I made my customary liquor shopping stop at. The Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection is a series of limited release bourbon whiskeys, created with one eye on experimentation and another on producing a fine, craft whiskey. Woodford Reserve’s Maple Wood Finish, first shipped roughly a year ago, is the fifth in that series. Only 1,676 cases were shipped, and it is entirely possible no more Maple Wood Finish bourbon will ever be made.
To make this whiskey, the coopers at Brown-Foreman managed the feat of crafting toasted sugar maple barrels. Woodford Reserve then borrowed a page from scotch-makers by putting their bourbon into these toasted sugar maple barrels for a finishing stage, following the customary (and legally required) aging in charred, new oak barrels.
This extra step aroused my curiosity for a handful of reasons. Aging anything in sugar maple barrels is rare, due to the difficulty in fashioning barrels from that type of wood. Furthermore, maple is most closely associated with the Lincoln County Process used in Tennessee whiskey. In that process, new whiskey is drip filtered through a thick layer of maple charcoal before the whiskey is put in charred, new oak barrels for aging. Woodford Reserve’s Maple Wood Finish therefore borrows and blends together ideas from two other whiskey traditions and tacks it onto the end of their whiskey-making process.
Bourbons in the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection come in a bottle evoking the look of the distillery’s copper pot stills. Like all of Woodford Reserve’s bourbons, the bottle’s label is inked on, leaving a largely clear bottle that displays the bourbon’s deep golden brown coloring. The stopper is wood and cork, with a copper-colored metal plate fitted to the top. The Maple Wood Finish bourbon has no aging statement, and is a small batch rather than a single barrel bourbon. The whiskey is bottled at 94 proof (47.2% alcohol).
One might think that finishing bourbon in maple wood, known for its sugary sap, would create a very sweet whiskey. That aspect is certainly there, with the syrupy scent of brown sugar and chocolate with a strong undertone of toasted oak on the nose. Those qualities reverse on the palate, as the smoky wood comes to the forefront, covering a spicy sweetness. I found the finish crisp and dry, leaving a lingering taste of maple on my tongue.
I usually prefer my bourbon neat, but I found that letting Woodford Reserve Maple Wood Finish sit in the glass for about 10 minutes and adding a splash of water brought the maple flavors out more. Ergo, if you prefer sweetness over woodiness in your bourbon, adding a little branch water is the way to go.
My bottle of Woodford Reserve Maple Finish bourbon was just shy of $90 after taxes.