By Richard Thomas
The release of Woodford Reserve’s Double Oaked was arguably the most hotly awaited event in bourbon whiskey for the last several years. While Woodford Reserve has released some limited editions in the past, until now Woodford’s popular small batch remained the sole regular product in distillery’s line. In fact, Labrot and Graham was for some time the only major small batch-making distillery that still had only one whiskey in regular production.
Woodford Reserve’s Double Oaked bourbon changes all that, and The Whiskey Reviewer was correspondingly eager to get its hands on a sample of the latest stuff, coming as it does from a distillery that all of our current writers admire. That proved harder than one might expect, due to the ineptness of Woodford Reserve’s/Brown-Forman’s otherwise slick public relations. Yet despite the difficulties of living on the other side of the Atlantic, far away from My Old Kentucky Home, I was able to procure a bottle in a reasonable amount of time.
In it’s limited edition series, Woodford Reserve began experimenting with a scotch-making idea, that of finishing their whiskey in a different type of barrel for several months. The Maple Finish, for example, put the distillery’s bourbon into specially-constructed, toasted maple wood barrels for a second round of aging, in much the same way that a scotch distillery might finish its product in old bourbon or sherry casks.
One of those limited editions was a seasoned oak cask finish bourbon, which was so popular that it led to the introduction of the Double Oaked. The finishing barrel is fashioned from oak, and receives twice the toasting of the standard Woodford Reserve barrel, before then being lightly charred. Brown-Forman takes their barrels very seriously, so much so that they own their own cooperage, and the result of all this tinkering is a barrel with a markedly different character from the normal Woodford Reserve cask, in which the bourbon receives an extra several month’s worth of polishing, thereby changing the character.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked lives up to high quality standard set by the Labrot and Graham Distillery, but I think of it as putting a new twist on Woodford Reserve, rather than improving upon it. You can see a hint of this in the bourbon’s color, which is a deep coppery amber, and distinctly more orange than Woodford Reserve Small Batch. The bourbon is bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% alcohol), the same as the small batch.
On the nose, the extra oak finishing comes across in the smooth scent of honey-sweet caramel, with undertones of earth and wood. I felt the woody quality of the bourbon came forward on the palate, blending in more fully with the sweet caramel candy flavor. It’s a bit leathery, with a hint of raisins. Notably absent from both the nose and the palate is even the slightest hint of char smoke. The finish is smooth, mellow and understated, with a lingering touch of earthy leather.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked retails for $50, although in some states that price might be higher due to extra local liquor taxes. Beware of store owners and internet retailers who might try to mark the Double Oaked up, because any scarcity for this bourbon should be strictly temporary.
Woodford Reserve lovers will want to make acquiring a bottle of the Double Oaked in the near future a priority, or at least find a local bar with the bourbon in stock, if for no other reason than just to try it. I’m sure that some fans of Labrot and Graham will appreciate the Double Oaked’s virtues, and it will wind up replacing the old Small Batch on those shelves.
For many, however, one of the main virtues of Woodford Reserve Small Batch is that it is a very high quality bourbon whiskey delivered at a very reasonable price. At $50 a bottle, the Double Oaked doesn’t deliver as much bang for the buck. Priced as it is, the Double Oaked is competing head to head with single barrel bourbons like Blanton’s and Knob Creek Single Barrel. While excellent, I believe the Double Oaked falls just a hair short of that level.