By Richard Thomas
For a long time Woodford Reserve was the newest brand name and major distillery in Kentucky bourbon, and this was because when the Labrot & Graham Distillery was brought back to life in the mid-1990s it became the first major American distillery revival of modern times. It was only when Michter’s, a mid-sized company rather than a proper micro-distillery, started production under its own roof this year that Woodford was finally supplanted as Kentucky’s newest major brand-cum-distillery.
Another thing that was a long time in coming for Woodford Reserve was a brand extension, with almost a decade passing before the distillery released its first experimental, limited edition in the form of 2005’s Master’s Collection Four Grain Batch #1. Those Master’s Collection releases have kept coming at the rate of one per year, with 2015 seeing the release of the 1838 Style White Corn Bourbon.
Woodford’s Master Distiller Chris Morris drew on archival records in developing the mashbill for the 1838 White Corn, and as the name implies the bourbon is an effort at releasing something akin to what Oscar Pepper and Dr. Crow might have been doing back in the day. That meant the use of white in place of yellow corn.
Once in the glass, this 90.4 proof (45.2% abv) bourbon has a light-to-middle amber coloring, like honey with a dollop of orange stirred in or copper with extra red. The nose is sweet, supple, and a bit nutty, with a base of toasted sugar, vanilla and floral apples seasoned with cloves and tinged with cedar.
The white corn has done something interesting here, because the whiskey has one full foot outside of the traditional bourbon range. The sweetness comes not from corn or even caramel, but lemon cake, and a lemon cake spiced lightly with cloves, vanilla and allspice. Throw in a very slight peppery astringency on the end and you have a velvety, well-rounded package.
The finish is light, but long and lingering, juxtaposing that velvety feel with a dry note to make for the most complex part of the experience.
Woodford Reserve 1838 Style White Corn has a recommended retail price of $99.99 for 750ml.