By Richard Thomas
Last month Woodford Reserve journeyed into the realm of American Malts by releasing a new Distiller’s Select whiskey, Five Malt. In my view, Five Malt is both the most natural thing in the world for Woodford to do, but at the same time also a keenly innovative, craft whiskey-style stroke.
For those who know world whiskey and have been to Woodford, the notion that the distillery was certain to try its hand at malt whiskey ought to be obvious. The distillery is equipped with an Irish-style triple set of Forsyths-made copper pots, for two decades the only still arrangement of its kind in Kentucky.
The innovative side is to borrow a little spirit from the likes of the brewstilleries and Corsair Artisan, and then minimize rather than play up the barrel aging. The last part is a particularly interesting twist for Chris Morris, Woodford’s Master Distiller, because he so often calls attention to just how much new oak gives to bourbon whiskey. For his own bourbon, Morris says the wood imparts “100% of its color naturally, and approximately 50 to 60% of its aroma and flavor,” so to turn away from that and rely heavily on the flavor of the spirit itself is outside the box for Woodford.
The “Five Malts” in question include a malted wheat and four brewer’s malted barleys: 2-Row, Pale Chocolate, Kiln Coffee, and Carafa. On the wood side, the whiskey sat in ex-Double Oaked barrels for six months. The whiskey is then bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% ABV).
In the glass, Woodford has a coloring one might expect from any Irish or Scotch whiskey: pale, white gold. Plenty of malts aged in used wood have a look akin to that of a rich white wine, and so does this one. In fact, the truly odd thing is that it picked up so much color in just six months! The legs are runny, and come down in hefty drops.
The nose had strong elements of dry cut grass and wood, spiced with anise. I detected a slight butterscotch note at first, but after being allowed to breath this flowered into a better defined trace of plum and anise.
The liquid had a buttery texture on the tongue, and a character that was both sweet and dry. The sweet end of the flavor was mostly malty honey, but a little bit of dark, dried fruits as well. On the dry and spicy side, it’s bitter and peppery.
The finish delivers some barrel char at first, followed hard and fast by a sweeping current of toasty, dry wood and a peppery afterglow.
What the Distiller’s Select Five Malt delivers will prove familiar to those who know Irish and Scottish malts. It’s not well-defined, but it is surprisingly good for so juvenile a spirit. Recall it’s not far removed from new make. Mind you, that might not be the cup of tea for Woodford fans who don’t know much of whiskey outside bourbon.
$49.99 for a 375 ml bottle.