Like the ghost wineries of Napa, Kentucky is dotted with distilleries that were shuttered by Prohibition and restored to their former glory in the modern era. One such distillery is Woodford Reserve.
The property was founded by the Pepper family, although the date is uncertain (some sources say 1797, others 1812—either way, the premises are now a National Historic Landmark). The current distillery building was constructed in 1838. Forty years later, the Peppers sold to Leopold Labrot and James Graham, who operated it until it was purchased by Brown-Forman in 1941; the company sold it in 1971 to a local farmer and bought it back in 1993, when they conceived the idea of creating a new, superpremium Bourbon. Woodford Reserve made its debut in 1996, although for the first three years it was only sold in Kentucky. Master Distiller Chris Morris arrived in 1997.
A number of factors make Woodford Reserve unique. It’s the only Kentucky Bourbon to be triple-distilled—in huge copper pot stills, rather than the column stills that have become standard throughout the industry. Once in barrel, the whiskey is stored in brick warehouses designed to be heated, which allows the casks to breathe; as a result, the “angel’s share” lost to evaporation is close to 50%. The whiskey is made according to human taste and judgment, not by computer. It’s generally between 7-8 years old, but is bottled according to flavor rather than age—“We have maturation warehouses at Woodford Reserve,” says Morris, “not aging warehouses.”
The Distiller’s Select ($35) is bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% alcohol). It has a nose infused with aromas of spice, nuts, sweet fruit and caramel. In the mouth it is rich but balanced, with complex flavors of honey, spice and citrus complemented by a strong wood component. This is a beautiful Bourbon with a long, resonant finish.
The Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($50) is part of the Master’s Collection, a series of special releases given different barrel treatments; in this case, mature Woodford Reserve is placed in a second barrel, heavily toasted and flash-charred, for an additional 6-8 months. The result is a viscous spirit with a luscious mid palate, crammed with flavors of brown sugar, baking spices, chocolate and red fruit. Pepper, mint and anise emerge on the long finish.