Monday, August 17, 2009

Woodford Reserve - A Great American Bourbon!

Bourbon - A less than stellar reputation
A lot of people shudder at the thought of having a drink of bourbon. This is understandable because a lot of what is available on the market tastes like rubbing alcohol distilled by some unclean mountain boys out of The Deliverance for the sole purpose of intoxication. Sipping some bourbons involves submitting to a burn down the throat, headed to the stomach and immediately you have to fight the urge for it to bounce back up from whence it came.In general, Woodford Reserve departs from such negative experiences. I say "in general" because it is a distillery which has been plagued with chronic quality control problems. Specifically, one hand crafted batch (each batch is numbered) can be divine, while the next belongs with its bretheren in the previous paragraph. Please understand that not every other bottle is flawed. I am just highlighting past issues with quality of production. I believe the distillery is keenly aware of this issue and is addressing it. So, bearing that in mind, if you sample this bourbon and you find it flawed, then consider taking it back to the store and exchanging it for another.This bourbon we can drink today has a long history (don't they all) that starts back in Versailles, Kentucky in 1812. Bourbon is an uniquely American invention and Kentucky is the state that put it on the map. In fact, the Woodford Reserve distillery is one of nine of the oldest in Kentucky and the US for that matter. It hasn't always operated under the name of Woodford Reserve, that is a recent development of 2003.Anyway, lets move to the most important topic, the taste!

Vanilla and charcoal

Lots of vanilla! More charcoal, spice and ginger accompanies, sweetness (but not too sweet) that flows towards a floral finish. There is a "burn", slight, not too bad, but rather characteristic of bourbon. If this is an aspect that bothers you, the solution is ice, couple of cubes takes the burn away. A complex arrangement of flavors that can appropriately be described as sophisticated and rich. I initially tried this bourbon at a whisky tasting and days later, I was still thinking about. So, I bought a bottle and enjoyed a very refined drink of complexity I never imagined was possible from bourbon.

Oak and rye linger on the palate in a highly refined manner.  Please note that when you first open the bottle, there may be a unpleasant burn lingering in the throat but this should become less of an issue after a couple of weeks open.

I have had Woodford Reserve on several occasions. What I have noticed is that the quality can vary depending on the "batch." Each bottle is numbered. Some batchs are very good while a flawed bottle can be a little off or even dreadful. I have tasted perfection in one bottle and poison in another. It is not just me making this observation, reviewers on other sites like Whiskey Magazine's website have threads that note quality variation issues. Of several bottles purchased, only one was flawed. I would not allow this quality assurance issue dissuade you from purchasing it.When its good, it is great. When its bad, it can range from tolerably flawed to an impossibly metallic, copper burn of a dram.My suggestion is that if you buy this bourbon, make sure that you can return it if it turns out to be flawed. You are probably wondering why I would recommend this bourbon in light of the above comments about quality consistency issues. Well, the simple reason is I believe the distiller is tackling the problem and the risk/reward ration makes it worth it if you can return a flawed bottle. How will you know if it is flawed? It will taste metallic like it sat in a copper vat too long with an awful burn across the palate and down the throat upon swallowing. When its a good bottle, it is something to behold.  Another drawback is the price. It is a little high compared to others. I think there is a value for money problem.  Competitors like Knob Creek and Maker's Mark are the same price but better over all.  So, in conclusion, if you like bourbon or know somebody who does, this might be an interesting alternative to the traditional mainstream bottles you or your friend usually go to. It also happens to be the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby!


© Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.

P.S.  I have an updated review available at this link.


  1. Jason' I like your reviews, but that being said, here is what I think about this whiskey: I am a scotch drinker, so take my comment with a grain of salt. I bought a half bottle of this highly acclaimed Bourbon, since the presentation is so appealing. However, after my first sip I hated it with a passion. Tastes like honeyed acetone to me. I even don't muster the courage to try it in mixes.

  2. The big problem with Woodford Reserve is that quality from bottle to bottle is inconsistent.

    I have had one really bad bottle that was undrinkable and had to return. Others were quite good.

    Many times I have considered rewriting this review and maybe be less praising of it.

    I think I will get another bottle and update the review.

    Please dont let Woodford Reserve be your only exposure to bourbon. It is probably the most problematic of them.

    Try Jim Beam Black, affordable, a friendly taste that will even welcome a veteran scotch drinker.


  3. I might add that if you want a gentle introduction to a high quality bourbon, try Basil Hayden's. It's totally inoffensive, provides great classic flavors without going into niche areas of taste. I think Woodford Reserve really is a bit out there more I think about it.

    More I think about it, I need to re-write this review and will do so shortly.


  4. I like this bourbon, though I did find it to be pretty hot and harsh. Some nights though as I said when I first tried this "It's kicking my butt a little bit and I like it." Obvious marshmellow in the nose for me when I tried this last time with a dash of water. My wife could pick that up when pointed out to her.

  5. I find upon opening it is sharp and fiery but will smooth out after a week.

  6. Maybe I have a bad bottle. What I have at home tastes like a cheap rye. All spice, no body, no sweetness, no charcoal. Just fresh wood and rye spice. I actually hate it. Which is a shame because I was so excited to get it as a gift.

    1. I have reviewed this bourbon more than once. Sometimes it has really disappointed due to a lack of consistency of quality from batch to batch that is bottled. Here is another review I did:

      In general, I dont think you would enjoy this bourbon based on your other comments. Woodford tends to have an emphasis on citrus and oak elements that is not for everyone and then it can be quite fiery. You being a Jim Beam Black fan would do better with Knob Creek.