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Style Check: Woodford Reserve Launched Its Most Costly Whiskey to Date, and It’s Glorious

Style Check: Woodford Reserve Launched Its Most Costly Whiskey to Date, and It’s Glorious

Woodford Reserve is not really known for releasing super expensive, high-end whiskeys—that job falls to others like The Macallan, Bowmore, Buffalo Trace, and Michter’s. But the latest release from this Kentucky distillery is a “thrice-barreled” Derby-themed whiskey that costs a whopping $15,000. And while this new whiskey is indeed excellent, is it really worth the price?

The whiskey in this bottle is essentially a newer version of the Baccarat Edition that was released in 2020 with some additional aging. The liquid starts as standard Woodford Reserve bourbon aged from five to seven years that was then placed into a Cognac cask for an additional eight years. That’s a marked increase from the three-year finish of the 2020 release, making this much older than your standard bottle of Woodford. But there’s an additional step—the whiskey was finished in a “couture” barrel, made from oak staves seasoned at the Derby Day Winner’s Circle at Churchill Downs, for another 12 months. The distillery could have labeled it as a finished bourbon after using the Cognac cask for secondary maturation, but decided to call it American whiskey instead.

I went straight to the source, master distiller Elizabeth McCall, to find out more about this finishing process and what effect it actually had on the whiskey. She told me that after seasoning the staves, they were brought to the Brown-Forman cooperage where they were given a heavy toast and light char, and then used to construct just two barrels. “While symbolic, the staves were able to absorb the microflora of this sacred space,” she said. “This is our way of incorporating Churchill Downs into our liquid via the seasoning of the oak staves used to build the couture barrels. The heavy toasting brings the sweetness of the oak to the surface and the flash char lightly caramelizes those wood sugars.”

Clearly the use of this Derby-seasoned oak is more symbolic than anything else, and there’s nothing wrong with that—after all booze can be a vibe as much as it is actual flavor, as proven by the success of brands like Proper No. Twelve and 818 Tequila. Fortunately, this is a really good whiskey, but the reason for that can be attributed to the fact that it’s extra-aged Woodford that spent nearly a decade in a Cognac cask, and probably not so much the effects of the couture barrels. The palate is rich and redolent of sweet and spicy notes, and the flavors that jumped out at me when I tasted it were cherry syrup, caramel, vanilla custard, banana pudding, prune, and apple strudel. Despite its extremely long secondary maturation, this is not a cask finish gone overboard.

So is this whiskey worth its exorbitant price tag? As usual, the answer lies in what that amount of money means to you. There are only 150 bottles available, each a Baccarat crystal decanter with 24-karat gold infused into the stopper that comes in a leather carrying case which opens like a cabinet. I asked McCall what she and the distillery team have to consider when launching a whiskey at this price, and she said that while packaging is important the quality of the spirit is paramount. “The liquid is what truly needs to be a step above,” she told me. “By seasoning the oak in the Derby Day Winner’s Circle, we knew we had a romantic way of tying the whiskey to Churchill Downs. This also helped add to the flavor development of the oak which is reflected in the finished product.”

The bottom line is that this is a limited-edition whiskey that tastes unlike anything else you’ve tried from Woodford, although the older Baccarat Edition is likely the closest comparison. If you’re a hardcore Woodford fan looking to add to your commemorative Derby bottle collection and you’ve got the money to burn, go ahead and track one of these down because the whiskey is delicious. Otherwise, stick with the regular Woodford Reserve lineup, because there is a lot of good whiskey to enjoy there as well.

Score: 95

  • 100 Worth trading your first born for
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

Source: Robb Report

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