Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Malt Mission 2008 #238

Woodford Woodford Reserve (batch 79)
Small Batch Straight Kentucky Bourbon
45.2% abv
$45.60 (CAD)
$28 (USD)

Two hundred and thirty eight (238!) Malt Missions and FINALLY, Dr. Whisky is having a bourbon. I am sure I will expand in this area if I ever live in the US. It is a vast whisky/whiskey world out there, and I intend to continue to tackle it one dram at a time...

It is said that the key to bourbon maturation is the Kentucky climate: the cold winters and the hot summers. Maturing casks of whiskey expand and contract with these temperature changes forcing the spirit to suck up the flavours in the new charred oak barrels. Having lived in Scotland I feel comfortable in saying the climate is much less extreme. I have called it perpetual spring/autumn and it is really not that far from the truth. That being said, the weather is the most unpredictable thing one can encounter in Scotland. Where Ke
ntucky has 4 distinct seasons over the span of a year, Scotland can have four over the span of a day. This is just one reason why bourbon and Scotch single malt whisky can taste so very different from one another.

By law, bourbon must be made in the USA, must be matured in NEW charred oak barrels, must be made from at least 51% corn, must be natural (ie. no added anything, save water), and must be distilled to no more than 80% abv. All of these factors create a spirit that is darker in colour than typical Scotch whisky and that carries more of a toffeed, caramel sweetness from the new oak than Scotch. Most bourbons reach maturity after 4 years in oak (and can be called "straight bourbon" after just two). Scotch whisky can mature from 3 to 63 years, but bourbon can
become over-oaked at a much younger age. That being said, there are a some excellent 6-20 year old bourbons on the market today, but 20+ really is ancient for bourbon.

Woodford Reserve represents not only the renaissance of one old-time Kentucky distillery but of the renaissance that ALL bourbon has experienced over the past decade. In 1994, Brown-Forman (owners of Jack Daniels) bought the derelict Labrot & Graham distillery. This was the location of Old Oscar Pepper distillery and was where Scotsman James Crow effectively created the sourmash process in the production of what we know as bourbon.* Woodford is made using pot stills (unusual in bourbon-production) and they even triple distill it (even more unusual). Further, the mashbill (recipe of grains) includes wheat, rye, barley, and corn (most bourbons use only three). By law, the staves of the new oak barrels are charred, but Woodford uses charred cask heads as well. To further enhance aging, Woodford Reserve is matured in a heated, stone-walled warehouse (a tradition in Bourbon that has precedent as early as 1892). With this much care for production, a whole generation of drinkers were fostered to appreciate bourbon as they would a single malt, not just a spirit to enhance Coca Cola.(i think he's talking to yoooo)

This small-batch bourbon has developed a loyal following, is one of the fastest growing spirits in the world, and has received critical praise winning Gold medals at the 2001 and 2003 IWSC and Double Golds at the World Spirits competition. I think it is a well-suited drop to be the first bourbon on the mission.

Tasted with KK, her notes appear in quotes.

* - Dave Broom, Handbook of Whisky, (Octopus Publishing Group: London) 2000, p. 128


Sweet, and spicy with grain. Floral. Complex but soft. Red BigFoot gummies, "yeah, candy, like Sours." Sour coated wine gums.

Sweet and sour. Jelly beans. White grapes. Lemony. Orange peels, or sweeter; clementines. Upon swallowing it all changes. Rich and full with an explosion of alcohol, dark chocolate, faint mosquito repellent. "Very drying, like dry wine." Finish gets sweet and perfumy after time, more like the initial palate, with marzipan and strawberry shortcake. Lovely perfumed flavours linger.


I am the first to admit that Scottish whisky is my area of whisk(e)y "expertise". That is this doctor's specialty. I have 5 solid years of real tasting experience. With bourbon I have next to none, so I do not pretend (like so many bloggers and forum lurchers out there) to be evaluating something which I am only beginning to understand. These are not whisky reviews. In fact, even after years of experience and self-training (with guidance from Charlie Maclean, Robin Laing, RHicks, RP, DR ...), Dr. Whisky doesn't really evaluate, he just tries to describe.

I learned a great deal about bourbon while drinking this whiskey and I felt I finally understood how it was functioning flavour-wise by the time my glass was empty. I will do more reading and "research" away from the Malt Mission and come back with more bourbon in the future.

Kristin thinks this would benefit from soda. If you don't know her, before you say anything or dismiss her comment, remember she is the Ardbeg freak in this family and her favourite region is 'cask strength'. "Yeah, cuz whisky [Scottish single malt] I would have on its own, its bigger somehow. This would need something to, to sprite it up." I suggest Sprite. "Yeah, or just soda. It feels like its lacking something, could use something else, which I think it would benefit from. But this wouldn't carry smoke and peat. (Scotch) Whisky doesn't need anything. I like (Scotch) whisky cuz it is fuller."
"But hey, I finished it, so I must like it." She did. And quickly.

I like how prominent the grains are in the nose and the big oaky toastiness with all the sweet citrus, caramel and vanilla tones. In the mouth the flavour intensity increases becoming very oaky and bitter like chocolate-covered coffee beans or candied orange peels. For me, the highlight is the finish and beyond. I really liked it about 30 seconds after swallowing, when just the flavours (no tannins, no alcohol) lingered in my mouth, which they did for about 3 additional minutes. I do like a Manhattan and the spiciness and orange peel zest here would suit such a drink very well.

Malt Mission #236
Malt Mission #237
Malt Mission #239
Malt Mission #240

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sku said...

Welcome to the world of Bourbon, Doc. I was wondering when you would get here. We Americans have lots to choose from, as well as a flourishing market for rye and a growing number of single malts.

While I know your doctorate is in Scotch, perhaps you can pursue a masters in Bourbon. In any case, I look forward to your further education.

Mike Milner said...

Picked up a bottle for the Christmas season and wasn't disappointed!

Cheers from Canada Doc!

Jason said...

Woodford Reserve produces a fantastic bourbon and you are right in your observation that bourbon is a very different beast when compared to scotch. I have drank scotch for years, and only after at least five was I starting to appreciate it properly.

When I sip bourbon, I know I have entered a totally different spirits universe where every heavenly body is a mystery.