The folks at the Woodford distillery have been tinkering with the formula, creating different varieties of their delicious spirit. Today we’re looking at another version they’ve concocted: the Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Introduced in 1996, Woodford Reserve is a brand of whiskey produced by the Brown-Forman company, a family owned private business that is one of the largest producers of whiskey in the United States. Other products by the Brown-Forman company include Old Forester, Jack Daniels, and (until 2016) Southern Comfort.
The Woodford Reserve distillery first started production in 1812 under the ownership of Elijah Pepper. He passed down the facility to his son Oscar Pepper for whom the distillery was originally named. This distillery was where Dr. James Crow of Old Crow bourbon fame helped create the sour mash fermentation process (where yeast from the previous batch is re-used in the following batch) while under the employment of Oscar Pepper.
In continuous use (with the exception of prohibition), the Brown-Forman company purchased the distillery in 1941 but decided to sell it to a farmer in the late 1960’s who stopped production and farmed the land instead. Brown-Forman re-purchased the land in 1993, refurbished it, and used it to launch their Woodford Reserve brand in 1996.
There really isn’t much information we get from the label. We know that this is a “straight bourbon,” so that sets the bar in terms of the grain bill and minimum aging requirements, but the details get a bit fuzzy.
According to some other sources, the aggregate grain bill for the fermented mash where this spirit begins its life is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley. Rye isn’t always used in bourbon, but both this product and Bulleit Bourbon use it to add some flavor to their spirit (although Bulleit uses a much higher proportion).
For their “base” product, the spirit is sourced from two production facilities. Some of the spirit comes from the actual Woodford Reserve distillery where they use pot stills to make their alcohol in batches, and then another part comes from Brown-Forman’s Shively, KY facility that uses a column still to continuously produce large quantities of spirit. Some of the more expensive versions are actually 100% distilled at the Woodford Reserve facility, but this one is not.
The properly combined quantities of the two alcohols are combined and added to a new charred oak barrel where it is aged for a minimum of two years. In theory at least, since that’s the requirement for a “straight bourbon,” but no where on the bottle or the marketing materials does it talk about how long it is aged. Some sources put the average aging of the product at about seven years.
For the “Double Oak” version that we’re reviewing today, that initial spirit is aged in an additional brand new charred oak barrel for a little less than a year prior to bottling.
Woodford Reserve uses a distinctive bottle that is easily identified and stands out on shelves. Wide in the front and narrow on the sides, it takes up a significant amount of visual space while still only being the usual expected volume (375ml here or their “normal” 750ml version).
One thing I really appreciate about the packaging is that they take a minimalist approach to the labeling. The brand name is painted directly onto the glass in a traditional white font without much embellishment, and there’s a small label at the bottom with some additional information. It lets you actually see the bourbon that you’ve purchased and shows off that beautiful dark brown color.
This is one thing that irks me, though. The label at the bottom of the bottle talks about the batch number and bottle number, which is something I would expect on a small batch and single cask production whiskey. But here you’ve got a product that is only partially batch produced and then “topped up” with a mass produced spirit. It seems a little disingenuous to me.
The bottle is topped with an actual wood stopper and cork which is a very nice touch.
The double oak version of this whiskey absolutely lives up to the expectation as soon as you pour a bit in the glass. It’s significantly darker than the original, and the aroma coming off the glass is thicker as well. The first thing that hits me is a strong smell of caramel with some cinnamon spice, followed quickly by some vanilla coming in around the edges. It’s similar to the original Woodford smell, but richer and thicker. Coming in at the end I get a little bit of citrus around the edges, almost like a sprinkle of orange peel.
The charred flavors are large and in charge with this spirit. It tastes like I just licked the inside of a charred oak barrel, which it seems like is exactly what the distillers were going for with the double oaking. Around that charcoal flavor, I get some strong caramel and some dried fruit like raisins or dried orange slices. There’s a touch of spice to the flavor that lingers into the aftertaste, and the whole thing finishes smoothly.
It’s strong, there’s no doubt about that. The flavors are big and bold, like you took a normal bourbon and turned it up to 11.
This is one spirit where some added ice might be a really good idea.
On its own, the flavors are bold to the point of being overpowering almost. But with a bit of ice added in, those flavors are toned down and reduced to a point where it’s more palatable (and that’s coming from someone who appreciates a good glass of Lagavulin).
In this case, the biggest flavor that comes through is the vanilla with the caramel and dried fruit taking much more of a back seat. There’s a bit of bitterness to the spirit at this point — almost as if we’ve already added the bitters for an old fashioned, but without the flavor or the sugar.
It’s toned down and better, but I think it still needs a little something to help it become truly great.
This spirit was already a little bitter to begin with, so it needs some extra help in the sugar or simple syrup department to make it passable. Otherwise there’s just too much bitterness in the glass.
The flavors overall are great, though. With that extra sweetness added, the cocktail is quite nice, and the extra vanilla and oak flavors of the spirit balance nicely with the orange peel and other fruity notes.
Just like with the original Woodford Reserve, there’s some great things happening in this mule.
The key requirement of a good bourbon for a mule is that it adds some flavor to the mule that wouldn’t otherwise be present, and that the ginger beer doesn’t overwhelm the other flavors. The good news here is that the flavors in this bourbon are strong enough that they come through, adding some great vanilla notes to the mule.
Some of my favorite bourbons add some spice from the rye content to the mix as well, but in this case I still don’t get much of that spice.
Bolder isn’t always better. The original is pretty good, but in my opinion this isn’t worth the additional price tag. It’s an interesting flavor that might be useful in cocktails, but the flavors are just a touch too bold for a neat whiskey.
Woodford Reserve Double Oak Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Production: Woodford County, KY
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Grain bill: 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley
Aging: ~7 years
Proof: 45.2% ABV
Price: $44/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 3/5
They say fortune favors the bold, but this is just a touch too bold.