Fourth in a series of special offerings from Woodford Reserve, Master Distiller Chris Morris presented to the bourbon drinking public, ‘Master’s Collection Seasoned Oak Finish’, on November 1st, 2009. Previous offerings included ‘Four Grain’ (2005/2006) with corn, rye, wheat, and barley, ‘Sonoma-Cutrer Finish’ (2007) which provided additional maturation in chardonnay barrels, and ‘1838 Sweet Mash’ (2008) which saw the elimination of mash from previous distillations more commonly known as sour mash. The latest offering, ‘Seasoned Oak’, was finish aged in a second set of barrels where oak staves used for the barrels were aged for up to five years as opposed to the usual 3-5 months. This additional aging, according to Morris, removes a lot of the natural wood tannins and creates a new range of flavors. Woodford Reserve maintains additional control by manufacturing their own barrels. The Master’s Collection is evidence that American Whiskey distillers are stepping out of a very comfortable box.
Since prohibition American distilleries have for the most part maintained a ‘comfortable shoe’ approach to whiskey making. Create a solid and drinkable product that appeals to the majority of the people. This was good business sense and helped to rebuild brand loyalty. The base is their now. American whiskeys are more popular than ever and distillers are aware that in order to keep them there they must continue to innovate and evolve. Woodford reserve Distillery, prior to prohibition and much earlier in its history, when it was known as the Oscar Pepper Distillery, lead the way in innovation with Dr. James Crow improving methods for pot distilling, barrel maturation, and is credited with developing the sour mash process. Chris Morris is certainly channeling Dr. Crow with his Master’s Collection of experimental whiskies which are sure to position Woodfords as a premium bourbon whiskey maker for the foreseeable future.
A beautiful mahogany color which when held to the light exhibit’s a reddish hue, Masters Collection Seasoned Oak is presented in a hand numbered bottle that is modeled on Woodford Reserve distillery’s pot stills. Pouring this whiskey gives a satisfying ‘glugging’ sound as it enters your glass, no doubt caused by the long neck of the bottle. Nosing offers fruit cake, raisins and dried fruit, vanilla, smoke, and surprisingly light oak. A swirl around the mouth alerts you to its thickness though it remains velvety smooth. Candy corn, caramel and blackberry jam round out the palate. A lot of sweetness for sure but the balance comes in the finish which is intensely spicy and peppery with wood making a reappearance in the form of a well chewed #2 pencil. A satisfying sipper with a lot of depth that will have you coming back for more.
The Masters Collection Series is released only periodically and in very limited quantities. Seasoned Oak is limited to 16,280 bottles of which this tasting was poured from bottle number 6,410, batch # 5. (50.2 ALC/VOL, 100.4 proof). Get yours soon before its all gone.