Kentucky specialty bourbon producer Woodford Reserve recently launched its annual limited edition Master's Collection for 2013. This year there are two selections: the Straight Malt Whiskey and the Classic Malt. Both represent the first fully-matured whiskies crafted from malt in Kentucky since Prohibition, according to a release from the company.
The Malts are the eighth release in the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection (following such releases as a Four Grain, Sweet Mash, Maple Wood Finish and last year's Four Wood), a series released at distiller Chris Morris's discretio and for a single bottling only. During the release of 2012's Four Wood, Morris noted that this series allows the brand to explore "just what bourbon can do."
According to a release from the company, the new expressions reflect on the efforts of distiller Christopher Crow and distillery owner Oscar Pepper in the mid-1800s on the site of what is now Woodford Reserve. Pepper and Crow were instrumental in exploring the differences between aged and new cask maturation in American whiskey (today, by law, bourbon must be aged in new American oak). Traditionally "Old World" style whiskies are matured in previously used oak, with a strong grain-focused flavor profile, while "New World" style whiskies tend to be aged in new oak which imparts more of the oak notes and tannins. This new release allows a side-by-side comparison.
On the nose, the Classic Malt boasts bready, floral aromatics and one can even convince oneself there's a hint of peat smoke. On the palate it is deep and rich, with notes of honey, citrus, toasted sugar and a hint of chocolate. Though it definitely boasts the sweet-spice notes of a Kentucky bourbon, it would make any single malt drinker quite happy.
The Straight Malt is fruitier and lighter than the Classic, with aromatics of shortbread, plum, fresh oak and a hint of vanilla. On the mouth it is bright and spicy with white fruit notes—pear in particular, but also peach and banana. The finish delivers a warm vanilla/caramel overtone.
For me, the Classic Malt is where it's at. The Straight is fine and delicious, but the Classic adds innovative complexity and depth to the Woodford Reserve concept. Let's just say, of the small samples I received of each for tasting and review, the Classic Malt was tasted into non-existance.
The limited edition Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Double Malt Selections are available at select bars and stores in the U.S. and around the world. ABV on each is 45.2%, and each carries a suggested retail price of $100 for a 750 ml bottle.
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