Each year in the Fall since 2006, Woodford Reserve Distillery has released special limited offerings of what it calls the 'Master's Collection'. Last years release, 'Maple Wood Finish', was finish-aged in barrels made from Sugar Maple wood. The previous four releases were discussed here in this article. Sixth in the series and its latest offering, Woodford's has clearly made a departure from its signature bourbon by releasing 'Master's Collection Rare Rye', its first rye whiskey in the distilleries modern incarnation.
And what a rye it is, two rye's actually as what you get is two 375ml bottles filled with different expressions of the same product. Confused yet? Don't be, this is one of the better experimentals offered by the many larger distilleries. Master Distiller Chris Morris started with a mash bill of 100% rye, unusual even for most rye whiskey's as corn and barley almost always account for about 30-40% of the bill. The whiskey was triple distilled in Woodford's famous pot stills. Where it gets interesting is in the maturation or aging process. The whiskey was divided into two types of barrels, the first were previously used or aged white oak bourbon barrels, the second type were new charred white oak barrels. Morris's thinking, as he describes was to create old world and new world expressions of the same whiskey. Scottish and Irish whiskies would be considered old world as the emphasis is on the flavors provided by the grains. American whiskey's are considered new world because a good deal of the flavor is developed from the barrels. So the 'Aged Cask Rye' is considered old world or grain forward and the 'New Cask Rye' is new world or barrel forward. You get to do a side by side comparison of the two very distinct styles.
The average age for Rare Rye is between seven and eight years. First observation is color. The Aged Cask Rye is a very light gold or straw in appearance while the New Cask Rye is more typical of a bourbon having developed that traditional deeper copper coloring. A point should be made here about mouth feel. These whiskey's are light, the lack of corn in the recipe removes that oiliness more common in a chewy bourbon. It's good though, almost refreshing. On the nose and in the mouth the Aged Cask is the spicier with white pepper, tobacco, cinnamon heat, and crisp apple on the finish. The New Cask Rye has similar notes but has developed more sweetness, a hint of smoke, and the usual suspects, caramel and vanilla. Both are a pleasure to drink and a 'must have' if you are a rye whiskey fan.
The Master's Collection from Woodford Reserve are not inexpensive whiskey's and this years offering is no exception. Expect to drop about a hundred bucks for the two Rare Rye's which are packaged in a wooden box with a clear acrylic front suitable for display. This is a limited edition set with less than twenty two thousand to go around. All the bottles are individually numbered. Bottle number 825 of the New Cask Rye and bottle number 2215 of the Aged Cask Rye were tasted for this review. 46.2%abv. They won't last so hurry.