A very generous friend gifted me this special bottle from one of my favorite distilleries, Woodford Reserve around Christmas time last year. It comes in a very nice decanter, and is a beautiful bottle that is a part of Woodford’s Master’s Collection: An annual experiment that plays around with one of the 5 flavor sources: grain, water, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.
Made in Versailles, Kentucky at their own distillery, bottles of Woodford Reserve come in a few varieties. From their standard bottle, to the Double Oaked variant, to the Master’s Collection. Their mash bill consists of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% barley, and appears to be the same for all their labels. The variation in style comes from how they treat the bourbon after initial aging. And for Four Wood, that experiment involves a second aging process in special barrels.
The Four Wood gets its name from the four types of wood used: Like all bourbon, the whiskey is initially aged in charred oak barrels. Four Wood proceeds to be aged in a second maturation barrel. I believe that there are three barrel types: Port barrels, Sherry barrels, and Maple barrels, that are then mixed together before bottling. Woodford Reserve carefully adjusted the ratios so that no single flavor dominates the flavor.
The Master’s Collection is always a small production, and as such they charge a premium for it: around $100 for a bottle.
Appearance– Dark like Coke Syrup, much darker than Woodford Reserve’s standard label.
Aroma– Warmth, cinnamon, and some maple meat with a bouquet of fruit. A very nice aroma.
Taste– The shit hits the fan when sipping this stuff neat. Four Wood has an intense burn that dehydrates your mouth, although a hint of tannins (possibly from the Port barrel?) nicely finishes the sensation. The second aging barrels seem to overpower any oak, leaving only a hint of sour oak that I consider Woodford Reserve’s trademark flavor. This is not pleasant to drink, although it is not entirely objectionable. Adding an Ice Ball, the burn initially intensifies as a small amount of water is added to the stuff. I find this very interesting. Dark vanilla notes are also present, but both these flavors fade as more of the ice melts. Interestingly, after a fair bit of ice melts, Four Wood reminds me very much of Blanton’s Single Barrel. At this point, it has a smoky start that transitions nicely into a fruitiness that is challenging to pinpoint, followed by a nutty finish. This is the way I would recommend drinking Four Wood: With ice, and allowing time for the ice to melt.
Finish– Neat, nothing but burn. With ice, nuttiness that is fairly pleasant.
Neat: 2 Barrel out of 5. While complex and multi toned this whisky simply has too much bite to be pleasant to drink neat. It’s almost as if the dehydrating elements and the burn are competing to see which of them can make the whiskey more unpleasant. And while I can’t say which of them win, I do think that they accomplish their mission. The burn is also surprising: At only 94.4 proof, I wouldn’t expect it. But the complexity saves it from a lower score.
Rocks: 4 barrels out of 5. This is where the whiskey shines. With enough ice melting, the subtle tones of nut and vanilla begin to show, and the complexity of this bourbon truly begins to shine. The time it takes this whiskey to open up is worth the while, and would make it a great whiskey for sipping with others if you want to slow things down. I like that. I would drink this at a Poker Night.
Weak Mixed Drinks: 2 barrels out of 5. I think that this would stand up extremely well against Cola or Gingerale. But at the price, I’m not willing to try it– And I have to withhold the 5th barrel.
Strong Mixed Drinks: 2 barrels out of 5. This may be good for a Mint Julep or a Traditional Old Fashioned. I can’t get a feel for it in a manhattan, although it may be worth trying with Dry Vermouth instead. Cutting up the power of this bourbon with a lighter aperitif is an experiment I intend to try. The complexity may truly shine here.
Overall: 2.5 barrels out of 5. I love Woodford Reserve, but I think that this experiment that started with their Kentucky Straight Bourbon took a good thing and diminished it. Despite a nice aroma, Four Wood is not pleasant to drink neat, although becomes pleasant when unlocked with some water and chilled by melting ice. It’s strong flavors may stand out strongly against a mixer like gingerale or coke, but at $100 a bottle, I wouldn’t consider trying it. Four Wood may be worth trying in a Mint Julep, as its strong flavors may benefit from the smoothing effect of simple syrup, and the mint may help the drink overall.
The Master’s Collection experiments, however, are absolutely worth keeping an eye on. While this experiment may not have gotten the best reviews, it is in interesting experiment that shows off some unexplored possibilities when it comes to finishing barrels. And previous experiments have turned up very different results. The 2011 release was two half bottles of differently aged ryes, and has generally been very well reviewed. And there is no telling what the 2013 release may be.
I’ll be enjoying this bottle as an experimental bourbon, and on the rocks when I want to drink something slow. And the beautiful decanter will, undoubtedly, stick around in my collection quite some time– Perhaps as a vessel for my own Bourbon experiments.