A finish in sugar-maple-wood barrels distinguishes the most recent Master's Collection release from Woodford Reserve, the copper-pot-distilled Bourbon from Brown-Forman. The new issue boasts big flavors and a remarkable kinship with cigars.
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Maple Wood Finish is the fifth of the Master's Collection. The series presents novel, but extremely limited release, takes on the art of Bourbon making. This whiskey received an extra aging of several months in barrels made from sugar maple. The casks were toasted, not charred, as is the practice with oak barrels used in Bourbon making.
The master distiller Chris Morris explains that the expression came out of a study the company made of Kentucky hardwoods (other than the typical white oak) that was aimed at a fuller understanding of the contribution of oak. The barrels were crafted by the company's Brown-Forman Cooperage, and Morris adds that it was hitherto thought that casks could not be made from sugar maple. "Our cooperage has done just that!"
Morris describes the wood as complex, with calcium and potassium, but calls out the flavorful sap content, which contains as much 3 percent sugar. While the Bourbon is somewhat sweet, it also has a strong spice quotient, especially of licorice and cinnamon.
We found it a beguiling partner for a cigar, with its combination of sugar and spice interacting with and complementing a large spectrum of a cigar's flavors. Woody flavors turned sweeter, the spice in the smoke became more pronounced and leathery notes were enhanced or appeared where they previously did not seem to exist.
Woodford Reserve is a relatively new Bourbon from the 140-year-old Brown-Forman, having made its first bow in 1996. However, the refurbished Labrot & Graham (now Woodford) distillery where it is made has a storied past that includes whiskey legends Oscar Pepper and Dr. James Crow. It was on the Versailles, Kentucky, site that Crow developed the sour-mash fermentation process. He also applied strict scientific method to whiskey making.
When the mothballed distillery was reopened in 1993, it began distilling in copper-pot stills. Most Bourbons are distilled in combination with column stills. Thick stonewalls line its aging facilities, creating a cooler environment than the typical tin-clad warehouses used in Kentucky.
WOODFORD RESERVE MASTER'S COLLECTION MAPLE WOOD FINISH
(94.4 proof, 47.7 percent alcohol) $89.99
APPEARANCE: Deep amber with olive oil tinge. Very tight legs give themselves up quite slowly.
AROMA: The nose includes a striking toffee note, crème brule, plums, cinnamon toast and just a bit of the maple sugar one expects.
PALATE: A velvety mouthfeel that suggests olive oil chimes in before the flavors even register. Then the spice announces itself with cinnamon and licorice, followed by dried fruit (especially prunes) and root beer. It is at the tale of the palate that the maple sugar sweetens up the flavor ride.
FINISH: The whiskey seems to take forever to end, bringing on toast, nuts, a baseball-bat woodiness and more of the maple candy.