It’s 2020, and everything you know about the Woodford Reserve’s Master’s Collection has been upended. Woodford Master Distiller Chris Morris once described the series as an ongoing experiment looking at the “five sources of flavor” in whiskey: water, grain, fermentation, distillation, and maturation. With 2020 — 17 years after Morris took the reins at Woodford and 15 years into Master’s Collection releases — that’s going out the window, along with the iconic still-shaped bottle design. (It now looks a lot more like a traditional Woodford Reserve bottle.)
The upshot of what’s in the bottle here? It’s Woodford Reserve’s oldest bourbon released to date, including 17 year old liquid dating back to 2003, when Morris took over. It’s not clear whether all the juice is 17 years old, however. I’ll let Woodford do some of the talking:
Woodford Reserve has released its oldest bourbon yet — Woodford Reserve Very Fine Rare Bourbon — as part of the distillery’s highly-anticipated 2020 Master’s Collection. For this limited-selection and one-time-only product, Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall used very rare barrels of Woodford Reserve to debut a new, modern bottle design.
The bourbon includes liquid from barrels that are 17 years old and date to 2003, the year Chris Morris was named Master Distiller. Morris and McCall have been holding back the barrels to batch with other barrels for a special release.
“The name Very Fine Rare Bourbon is a nod to the descriptors used by our ancestors to auction highly-aged Bourbon barrel lots,” Morris said. “While Woodford Reserve will always honor the past, this Master’s Collection is about the present and future.”
This year’s expression marks the 15th release of the Master’s Collection, which was created to honor the many discoveries and innovations that occurred at the 1812 distillery site where Woodford Reserve is now located. Starting with the 2020 edition, all future master’s collections will focus on modern innovation by Morris and McCall.
The original Master’s Collection bottle design was shaped like a pot-still, an ode to the pot stills used for distillation at Woodford Reserve Distillery. The new design references the classic and iconic flask-shaped Woodford bottle.
McCall said this Master’s Collection has special meaning for her and for Woodford Reserve. It is the first time her name will appear on the bottle hang tag since being named Assistant Master Distillery in 2018.
“What a fitting tribute to use these oldest barrels of Woodford Reserve to celebrate Chris Morris’ legacy while also looking to the future, “ McCall said.
Ready to dip into it? Here goes.
If you like Woodford Reserve you’ll love Woodford Reserve Very Fine Rare. The nose is big, immersive, and inviting: Tons of rye spice, dark chocolate, and plenty of alcohol despite being bottled at Woodford’s standard abv of 45.2%. Let it open up in glass and sweeter notes slowly emerge, including butterscotch, maraschino cherries, and some mint.
The palate is dense and complicated, and a fear my 50ml sample won’t do it justice: Cloves and tobacco mingle with notes of black tea, orange peel, more cherry — complete with pits — before more traditional bourbon notes emerge. Caramel corn, malty milk chocolate and vanilla, and notes of crushed walnuts all inform the lengthy, sultry finish. The conclusion lingers for just about forever. My sample bottle, however, is bone dry.