Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Historic Barrel Entry
Woodford Reserve’s latest Master’s Collection release is upon us. Formally the Winter 2022 release, it’s hitting only now in February 2023, but who’s counting.
The twist with this release is an interesting one. Of all the aspects of whiskeymaking, barrel entry proof tends to get the least amount of discussion, in part because it is poorly understood. “Entry proof” is the proof of the alcohol as it enters the barrel for the first time. Most modern bourbon hits the barrel at the legal high limit of 125 proof (including Woodford) or slightly lower (which Wild Turkey is semi-famous for). It wasn’t always that way, and with this special release, Woodford sent the whiskey into the barrel at a rock-bottom 100 proof, which was common back in the 19th century.
Why does this matter?
“A lower entry proof seems counterintuitive when one thinks of getting more flavor from the new, charred barrel. In fact, many of the barrel extractives we desire are more water soluble than they are alcohol,” says master distiller Chris Morris. “By having a lower entry proof (in other words more water in the barrel than the Woodford Reserve standard of 110 proof entry) will result in richer, sweet characteristics being absorbed from the barrel’s famed red layer.”
Got all that? Let’s give it a try.
I have to say, Morris’s comments that a lower entry proof may result in a stronger wood flavor don’t fully pan out here. Lively and fragrant on the nose, it’s got some wood to be sure, but the big driver is caramel corn, with baked apples unfolding underneath. The wood element is a bit green, just lightly charred — almost the way I expect a toasted barrel whiskey to come across. The palate’s got a lot of the same elements on display. A stronger fruit note — again, baked apples, here showing some cinnamon — leads the charge, with a sweeter quality building toward the finish. Some peanut butter notes are evident as well, those holding on well into the denouement, where a brown butter character lingers. All told, the whiskey is surprisingly lively throughout, and the apple notes give it more of a fruit-forward tone than any other Woodford release that immediately comes to mind. That’s not a bad thing in my book.
A- / $130 (700ml) / woodfordreserve.com
Just picked up a bottle from Costco yesterday for $100. The barrel proof concept is very interesting, especially when hearing whiskey fans talk about their love for “dusties” which was partly a result of different process and standards like a lower barrel entry proof. All in all, I think your review is spot-on regarding the sweet corn and cinnamon spice, with a complimentary fruit-forward palate.