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Woodford Reserve Master's Collection, Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, Pinot Noir Barrel

Posted on by Eric Burke

I tend to like bourbons that have been finished in some way. Cognac barrel? Port barrel? Yes and yes. Beer barrel? Sure. Second barrels that never contained anything else? Indeed! Staves of other types of wood? Yes sir! Bourbon where they just poured some brandy in? Not bad at all. Not that they are my favorites, but I tend to like them.

Contrary to many opinions out there, I also tend to like Woodford Reserve. It was one of the first bourbons I bought and the first major distillery I visited. It’s pricier than I like, but occasionally I go back to it as I have a bit of a soft spot for it. I especially like to see what they are doing with their yearly Master’s Collection experiments. Even if they aren’t always that good, it’s nice to see people try things. 

Based on the above, I was pretty stoked to hear about this year’s version of the Master’s Collection. Pinot Noir casks. At first, it sounded weird to me. Then I noticed the Angel’s Envy in my glass at that very moment. It’s a port (fortified wine) finished bourbon. I remembered that sherry and port are used in finishing many types of whisky all over the world. It seemed less weird after thinking about it. And It had to be better than the Malt whiskeys they released last year…right?

RIGHT?

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, Sonoma-Cutrer finish, Pinot Noir Barrel

Purchase Info: $84.99 for a 750 mL at Zipps Liquor, Minneapolis, MN

Details: 45.2% ABV, Bourbon finished in Pinot Noir wine barrels

Nose: An earthy funk, herbal with a hint of smoke, dates and corn silage.

Mouth: Warm. Brown sugar sweetness with an earthy funk that follows the nose by bringing herbal flavors and a hint of corn.

Finish: Some warmth that fades fairly quickly and is replaced by oak and sour cherries.

Thoughts: I’m not a fan. Unlike some of the finished bourbons I’ve had where you barely know they’ve been finished, the wine certainly shows its influence here. The problem is that it basically takes over. There is very little bourbon influence other than heat and proof. It’s interesting, but I wish I had purchased a glass of it instead of a bottle.

As an experiment to minimize the wine influence, I mixed it half and half with some of the Old Forester Birthday Bourbon I had on the shelf. I’d have tried a Regular Woodford or a Double Oaked, but I didn’t have any on hand. It brought back some of the bourbon influence and actually made an enjoyable drink. On a whim, I also tried it half and half with some cheap brandy. This was also better than the Woodford straight, bringing body and sweetness to what was otherwise a brandy that tasted heavily of raisins. In other words, if the Kentucky Bourbon industry wasn’t so afraid of the word blend, they might have been able to release a drinkable product. As it is, I’ll probably buy a bottle of Old Forester Signature and use that $20 bottle to “fix” the $85 one.