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Woodford Reserve Master's Collection: Batch Proof (2018)

Posted on by Eric Burke

I haven't been very flattering to the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection in the past. While I applaud the experimentation and find them interesting, many of the ones I've tried had have just not clicked for me as an enjoyable drink. Because of that, I've tended to stop buying the Master's Collection releases. $100+ is a lot for one drink you will be extremely interested in and the rest of the bottle that you don't know what to do with. 

But I should step back for those of you who haven't been reading every post for the last six years. What is the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection? 
Every year, Woodford Reserve releases a new, Limited Edition whiskey under the Master’s Collection name. Each release is an expression of curiosity and experimentation. Woodford likes to tout its “five sources of flavor: (water, grain, fermentation, distillation, and maturation).” In each release of the Master’s Collection, they change one of those five things. Previous years have mostly included changing either the grain (making it a rye whiskey, a malt whiskey, using a different type of corn, etc) or the maturation (mostly the addition of barrel finishes), plus there was also a sweet mash fermentation instead of the typical sour mash. In other words, this is their chance to mix things up and give you an appreciation of what each part of the process can do.

A couple of years ago, I said: 

"I’d love to see them come out with a version where they change out the water. Not because I’d want to buy it, necessarily. But I’d love to see every pundit on the internet explode when they release the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection: Bardstown Water edition for $100."

Well, earlier this year, Woodford kinda did just that. Only instead of getting a different water source to cut their product to proof, they just didn't cut the proof down at all. It's an interesting change. And I decided I need to jump back in and give this one a try. 

Not that I didn't have to do a little fast talking to convince my wife of the soundness of my plan. See this sounds as if it is going to be a yearly release so jumping on it at that exact moment in time probably wasn't high on her list of things that needed to happen. Plus it's a little more expensive than their typical Master's Collection releases. And by a little, I mean it's $130 for this release. But in the end, she relented since she's just as curious as I am about these things. 

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection: Batch Proof (2018)

Purchase Info: $119.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Binny's Beverage Depot, Bloomington, IL

Details: 62.9% ABV

Nose: Caramel, Vanilla, green apple and a hint of charred oak.

Mouth: Thick mouthfeel. Very sweet with a nice spicy heat. Vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

Finish: Warm and long with lingering vanilla and cinnamon. 

 IMAGE: A hand-drawn heart.

Thoughts: This is very good. Warm and thick with a wonderful sweet spiciness. I love this one. Don't love the price and doubt I'll be buying another, so I'll just enjoy this one and see if I can make it last a little while. 


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Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey

Posted on by Eric Burke

I'm going to say that it was my first serious taste of whiskey that was the last time I truly liked a malt whiskey. In that case, I think that for me, liking that taste was more about enjoying the switch in flavor from clear spirits to aged ones than it was anything about the Malt Whiskey itself. Shortly afterward, I made the switch to Bourbon and Rye and have seldom looked back.

That should tell you something about my tastes. I used to say that it wasn't that I didn't like Malt Whiskey, it was just that I hadn't yet found one that I liked. But now, it's been enough time and I've tried enough that I'm willing to admit to the fact that I generally do not like Malt Whiskey. And that's ok. We all like different things. 

Not caring for Malt whiskey is one of the reasons that it appears on the site so infrequently. I have to really be interested in something about one to spend the money on one. Sometimes, as in the case of Stranahan's, I'm in the distillery and pick one up because the tasting went well. Other times, it is because of a cask finish that I found interesting. One I tried because it was made by a well-known large bourbon producer and I wanted to taste their version. 

That last one made me quite happy that my friend had spent the money on it and not me. I disliked it so much that in 2016 I named it one of the five worst American Whiskeys I'd ever had. That one was the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection: Double Malt Selection. It resulted in both my friend and I taking our drams and dumping them down the sink.

So, it was with some trepidation that I bought the recently released
Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey. After all of that, why did I buy it? Well, it's new, I figured that they may have had time to perfect their recipe, and I liked the rest of the non-experimental whiskeys under the Woodford name (Bourbon, Double Oaked, and Rye).

So what does this bourbon drinker and admitted Malt disliker think of it? Let's find out.

Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey

Purchase Info: $26.98 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

Details: 45.2% ABV. 51% Malt mashbill (via the brand website).

Nose: Nutty with caramel/vanilla and uncooked oatmeal.

Mouth: Sweetened, cooked cereal with nuts and a hint of dark chocolate. 

Finish: Warm and of medium length. Chocolate and dried grains that show as slightly bitter and a touch medicinal. Almost grassy after a while. 

 IMAGE: A hand-drawn neutral face

Thoughts: You know what? I do not dislike this. I wasn't a fan while doing the tasting. But after giving it a couple more tries and some time, I'm ok with this one. Don't get me wrong, it's not something I'm likely to ever buy again, but I'm not going to dump the bottle or relegate it to prop whiskey either. So I didn't like it, I didn't dislike it, that sounds like the very definition of Meh to me. 

But maybe take that with a grain of salt and give it a shot yourself, as I'm not generally a fan of Malt whiskey, I may have ranked it lower (or higher) than you would. 


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2018: The Championship Rounds

Posted on by Eric Burke

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it was the first year that had guest judges. I have an idea that I may expand it further next year. This feels like it could be a fun party game for whiskey folk, provided the sips are restricted and everyone has a driver. Secondly, it is also the first year that I didn't restrict the competition to bourbon. I included corn whiskey and rye whiskey and sort of expected that corn would fold and rye would reign supreme. I was sorta right on the corn whiskey, it was a little too delicate to win against the flavorful rye, but it was no pushover. 

So now here we are. We are at the Last Four (Final Four being a registered trademark of a very litigious entity, there is no way I will use those two words together in a bracket post...): Old Grand Dad Bonded vs Two Stars and Old Forester vs Ezra Brooks Rye. Three bourbons and a rye. Let's see if rye reigns supreme or if bourbon can hold on to the odds. 

Division 1, Round 2: Two Stars (A) vs Old Grand-Dad Bonded (B)

Nose: Whiskey A is drier with more grain present while whiskey B is sweeter but shows a bit more alcohol. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey B is sweeter but also shows a lot more grain notes. Whiskey A is more of a well-integrated whole, though it is a tad more delicate. Winner Whiskey A.

Finish: The finish on Whiskey A is a bit harsher and drier. Whiskey B is really good though and it has no obvious plusses or minuses to it.Winner Whiskey B. 

Thoughts: I'd say that Whiskey B wins this one on the strength of a better mouthfeel and a much tastier finish. Old Grand-Dad Bonded is moving on. 

Division 2, Round 2: Ezra Brooks Rye (A) vs Old Forester (B)

Nose: Whiskey A has a spicy ginger note while Whiskey B is pretty generic with sweet caramel.  Winner: Whiskey A.

Mouth: Whiskey A is spicy and fun but a bit thin. Whiskey B is sweet and spicy with a nice mouthfeel. It is close but the Winner is Whiskey A

Finish: Whiskey A shows ginger and citrus while Whiskey B is sweet and fruity. This comes down to personal taste. Winner: Whiskey A.

Thoughts: This one is tough. I adore the fun aspects of Whiskey A. I think it is bright and vibrant and I'm digging the citrus notes. On the other hand, I really like the sweet flavors, the nice mouthfeel, and the fruity finish of Whiskey B. Gun to my head? Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Championship Round: Old Grand-Dad Bonded (A) vs Ezra Brooks Rye (B)

Nose: Whiskey B is a spicy soda, Whiskey A is a dusty rickhouse. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey A is sweet with a lovely mouthfeel. Whiskey B is spicy with a ginger ale flavor. Winner: Draw

Finish: Whiskey A is long with more sweetness. Whiskey B is also long, but is spicy. Winner: Draw.

Thoughts: Sometimes the tasting notes of bloggers make it look like we value the individual parts of a whiskey more than the whole. Though these two whiskeys are different, I liked them both, just in different ways. I like the spiciness of Whiskey B and I like the lovely mouthfeel of Whiskey A. There was a draw on every indiviual metric. And, though it was really close, when taken as a whole the Winner is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

Lessons learned

So was I shocked by anything this year? Not really. I was surprised that Old Forester beat Four Roses for every participant, but not enough to call it shocking. I was mildly surprised that a four seed beat a one seed, but when you notice that it is rye vs corn whiskey it is less surprising. Going into the final rounds I had guessed that Old Forester could very possibly be my winner, but wasn't shocked that a rye whiskey beat a bourbon. Even if it was only two years old.

Overall, I thought that there could very possibly be five winners in the initial grouping. I wouldn't have been surprised at any of Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Four Roses, Ezra Brooks and I thought that Mellow Corn had an outside shot. Because I worried that the seeding worked against them I went ahead and tried an alternate seeding. I put all the bourbon on one side and matched corn vs corn and rye vs rye on the other. Ezra Brooks beat Old Overholt and Mellow Corn defeated Hirsch, with Ezra Brooks rye still advancing to the finals. On the Bourbon side, Old Grand Dad beat Four Roses on the strength of a good mouthfeel and Old Forester beat Two Stars. Old Grand Dad then defeated Old Forester and advanced to the finals where the result was the same. Overall, I'm satisfied that the best whiskey (for my palate)won.


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Other people's brackets

Posted on by Eric Burke

So one of the things I did this year to shake things up was to introduce more judges to this project. In the past, it has been just my wife and I and if we disagreed, I'd overrule her due to the fact that I do all the writing. Now I was not able to get everyone together in time to get started on these so I was unable to use their input in the initial rounds. 

And now that I think about that, I think this is a good thing. This is a blog that is run by my wife and I and it reflects our palates. Plus, as you will see, everyone so far has chosen a different winner. But, there are a few commonalities in the results that I think you will find interesting. So let's begin.

This is the bracket of my friend Dave. He was the inspiration for this experiment because he asked if he could be a part of it. He knows almost nothing about whiskey that I haven't taught him but he is an enthusiastic amateur. I did the pouring for Dave's bracket. So one interesting thing that I think you will see is that Old Overholt was Dave's winner. I've described Old Overholt as one of the gentlest rye whiskeys that I'd found. And I think that it makes sense that an inexperienced whiskey drinker would like a whiskey that wasn't overly hot and aggressive. In fact, you'll notice that most of the whiskeys that made it to his last four were fairly nonaggressive whiskeys. A corn whiskey beat a rye, a low proof beat a high proof on a couple of occasions, and then there is Old Forester where he had a hard time choosing between the two.

This is the bracket of one of my dog sitting clients, Jeff. Jeff is a guy who likes whiskey but mostly sticks to the brands he knows. Jeff administered his own test which is why everything is labeled with a letter instead of a name, all the seeds are in the same location though. In this case, Old Grand-Dad beat Old Overholt, Two Stars beat Hirsch Corn, Ezra Brooks Rye beat Mellow Corn and Old Forester beat Four Roses. I haven't finished my bracket yet, but so far mine matches this one. And if you were to ask me how I thought my bracket might finish out, I can see similarities between his and mine. I'm a bit shocked that Two Stars beat out Old Grand-Dad, but hey Barton/Sazerac makes some pretty good juice. Oh, and for Jeff, Old Forester won. 

This is my wife's bracket. She and I disagreed on whether Mellow Corn should beat Ezra Brooks Rye so I had her finish her bracket based on her scenario. Once again I administered the contest for her. As you will see, there are some similarities between the previous three, Everyone likes Two Stars more than the Hirsch Corn whiskey and Everyone liked Old Forester better than Four Roses. In fact, Old Forester was in the championship for every one of these three. It sort of makes me wonder if my bracket will follow suit? I guess we will see next Tuesday.

Now, this last one is from Pat, one of my wife's coworkers. Pat also administered his own test. And Pat went a different way than anyone else. Unbeknownst to Pat, he seems to be a fan of rye whiskey. And he found this fascinating since he hadn't had very much rye before. From what I understand, he is going to be remedying that in the future. Even so, I can see the Ezra Brooks Rye winning this. It is a good and flavorful whiskey that even at two years old, brings a lot of flavor to the party. 

So I hope you found this as fascinating as I did. I liked seeing the trends among people. All of us liked Old Forester over Four Roses, which I didn't expect from me much less anyone else. It was split evenly between those who preferred Mellow Corn and those who preferred Ezra Brooks Rye. Only one person thought that the Hirsch Corn was better than Two Stars. And yet even with that, they all chose a different winner. I'm very curious now to know which one will win on my bracket. 


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Bottom-Shelf Brackets 2018: Round 1d: Old Forester vs. Four Roses

Posted on by Eric Burke

Round 1d of the 2018 BourbonGuy.com Bottom Shelf Brackets features the only bourbon on bourbon action of the entire first round of the contest. We have number 2 seed Old Forester Bourbon (86 proof) versus Number 3 seed Four Roses Bourbon (this bottle still has a yellow label). 

Old Forester is a product of Brown-Forman. It is the lowest proof offering in the Old Forester family of expressions. It earns a number two seed due to being 86 proof.

Four Roses (Yellow Label) is the entry-level product in the Four Roses family of expressions. It is a mingling of all 10 bourbon recipes produced by the distillery. It is the only 80 proof whiskey in the Non-Age Stated portion of the contestants and as such is a number three seed. 

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Old Forester

Purchase Info: $34.99 for a 1.75L bottle at Total Wine, Eagan, MN.

Details: 43% ABV, non-age stated.

Produced by: Brown-Forman

Nose: Almond, cherry, vanilla, and hints of anise. 

Mouth: Sweet with good spice. Nice mouthfeel. Cherry/almond, baking spice and a bit of capsaicin-style heat.

Finish: Medium Length cherry and baking spice linger. 

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Very nice. Good mouthfeel. This could be a winner.

Four Roses (Yellow)

Purchase Info: $23.99 for a 1L bottle at Total Wine, Eagan, MN.

Details: 40% ABV.

Produced by: Four Roses

Nose: Floral, cinnamon red hot candies, a bit of citrus fruit. 

Mouth: Floral, baking spice, cherry, citrus fruit. A thinner mouthfeel than the previous one.

Finish: Warm, very floral with hints of mint. 

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Thin in the mouth and very floral.  

Who wins?

I am an admitted and unashamed Four Roses fanboy. But then I like Old Forester too. Before the relatively recent release of the Whiskey Row series of expressions, it was my favorite of the brands made at least in part under the supervision of Master Distiller Chris Morris (86 proof, 100 proof and Woodford Reserve). It has since been surpassed as my favorite by the 1920 Prohibition Style expression but still ranks number two in the line-up for me. I had a feeling while setting up the initial matchups that this would be the closest of the four. It was not. One of these stood head and shoulders above the other when they were paired head-to-head. Thin and floral can't beat thick and spicy for me. Winner: Old Forester.  


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!