Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey: The Ultimate Bottle Guide

Woodford Reserve is one of the most popular premium bourbon whiskeys in the world. Produced by the Brown-Forman Corporation, Woodford Reserve is a small-batch bourbon, meaning that each bottle is crafted using a select few handpicked barrels to ensure consistency and quality. The main ingredient in Woodford Reserve, like all bourbons, is corn. Bourbon must be made from at least 51% corn, with the remaining grains typically being barley and either rye or wheat. Woodford Reserve uses a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. This specific grain recipe, combined with Woodford Reserve's proprietary yeast strain and limestone-filtered water, gives Woodford Reserve its distinctive flavor profile.

Woodford Reserve is bottled at 90.4 proof or 45.2% alcohol by volume, a bit higher than the minimum legal requirement of 40% alcohol for bourbon. The higher proof helps Woodford Reserve maintain a bold, complex flavor. When you take a sip, you'll notice flavors of caramel, cinnamon, cocoa, and gentle smoke. The finish is long, warm, and mildly sweet. Woodford Reserve has become an incredibly popular premium bourbon, especially appealing to bourbon connoisseurs and newcomers alike. Its balance of flavor, aroma, and finish combined with its reasonable price point for a small-batch bourbon has helped cement its status. 

History of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon has a long and storied history dating back to the late 1700s. The distillery where Woodford Reserve is made today is located in Woodford County, Kentucky — the heart of bourbon country. The distillery was founded in 1812 by Elijah Pepper, making it the oldest bourbon distillery still in operation. For much of its early life, the distillery was known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and it went through several ownership changes and periods of inactivity over the first 150 years. The facility was revived in the 1950s by Brown-Forman, one of the largest American-owned wine and spirits companies. They operated it as the Old Forester Distillery, producing bourbon under that brand name.

In the 1990s, Brown-Forman decided to create a super-premium bourbon brand to compete with brands like Maker's Mark. They chose the historic Woodford County distillery as the home for this new bourbon and extensive renovations were done to restore the distillery buildings and the surrounding grounds. The new bourbon was named Woodford Reserve in honor of the distillery's location and history. Woodford Reserve was introduced in 1996 to rave reviews and it proved instrumental in launching the era of high-end, premium bourbons. Woodford Reserve's role in reviving a historic distillery and pioneering the premium bourbon category has helped propel the overall bourbon renaissance.

How is Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon made?

The crafting process begins with selecting the finest ingredients. The bourbon's grain recipe, or mash bill, comprises 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. Next, the grains are milled, and the ground grains are transferred to a mash cooker, where they are mixed with naturally limestone-filtered Kentucky water. The mixture is then cooled and transferred to a fermenter, where yeast is introduced. The yeast feasts on the sugars in the mash, producing alcohol and a host of other compounds that contribute to the bourbon's flavor.

One thing that sets Woodford Reserve apart from many other distilleries is its use of traditional copper pot stills during the distillation process. This time-tested method, inherited from the early bourbon-making days, allows the distillers to control the process with pinpoint precision and lends the bourbon its smooth and full-bodied palate.

Post distillation, the spirit is then filled into new charred oak barrels for aging. The charring process caramelizes the sugars in the wood, which will leach out over time, giving the bourbon its golden color and complex flavors. These barrels are stored in aging warehouses, where they are left to mature. After aging for at least seven years, the bourbon is taste-tested by a panel of expert tasters to ensure it meets the high-quality standards set by Woodford Reserve. Only when it's deemed ready is the bourbon bottled and released, ready to be enjoyed by bourbon lovers around the world.

What does Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon taste like?

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a very balanced, approachable bourbon with layers of flavor. On the nose, you get wafts of vanilla, nuts like almonds, along with oak and spice notes like cinnamon or nutmeg. When you take a sip, the flavors follow through seamlessly. The palate starts out with a burst of caramel sweetness, followed by spice and oak, and there are notes of leather, tobacco leaf, and maple. The finish is long, rounding out with cinnamon and oak at the end. Overall, the taste profile is rich but not too dense, complex but not overpowering. The classic bourbon flavors are all there but in harmony and it goes down very smoothly for a bourbon that is 90.4 proof.

The flavor of Woodford Reserve bourbon comes through clearly because it is not filtered before bottling. The reddish tint you see when viewing an unopened bottle comes from compounds absorbed from the charred oak barrels during aging. These barrel compounds provide much of the bourbon's flavor and aroma. The longer aging in smaller barrels also gives Woodford Reserve a robust, wood-forward character while still retaining balance.

How to drink Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon?

The first and perhaps the most traditional way to enjoy Woodford Reserve is drinking it neat; that is, straight from the bottle into your glass, with no additions. This method allows the bourbon's complexity and balance to shine, offering an undiluted experience of the rich symphony of flavors. If you prefer your bourbon slightly chilled, enjoy Woodford Reserve 'on the rocks. Adding a few cubes of ice to your glass will cool the bourbon and slightly dilute it, subtly mellowing the flavors and revealing new, nuanced undertones.

However, refrain from using too much ice, as it can over-dilute your drink and mask the bourbon's character. Some bourbon enthusiasts prefer adding a dash of water to their whiskey. This small addition can open up the bourbon, releasing new layers of aroma and flavor that might otherwise remain hidden. Just a few drops of room-temperature water will suffice.

Woodford Reserve is an ideal bourbon to use in classic bourbon cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan. Its balanced, spicy flavor shines through in cocktails. For a true Kentucky Derby treat, make a Mint Julep or a bourbon slush cocktail with Woodford Reserve bourbon. Woodford Reserve's rich palette of flavors makes it an excellent companion to a range of foods. Pair it with rich, smoked meats or sharp, aged cheeses to complement its robust character. For those with a sweet tooth, try pairing it with dark chocolate or a caramel-based dessert.

How to properly store Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon?

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon is crafted to be enjoyed for years after bottling, so proper storage is important. Bourbon will not spoil, but its taste can be negatively impacted by exposure to heat, light, and oxygen. Heat and UV light can cause the whiskey to break down over time, changing the flavor and aroma compounds. Do not store Woodford Reserve on a windowsill or near heat vents or appliances. Room temperature away from direct light is ideal.

Always store the bottle upright to maintain the proper shape of the cork. If a bottle is left on its side for a long time, the cork can dry out and contract, allowing oxygen in. Ensure the cork or cap is securely fitted after each pour to prevent contact with oxygen. Oxidation is a major cause of bourbon going stale. For longer-term storage, consider sealing the top of the cork with wax or replacing the cap. Do not store unopened bottles of Woodford Reserve in the refrigerator. Only refrigerate once a bottle has been opened, and seal the bottle after each pour. The refrigerator prevents oxidation for open bottles but is too cold for long-term storage of unopened bottles.

Is Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon expensive?

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a premium bourbon, so you can expect to pay a higher price than standard bourbons. However, when compared to other bourbons in its class, Woodford Reserve offers good value for the quality. The exact price you pay depends on the size and type of bottle and where you buy it. For a standard 750ml bottle of Woodford Reserve, you can expect to pay between $30 to $50; it was also ranked as one of the best bourbons under $50 in 2023. This can vary somewhat by state and retailer based on taxes and markup. Some warehouse clubs or big box stores may have it for a bit less.

Specialty Woodford Reserve bottlings will garner a higher premium. Limited releases like the Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition can sell for several hundred dollars due to their exclusivity. While delicious, these special editions are more targeted at collectors. For most casual bourbon drinkers, Woodford Reserve hits a sweet spot of being a premium, handcrafted bourbon that delivers quality and taste without an exorbitant price tag.

Different types of Woodford Reserve Bourbons

Woodford Reserve is available in several different varieties and expressions. First up we have the Woodford Reserve Double-Oaked Bourbon. This bourbon starts out the same as the original Woodford Reserve but is then matured in a second barrel — a process known as double barreling or double oaking. The second barrel used is a deeply toasted one, which imparts strong oak and caramel notes. Double-Oaked Bourbon has an intense oak flavor with sweet aromas of vanilla, chocolate, and spice.

Next, we have the Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey. This whiskey expression swaps in wheat grain for the rye in the mash bill, resulting in a softer, sweeter flavor. Released in 2017, Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey offers aromas of buttered popcorn, toffee, and spices with a lush, velvety mouthfeel. It provides an interesting contrast to the spicier Woodford Reserve Rye and classic Bourbon. Wheat Whiskey is 90.4 proof and comparably priced.

There's also the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection which features experimental, limited-release Woodford Reserve bourbons and whiskeys. Different mash bills, age statements, and barrel finishes are used. Past releases have included bourbons finished in oak casks from Spain, France, and Scotland, as well as a chocolate rye whiskey aged in used chardonnay barrels. Pricing and proofs vary, but these are targeted at serious whiskey aficionados.

Difference between Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Woodford Reserve Rye

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Woodford Reserve Rye are both premium whiskeys produced by the Woodford Reserve distillery, but there are several key differences between them. The main difference is the grain composition of the mash bill. Woodford Reserve Bourbon is made from a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. This classic bourbon mash bill gives it a sweet, rounded flavor. Woodford Reserve Rye, on the other hand, contains a mash bill of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley. The higher rye content produces a spicier, drier whiskey with a flavor dominated by rye spice, black pepper, and citrus.

Woodford Reserve Rye Whiskey also differs in that it is classified as an American whiskey, while Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon is classified as a bourbon whiskey. Though rye whiskey is a type of American whiskey and must be distilled in the U.S., to be called a bourbon whiskey, the mash bill must be at least 51% corn. Woodford Reserve Rye does not meet this requirement; thus, it is not a bourbon.

Both are made in a similar style, but the different grain bills result in distinctive flavor profiles. While Woodford Reserve Bourbon ages for around 6-7 years, Woodford Reserve Rye is aged for a slightly shorter period of time at 5-6 years. The heavy rye content in the Woodford Reserve Rye mash bill contributes a lot of flavor in a shorter time.

The Woodford Reserve Distillery offers a unique Distillery Series, which includes limited-edition, one-of-a-kind bourbons only available at the distillery itself

The Woodford Reserve Distillery, located in Woodford County, Kentucky, is a popular tourist destination for bourbon fans. In addition to tours, tastings, and a visitors center, the Woodford Reserve Distillery offers a unique Distillery Series with limited-edition, one-of-a-kind bourbons that are only available at the distillery. Only a few thousand bottles of each Distillery Series expression are produced, so they sell out quickly — often on the first day of release.

There's the Woodford Reserve Distillery Select which is an experimental mash bill selected by Woodford Reserve's Assistant Master Distiller. It provides a different flavor experience from the standard Woodford Reserve. Mash bills used in the past have been wheated, rye-heavy, or stout mash bills.

The Distillery Series also includes the Woodford Reserve Double Double Oaked expression. Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Bourbon is aged for a second time in a newly toasted oak barrel. Distillery Series Double Double Oaked takes that process a step further by aging the Double Oaked Bourbon for a third time in another newly toasted barrel. The result is an intensely oaky bourbon with strong notes of vanilla, chocolate, and smoke.

Woodford Reserve has won numerous awards for its bourbon, including a double gold medal at the 2023 San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon is an award-winning bourbon that has garnered prestigious honors throughout its history. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon has won Double Gold Medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in the years 2013, 2014, and 2023. This competition names a Double Gold Medal winner when all judges unanimously award a spirit a gold medal in their tasting. Woodford Reserve Bourbon has also won gold medals multiple times at the International Spirits Challenge, most recently in 2012.

Woodford Reserve has scored 94 points or higher frequently in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, most notably in the years 2015 and 2016. These high ratings are given by a panel of expert spirit critics and confirm Woodford Reserve's status as a super premium bourbon delivering excellence and complexity.

The Woodford Reserve Distillery has its own limestone-filtered water source known as the Glenn's Creek

The Woodford Reserve Distillery is located in the heart of Kentucky's Bluegrass region, surrounded by fertile farmland and natural limestone deposits. One of the key elements in producing Woodford Reserve bourbon is the distillery's own limestone-filtered water source known as Glenn's Creek. Glenn's Creek flows through limestone caves and outcroppings, absorbing important minerals along the way. By the time it reaches the distillery, the water has developed a mineral balance that is perfect for crafting bourbon.

This limestone-filtered water is essential for making Woodford Reserve bourbon. Prior to Prohibition, most Kentucky distilleries had their own water sources for producing bourbon. Today, Woodford Reserve is one of a few distilleries that still uses its own limestone-filtered water supply for bourbon production. The mineral content and pH level of the water impact fermentation, distillation, and the overall flavor of the bourbon. The main flavor compounds in bourbon come from the interaction between the distilled spirit, water, and oak barrels during aging. Using naturally perfect water ensures the bourbon will have the ideal environment to develop complex flavors during its time in the barrel.

Woodford Reserve has been the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, popularly dubbed as the 'The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports', for over 20 years

As Kentucky's native bourbon, Woodford Reserve has a longstanding partnership with Kentucky's most iconic event — the Kentucky Derby. The bourbon has been the presenting sponsor of the Kentucky Derby, known as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports", for over 20 years. The Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday in May at the historic Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville. It is the oldest continuously held horse race in America, first run in 1875. The Derby is known for its Southern charm, lavish parties, mint juleps, and over-the-top hats. Over 150,000 people attend the Derby annually, with millions more watching it on television.

As the presenting sponsor, Woodford Reserve plays an integral role in the Derby experience. One of the ways they are featured includes the Woodford Reserve $1,000 Mint Julep Cup and Woodford Reserve bourbon is used to make the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep. They are served in limited edition $1,000 mint julep cups that attendees can purchase to take home as souvenirs.

The Woodford Reserve Distillery is a National Historic Landmark

The Woodford Reserve Distillery is located on the site of one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky. Known originally as the Labrot & Graham Distillery, it was founded in 1812 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Labrot & Graham Distillery began operations in 1812, just as Kentucky gained statehood. It was originally called the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery. The site changed ownership and names several times over the years, eventually becoming the Labrot & Graham Distillery in 1878.

Prohibition forced the distillery to close from 1920 to 1933. During that time, some of the buildings on the National Historic Landmark site deteriorated or were destroyed. After Prohibition, only one other distillery in Kentucky opened again — the Labrot & Graham Distillery. It was purchased by Brown-Forman in 1941 and began producing Old Forester bourbon. The distillery was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000 due to its historic architecture and importance in Kentucky's bourbon-making heritage.