Woodford Reserve and a Mini Bourbon Tasting

August 6, 2012

This is a follow-up to my last post, about the Number 8 Bourbon Shop in Taipei.

Firstly, I forgot to thank Papercut from Taiwan’s expat forums, Forumosa, who found this shop in the first place.

Secondly, about an hour after making the post, and saying how I really wanted to get some Woodford Reserve, I had a class cancellation so I rushed off to the Number 8 for a Bourbon splurge. I restocked on Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek, and I bought my first bottle of Woodford Reserve (Distiller’s Select). Here’s my swag:

Bourbon in hand, I popped into my local, the Green Hornet.

A few patrons, including brewer, Jason, and owner, Peter, joined me for a little Bourbon tasting and comparison. We didn’t do anything fancy – just straight, from glasses.

First was the Maker’s Mark. It’s smooth and there’s the expected Bourbon tastes – caramel and the like. But for me, it’s a little dull, a little weak. That seemed to be the consensus of the group too. It’s definitely not a bad Bourbon though, and does a hell of a lot better than Jim Beam for a mixer.

Next, we tried the Knob Creek. I’ve been a fan of this for a while. We all thought it had much more complexity and strength than the Maker’s. The 50% ABV must help there.

Finally, was the one I’d been working up to – the Woodford Reserve. I was in love from the smell onwards. Jason couldn’t get his nose out of the glass, he liked it so much. You just need to sniff this next to other Bourbons to know that it is something special. And the taste doesn’t let you down in the slightest.

Woodford Reserve is a boisterous, complex and delicious Bourbon. It has clear vanilla flavours, some aggressive wood (almost smoky) tones, and a nice touch of fruit, which Jason identified as pear. Woodford was a clear winner for the group of us.

Over the weekend I experimented with it a little more in a few mixed drinks at home.

Old-Fashioned: A bit of a let-down. Something in this Bourbon fights with the Old-Fashioned. I prefer the Knob Creek, and Maker’s Mark makes a good Old-Fashioned if you spice it up with something like Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters.

Manhattan: I’ve had great Manhattans with the Maker’s, Knob Creek and even Jim Beam. My first thought was that the Woodford wasn’t any great improvement on these. Then, further through the glass (made 2:1, Bourbon and Vermouth with orange bitters), I started noticing the distinctive qualities of the Woodford. Mighty fine Manhattan.

Whiskey Sour: I made up some sweet and sour mix of water, sugar and lemon juice to make identical (mini) sours with only the Bourbon different, to try side by side. I also made one with Rittenhouse Rye (sadly unavailable in Taiwan) for comparison. All were nice with their own qualities to recommend them. Maker’s was smooth, Knob Creek better, and Woodford the most interesting. No surprises there. But the Rye was my favourite. It’s earthier, rawer and, well, just more (not ‘manly’, I promised myself not to perpetuate this ridiculous practice of ascribing gender to drinks), um, rugged.

Conclusions

Maker’s Mark: Smooth, but a little simple for me. Probably good for ‘beginners’ or when nondescriptness is the quality you’re looking for.

Knob Creek: My pick for a typical-profile Bourbon for mixed drinks. More interesting than the Maker’s and strong enough to stand-up to other ingredients.

Woodford Reserve: The whiskey that made a Bourbon fan out of me. Far and away the best sipper. Wonderful, strong, distinctive flavors. This is premium whiskey for a fraction of what you’d pay for premium Scotch. Highly recommended. On the other hand, when it comes to making cocktails – use with caution. It’s unusual qualities, that make it a great sipper, mean that cocktails might turn out differently from what was intended. This could be good or bad.
Edit: In addition to the Number 8 Bourbon shop, I’ve been informed that the Woodford Reserve is now available again (and cheaper) in Taipei at RT Mart. It’s a great value buy.

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17 Responses to “Woodford Reserve and a Mini Bourbon Tasting”


  1. […] Here’s a follow up post: Woodford Reserve and a Mini Bourbon Tasting. […]

  2. Ben Says:

    I read somewhere that bourbon is intended to be drunk on the rocks, so is bottled a bit stronger than other whiskies. I don’t know if there is any truth to this, but you might consider trying your bourbons with ice or a splash of water and see how they compare. That might help the 50% Knob Creek.

  3. Ben Says:

    Woodford Reserve is a staple in cocktail bars around here. It seems to be the standard in bourbon Manhattans.

    Myself, I’ve found another really good bourbon – Elijah Craig. Very rich and spicy with a long delicious finish. I doubt it is going to last me very long, so I might try the Woodford Reserve as my next bottle.

  4. theboolion Says:

    Thanks, Ben. I am little surprised that Woodford Reserve is a staple mixer. Perhaps my fears of it being an unpredictable mixer were unfounded. It certainly did make a great Manhattan.

    I actually popped in to ‘Drinks’ today and sampled some Elijah Craig. Oddly there was a taster bottle of the 18-Year, but not the much cheaper 12-Year. I thought it was a good Bourbon, but at the price I’d choose something else. The 12-Year might be a different matter though. The shop guy said it was spicier but not as oaky as the 18-Year.

    • Ben Says:

      18 years is very old for a bourbon. It could be that old bourbons are an acquired taste.

      Apparently the regular Elijah Craig is considered a bargain for its price and has been rising in price over the years.

      • theboolion Says:

        Yeah, I think a lot of Bourbon, when compared to Scotch or Cognac is a bargain for the price. I think that Elijah Craig 12-Year (the regular one, I think) was pretty inexpensive, and I have heard good about it.


  5. I’m a big Woodford fan, but if you get a chance try Basil Hayden.

    http://www.smallbatch.com/lpa/

    It’s great on the rocks or straight and might be the smoothest bourbon I’ve ever tried.

    Jimmy

    • theboolion Says:

      Thanks, Jimmy. Basil Hayden is also available in Taiwan, so I’m sure I’ll get to try it sometime. So many bottles I want to buy! I might lay off the Bourbon for a while. I feel like buying more gin πŸ™‚

  6. putneyfarm Says:

    Agree the Woodford is best on its own…and that rye may sometimes be better than bourbon as a cocktail ingredient. The spice of the rye works well in cocktails..

    Good post..

  7. Bunnyhugs Says:

    Do give the Woodford another try in an Old Fashioned too. For me it works nicely. One of my favorite Old Fashioned whiskeys.

    • theboolion Says:

      You’ve twisted my arm, Bunnyhugs. I’ll have to do a scientific test with my three bourbons side by side in Old Fashioneds. It’s tough work, but someone has to do it. BTW, I keep meaning to try a Bunnyhug. What scotch would you use in that. Something smoky and distinctive, or some run-of-the-mill mild blend?

  8. Bunnyhugs Says:

    Try the Bunnyhug at your own risk. It was a drink I was into when I started my blog, but I rarely if ever have it these days. Mind you, it has a certain something. It’s certainly bracing, and you can either toss it back for effect or linger over it a while.

    A Japanese bar I used to go to a lot sold it as an Earthquake. I drank it a bit because I like Pernod and not many cocktails have Pernod in them. Then when I was drinking in non-cocktail bars I’d sometimes order it because pretty much any bar can throw one together. It doesn’t need unusual spirits, fresh juices, or even a bartender who knows that they are doing – equal parts of three basic spirits and you’re done.

    I first had it with White Horse blended scotch since that was the well scotch at this Japanese bar. I have tried it with other scotches, even smoky single malts like Laphroaig, and with absinthe instead of Pernod. For the gin I’ve always used a basic junipery gin (i.e. not Hendricks or similar). I don’t know. I’ve never come up with a mix that’s been head-and-shoulders above all the others. The flavors always clash rather than becoming a smooth blend, but I think that’s the idea.

    So just experiment with whatever you have lying round. Don’t risk your best single malt on that first experiment, but if you like it with a basic blended whisky you might like better with something more distinctive.

  9. Ben Says:

    Brian, even though you didn’t say it aloud, I have to object to your inference that rye is more manly than bourbon. Rye is more rugged – more butch perhaps – but it lacks the refinement and complexity that is the hallmark of true men. Bourbon on the other hand has a rough woody, spicy exterior, but that hides a smooth, soft core.

    Rye represents the man of the hills, trapping racoons and living off damper and wild boar. Bourbon on the other hand meets with his Ivy-league alumni colleagues in wood panalled parlours and rules the world while smoking fat cigars.


  10. […] for foreign readers). That’s about half what you’d normally pay for it. I’ve blogged about the Woodford before, and it’s bloody excellent […]


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