Cocktail consultant, Liquid Productions
Co-owner, Pacific Standard
Co-owner, Clover Club, Leyenda, and Milady’s
Triple-distilled in Versailles, Kentucky on the site of a historic distillery that dates to 1812, this straight bourbon can be savored neat or on the rocks. It also shines in a wide array of cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Mint Julep, the latter with which it has become closely associated since being named the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby” in 1999. Our reviewers differed in their impressions of its overall complexity, but they all recommend the versatile bottling for sipping or mixing.
Producer: Woodford Reserve
Expression: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Cask: New, charred American white oak barrels
Still Type: Copper pot stills, triple-distilled
Aged: No age statement (6–7 years)
Awards: Gold, Class Bartender Awards 2018; Gold, Whiskies of the World Awards 2016 and 2014; Excellent, Highly Recommended, Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2015
Complex enough to be sipped neat or on the rocks
Shines in classic whiskey cocktails like the Old Fashioned
Finish may strike some as slightly hot
May not impress whiskey aficionados further along in their bourbon journey
Color: Clear amber with hints of orange
Nose: Vanilla, honey, light oak, cherry, apricot, apples, orange, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, yeast, barrel funk
Palate: Corn, caramel, crème brûlée, apricot, turpentine, paint, dark cherry, pepper
Finish: Long and full-bodied
Similar bottles: Buffalo Trace, Knob Creek, Evan Williams Single Barrel, Maker’s Mark
Suggested uses: Sipped neat or on the rocks; mixed into cocktails like an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Mint Julep, Boulevardier, or Whiskey Sour
While they differed in their impressions of its overall complexity, our reviewers are unanimous in recommending Woodford Reserve as a versatile, high-quality bottling for sipping or mixing.
“This is a quality product that can be savored neat and has the integrity to show its character on the rocks or in a number of cocktails,” says Jacques Bezuidenhout. “[It] may not be the bourbon geek’s bourbon, but it delivers in flavors and complexity.”
Jeffrey Morgenthaler calls it “an absolutely flawless bourbon, and one of the finest examples of American whiskey in the world today.” He also emphasizes its excellent value.
Julie Reiner says this bottling is a “great mixing bourbon” and “an easy sipping whiskey,” but she finds the finish slightly hot and prefers other whiskeys in Woodford’s price range, such as Wild Turkey 101 and Buffalo Trace.
Our tasting panel detected notes typical of bourbon on the nose and palate, such as corn, caramel, vanilla, fruit, and oak. Morgenthaler found the bottling to show notably more complexity than other whiskeys in its price range.
“On the palate, Woodford dances and swirls, a rich symphony of corn, caramel, and wood,” he says. “But where it outshines other bourbons in its class is its deep, funky esters. Hints of turpentine and paint make this bourbon so much more interesting and enjoyable than other less flavorful ‘smooth’ whiskeys.”
Bezuidenhout and Morgenthaler also emphasize the long, full-bodied finish, while Reiner finds it to be slightly hot.
All of our reviewers suggest using Woodford in classic whiskey cocktails like the Old Fashioned, Mint Julep, Manhattan, Whiskey Sour, and Boulevardier.
“There is no way in which Woodford doesn’t work,” says Morgenthaler. “[The] very best cocktail use for this whiskey is in an Old Fashioned, where the bourbon is allowed to shine.”
This bottling is made at the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, with a mash bill of 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley, and uses mineral-rich, iron-free water that comes from limestone deposits under the property. The mash ferments for five to six days, which tends to be longer than the typical industry standard of around three days. The liquid is then triple-distilled in copper pot stills that are made in Scotland.
Finally, it’s matured in heat-cycled warehouses in new, charred white oak barrels that are crafted at the distillery’s own cooperage. Although the straight bourbon has no age statement, it ages between six and seven years, according to the distillery.
Although the Woodford Reserve brand was not introduced until 1996, the history of the distillery dates back more than two centuries. Around 1812, Old Oscar Pepper Distillery was established by Elijah Pepper, who eventually enlisted the help of Scottish immigrant James Crow, a doctor who has since been loosely credited with introducing the sour mash process to bourbon-making. In 1878, the distillery was purchased by French wine merchant Leopold Labrot and Frankfort, Kentucky businessman James Graham, and was renamed the Labrot and Graham Distillery.
The distillery changed hands over the next century, getting purchased by Brown-Forman in 1941 before being sold in 1971, then repurchased again by the company in 1994. Brown-Forman began selling Woodford Reserve in 1996 with the goal of making a bourbon that would be as complex as the world’s finest scotches and cognacs. Woodford has been the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby” since 1999 and has also sponsored the event since 2018.
In 2021, the distillery added three new copper pot stills and doubled its fermentation capacity. Elizabeth McCall was named Master Distiller in February 2023, following Master Distiller Emeritus Chris Morris, who served as Master Distiller from 2003 to 2023.
–Written and edited by Audrey Morgan
The Woodford Reserve Distillery, which opened as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, around 1812, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2000.
The Bottom Line
This high-quality bottling from a historic distillery and the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby” represents an excellent value. Although our reviewers differ in their impressions of its overall complexity, they agree that it shows enough versatility to work as a sipping whiskey or a mixing whiskey for classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Mint Julep.