Woodford Reserve tasting

Woodford Reserve tasting of epic proportions, Shirt Bar, Sydney

Ah Woodford Reserve. You bring back some vivid memories for me.

We enjoyed each other’s company a little too much on our last encounter though. It was great while it lasted – I had an absolute blast – though I spent much of the following day cursing your name and I wasn’t in a hurry to see you again.

That was unfair of me though. It wasn’t your fault, it was mine, so I’m really glad we had the chance to make up. And what better way to make up than with a bourbon tasting bonanza at Sydney’s Shirt Bar hosted by the incredibly knowledgeable, Mr Stuart Reeves.

Woodford - Pouring

A bit of a forewarning here – If you’re not one for the details and a bit of a story, feel free to skip the wordy bits and start reading again when you get to the pretty pictures – this post’s a bit long. 

Woodford Reserve: The distillery

I’m a bit of a sucker for details. So it was a good thing that our host for the evening, Stuart, had a wealth of knowledge to impart. As told by Stuart, here’s a bit of info you’re probably not going to find on Woodford’s website:

  • For a brief period of time in the early 1870’s, Colonel EH Taylor (a name Rye whiskey fans might recognise) took over the distillery and patented a heat cycling process that’s still used in Woodford’s warehouses today (more on this in a sec)
  • Woodford’s current owners, Brown Forman, have actually had two bites of the cherry – purchasing the distillery for the first time in 1941 and again around 1993/ 1994. Reason for the first sale? The bourbon slump of the 1960’s.
  • During the above period, the distillery actually lay dormant from around from around 1970 until 1993 while under the ownership of someone who had intentions of turning it into a chemical plant of some description

As an aside, while absorbing these details like a fresh shamwow, we were all treated to a classic Woodford Reserve Old Fashioned – well executed by Shirt Bar’s crack team of bar tenders.

Woodford - OFs

Creating Woodford Reserve

At one point in time, I thought bourbon was just bourbon. But just like the Scotch whisky industry, the differences in production from distillery to distillery can be truly fascinating and they all factor into creating a unique product.

The first thing to note about Woodford Reserve is their standard grain bill, which is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% barley. That’s a decent proportion of rye as far as bourbons go and Stuart brought along this neat visual representation.

Woodford - Grainbill

Here’s a few other interesting things that make Woodford, well, Woodford!

  • As opposed to using column stills (which are standard in the bourbon industry), Woodford use copper pot stills imported from Scotland (the same kind of still used in the production of Scotch whisky)
  • Woodford Reserve is the first and only triple distilled, copper-pot bourbon available in the US.
  • Woodford Reserve use only 6% sour in their mash, which means 94% of each distillation comes from fresh grain (industry standard for sour is around the 30% mark). Not sure what I mean by sour mash? Check this out.
  • Brown Forman own their own cooperage and make their own barrels – a whopping 2,900 of them a day! The number of those earmarked for Woodford Reserve? Around 100.
  • Those 100 barrels are special though – they’re the only barrels out there in the bourbon world where the heads of the barrel are toasted and charred as well as the barrel itself (I wonder if Ardbeg got this idea from them?)
  • Maturation warehouses are made of limestone rock and are heated in the winter with steam coils (enter EH Taylor). Why? To speed up maturation and keep it going at a constant rate, right throughout the year.
  • This takes its toll on cask volumes though. A staggering 50% of volume is lost to the Angels over seven to eight years.
  • One last one for the Scotch fans – some of Woodford’s barrels end up cradling the nectar of Balvenie and Glenfiddich.

What we tasted

If there’s a definition of a bourbon bonanza, then this is probably it. The line up for the evening included no less than six of Woodford Reserve’s finest, plus a few extras.

New make spirit

First up was Woodford Reserve new make spirit, also known as ‘White Dog’.

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, the label was misprinted and had you seeing double, before you even tasted it. Perhaps if you finish the bottle is become clearer?

Woodford - New make

On the nose, I got some sweet spirit notes, spice, some nutty herbal notes and a young grappa/ white rum kind of effect. There weren’t really any surprises on the palate, with the new make tasting clean, dry and spicy with some faint herbal flavours on the finish.

After being triple distilled, I expected their new make to have a really high alcohol content (ABV) and indeed it does when it comes off the third distillation at around 79% ABV (158 proof).

However, it was interesting to hear that they actually dilute the new make down to 55% ABV (or 110 proof) before casking it, as they believe it matures better and gets more flavour out of the cask, needing less dilution at the end!

Distiller’s Select

Next up was their flagship expression, Distiller’s Select. A seven to eight year old bourbon made with their standard grain bill, triple pot distilled and bottled at 43.2% ABV (I believe it’s bottled at 45.2% in the US?).

Woodford - Distillers Select

I got some lovely caramel notes on the nose, vanilla, orange, some nutty spice, woody furniture polish and grainy cereal swirled throughout. I found the Distiller’s Select to be a tad thin on the palate, big wave of spice and not quite as sweet as the nose suggested. Pleasant burnt caramel and woody notes, minus any bitterness faded to a medium length finish, mainly concentrated in the mouth.

It was around this point that Stuart introduced some of the sensory tasting items he brought along, aimed at highlighting certain flavour characteristics. I picked up on the orange notes a fair bit in the Distiller’s Select, while the tart dried cranberries really emphasized the sweet caramel notes.

Woodford - Sensory

Before I move on from this one, ever wondered where the grain comes from? Probably not.. but I did and I can report the following: The corn comes from Kentucky, rye from Manitoba and barley from Wisconsin.

Maple Wood

Now we’re into the big league – the first of the Master’s Collection bottlings on taste. Created as one-offs, the Master’s Collection range is never intended to be repeated.

Released in 2010, the Maple Wood expression starts life as the standard Distiller’s Select, before being finished for around 18 months in a toasted sugar maple barrel.

Woodford - Maple

On the nose I got some additional sweetness over the Distiller’s Select, but not in a caramel sense. More of a dark fruity syrupy sweetness, with a bit less spice. This translated to fuller palate, hints of sugared plums, fresh toffee, vanilla, cereal grains and restrained spice. At 47.2% ABV, the finish was noticeably longer.

Aged Cask Rye

Released in 2011, the Aged Cask Rye was sold in a twin pack with the New Cask Rye (coming up), so you could taste them side-by-side and taste the influence of the cask on the base spirit. A pretty neat concept in my opinion!

Woodford - Aged Rye

Made from a combination of both malted and un-malted rye, this represented another first for the distillery, being the first triple distilled 100% rye whiskey made in the world.

I got some interesting grassy notes on the nose, vanilla sweetness, crisp green apple, pineapple and hints of spice. Stuart likened this one to a young Calvados (apple brandy) and I think he was pretty spot-on with that analogy. On the palate, clean, mild citrus, dry, spice, some pepper and overall quite mild. I’ve never had a rye like this before!

New Cask Rye

Now for the comparison – exactly the same spirit as the previous version, but this time, matured in a fresh charred oak barrel and bottled at 46.2% ABV.

Woodford - New Cask Rye

Much sweeter on the nose, return of the Woodford caramel notes, vanilla, sweet balsamic, lots of vibrant spice, soy and hints of crisp apple. I thought this had a thicker mouth-feel, loads more caramel on the palate, spice, woody oaky flavours and a touch of cinnamon.

Interesting tidbit on these twins – although they both weigh in at 46.2% ABV, they actually entered the cask at a surprising low 43% ABV!

Four Wood

This was an interesting one. Released in 2012, as the name suggests, four different types of wood come into play.

As with the Maple Wood, this expression starts life as the standard Distiller’s Select. After seven to eight years though, a proportion is placed in a toasted sugar maple barrel for a year, another portion in ex-Oloroso sherry casks for six months and the remainder in Portuguese ruby port pipes for six months.

In the end, it’s all mingled together, bottled at 47.2% ABV and presented as the Woodford Reserve Four Wood.

Woodford - Four Wood

Sounds like it could have been the makings of total disaster, however it’s surprisingly balanced. Clear hints of port and sherry on the nose, some lovely raisin notes, vanilla, spice, caramel and still clearly Woodford. On the palate, I got some big spice upfront, followed by soaked raisin sweetness, vanilla and some malty cereal. Big sherried whisky fans would appreciate this one I reckon.

Classic Malt

To end the night, the one I had been eagerly awaiting! Released in 2013, the Classic Malt is essentially a single malt whisky, but made it the US by one of the most innovative bourbon distilleries. The mashbill is 100% malted barley, it’s triple distilled in copper pot stills and aged in used, ex-bourbon casks before being bottled at 45.2% ABV.

Woodford - Classic Malt

I got some serious grassy, grainy cereal notes on the nose. Lots of barley and freshly grated green apple. Reasonably thin on the palate, still quite grainy and grassy, but with an underlying sweetness and some vanilla. Not really to my taste, but quite delicate whisky, I mean, whiskey.

Andrew Derbidge, Cellarmaster of the SMWS was also in the room and likened this expression to an Auchentoshan single malt from the Lowlands of Scotland. Right on the money with that comparison in my opinion.

Some final thoughts

I’m not sure how impressive this lineup would look to someone in The States, but I have to say that we were mighty privileged to be tasting this number of Master’s Collection releases.

Woodford - Group

These releases are something of a rarity in Australia. You’d struggle to find these behind a bar if you wanted to taste them and if you managed to find a bottle for sale, you’d need to hand over $200+.

If that wasn’t quite enough, we each left with a goody bag comprising a Distiller’s Select miniature and the smallest bottle of bitters I’ve ever seen – perfect for mixing an Old Fashioned on the weekend.

Woodford - Goodies

Thanks to Stuart for presenting a highly informative tasting, sharing the story of Woodford Reserve and these fantastic bourbons (and whiskeys) with us. A big thanks to Shirt Bar as well for hosting another great evening – check out their website for info on their upcoming tastings.

Aberlour 16 year old double cask

16 years old, 43% ABV, Oloroso and American Oak casks, Speyside, Scotland

The Aberlour distillery is nestled away in the Speyside region of Scotland in the town of Aberlour – a couple of minutes down the road from Craigellachie.

Aberlour 16

Interestingly though, on the package of the 16 year old double cask, Aberlour refer to themselves as both a Highland and Speyside distillery.

Aberlour 16 tube

The bright copper-coloured 16 year old double cask pictured here is a marriage of two different whiskies.

Aberlour take a whisky that’s been maturing for at least 16 years in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks and a whisky that’s been maturing for at least 16 years in first-fill American Oak. The two are then married together for a period of around three months in a marrying tun before being bottled as the 16 year old double cask.

Aberlour 16 seal

Just as you’re about to open the bottle for the first time, you’re met with this little paper seal scribed with a simple description of what you’re about to taste. I think it’s a nice little touch. (In case you’re wondering, the liquid inside does indeed live up to the description – read on)

Did you know…

The town of Aberlour is also the home of Walker’s Shortbread. I don’t know about your part of the world, but at home in Sydney, there always seemed to be a tin or box of Walker’s Shortbread in our house around Christmas time. Might have to pair one with a dram of Aberlour 16 to see how it goes!


Initially quite fresh and floral – notes of soft vanilla, light spice, green apples, citrus and gentle sweetness. The nose sweetens after some glass/air time with some malty honey notes showing and something a bit zesty and bitter – orange marmalade comes to mind. A pretty well balanced nose in my opinion.


A nice medium oily mouth feel on entry – it has a nice weight to it for a 43% whisky. Gentle spice and sweetness come out first, followed by some of those citrus/bitter marmalade flavours. The sweetness and vanilla aren’t as strong as I would have expected from the nose, but they’re still there.  Overall, quite light and soft on the palate.


The 16 year old finishes with medium warmth and light malty sweetness contrasted with a fair bit of oaky bitter spice.


With little debate, the cask strength A’bunadh is the most well-known and talked about whisky in Aberlour’s current line up. But I think this is a really underrated gem and one that’s definitely worth exploring.

If A’bunadh is the heavyweight bigger brother packed with boisterous pointed flavours, then the 16 year old double cask is its nimbler sibling with rounder, softer, more harmonious flavours. A well-made high quality whisky at a pretty good price point.

If you’re a fan of A’bunadh and have been wondering about the other offerings in the Aberlour stable – maybe it’s time you gave the 16 year old double cask a go.

As a random side note, this bottle has to have the best sealing cork I’ve come across!

The best of the rest

What better way to spend a weeknight than with some fine whisky. That’s exactly how a recent Wednesday evening panned out for me, with the Oak Barrel in Sydney holding their final whisky masterclass for the year – The best of the rest.

The Oak Barrel

Throughout the year, Dave (the Oak Barrel’s grand whisky master – probably not his title, but we’ll pretend it is) puts on a series of different masterclasses and 2013 saw some stunners. Among others, there was the Glendronach single cask masterclass at the beginning of the year. The smoke stack and smoke signal classes, exploring all things peaty (not just Islay peat) and the sherry and sherried whisky class – pairing sherried whiskies with their sherry counterparts (think fino, oloroso, pedro ximenez etc.)

As the year draws to an end though, there were some great whiskies discovered in 2013 that hadn’t had their chance to shine, so this was their night. Here are some short notes on the six tasted.

Powers John’s Lane
12 years old, 46% ABV, Bourbon & Oloroso sherry cask, single pot still, Ireland

First cab off the rank was one I’d head of, but never considered trying. Not that I have anything against Irish whiskey, but I think sometimes it can be really easy to get caught up in hype surrounding Scottish single malts and inadvertently ignore some of the other fantastic whiskies out there. Thankfully, this single pot still Irish whiskey brought that to my attention and has made sure that I wont be making that mistake again!


On the nose, this Powers was quite soft and creamy, yet fruity (in a fresh fruit salad kind of way). This was followed by some whiffs of spice (think cinnamon) and a hint of honey. A really enjoyable, delicate nose on this one for sure. The palate blows you away – coating your tongue with rich, oily fruit and big cinnamon and spice notes. This fades to a creamy vanilla and subtle sweetness on the finish. So surprising given the delicate nose!

Dave really nailed it when he simply described this one as ‘elegant’.

Adelphi Longmorn
1992, 21 years old, 52.4% ABV, American Oak ex-sherry cask, Oak Barrel Sydney exclusive, Scotland

Adelphi Longmorn

Adelphi are known for some of the finest independent bottlings out there and this one was no exception, bottled exclusively for the Oak Barrel in Sydney. As far as I’m aware, they’re the only bottle shop in Australia that’s had their own bottling done, so it’s pretty special!

It was a great example of an older Longmorn from the days when their stills were coal fired (ie. when some poor bloke had to shovel mounds of coal into a fire under the still to keep it running).

On the nose, the main note I got was sourness. Not in an unpleasant way, but think sour green apples in candy format crossed with apple cider vinegar and hints of toffee sweetness. I’ve never nosed a whisky like this before – really quite interesting. The nose translated to massively palate – big initial alcohol spice, followed by chewy toffee and mild oak notes fading to a creamy soft finish.

Glendronach Cask Strength
Batch 1, released 2012, NAS, 54.8% ABV, Oloroso & Pedro Ximenez cask, Scotland

Glendronach CS

Boom! (yes, I did actually write that in my whisky ledger) This has a rich nose. Think high cacao dark chocolate, rich raisins and leather. Despite a higher ABV than the Longmorn right before it, the alcohol really wasn’t that apparent on the nose. This huge nose carries through to the palate, with plenty of dark fruits and cinnamon spice.

Interestingly, Glendronach spirit is actually slightly peated to around 14 parts per million (ppm) – peat monsters like Ardbeg and Laphroaig are around 45 ppm – yet time in quality sherry casks really pulls it back and takes away that peat edge.

Heartwood Convict Redemption
Batch 1, bottle No. 72, released 2013, 12 years old, 72.5% ABV, Port cask, Australia

I guess you can think of Heartwood as an Australian independent bottler; they buy up some highest quality casks they can find then mature some of the finest Tasmanian whiskies in those casks, bottling them when they think they’re just right.


That ABV is not a typo (check the picture!), The Convict Redemption was indeed bottled at a humungous 72.5%. How’s that so? It turns out the angels in Tasmania are a bit different to those in Scotland and like to help themselves to a big chunk of water each year. This was originally casked at around 63%, but after 12 years of maturation it lost more water content than alcohol, resulting in this massive ABV.

Very expressive on the nose. There’s no hiding from that alcohol, but you also get some earthy notes, rich fruits from the port cask maturation and weirdly, a hint of garlic? Yes, garlic! The garlic doesn’t carry through to the palate (thankfully), but that massive ABV does, stunning your tongue and making you salivate, helping release those chewy toffee and fruit notes hiding underneath.

I must admit, this was a little bit too full-on for me, but I can understand why this is sold out and has a local cult following. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for future Heartwood releases.

Glendronach 1978 single cask
1978, 33 years old, Cask No. 1068, 52.9% ABV, Oloroso sherry puncheon, Scotland

Next up was the 1978 single cask Glendronach, which had me all kinds of excited.

Glendronach 1978

Look at that coca-cola colour! If I were to try and sum up the nose on this in one word, I would simply say ‘deep’. I felt like I couldn’t jam my nose deep enough into that glass, I just wanted to nose it more and more and more.

I don’t know that I ever really understood the concept of a ‘complex nose’, but after nosing this, I fell like I finally get it. The more you sniffed, the more the nose changed and the more you got out of it – and not just one scent profile. Think kiwi fruit, rich figs, dark chocolate, wet brown sugar and antique furniture – yes, you really could smell those things. Quite amazing really.

This translated to rich, yet soft palate that started off with an almond nutty-bitterness, followed by rich red winter fruit and brown sugar (minus the sweetness – if that’s possible?) You really could get lost in this whisky.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm
1st release 2013, NAS (5 years old), 46% ABV, Oloroso sherry cask, Scotland

The final whisky of the night was the recently released Kilchoman Loch Gorm. Kilchoman is the first distillery to be opened on the island of Islay on 124 years and their young whiskies have come out swinging. I first became acquainted when I met their Machir Bay and it well and truly took me by surprise. So when I heard about this new offering, matured in oloroso sherry casks for five years, before a further two months in fresh sherry casks, I couldn’t wait to try it.

Loch Gorm

I approached this expecting something like Ardbeg Uigeadail – sherry and peat – and I was way off the mark. Despite that amazingly rich sherried colour, the nose is surprisingly void of sherry notes?! Instead, I got rich peat smoke, almost bbq like with some meaty notes in there and some saltiness.

Interestingly, the sherry influence pops up and says hello when you taste it – rich sherry sweetness, smoke and tobacco flavours fading to a long, lingering wood smoke finish. This one really, really took me by surprise. The Kilchoman range is a great example of how good young whisky can be.


What a great way to round out the year. The Powers was the biggest surprise for me and I’ve no doubt I’ll add a bottle to the cabinet at some point. But the 1978 Glendronach was the highlight of the evening for me. Not because it was old, not because it was rare and not because it was expensive. But because it really was an eye-opening whisky, with so many layers and just so much going on – something you don’t encounter often and are never sure when (or if) you’ll ever encounter again.

Thanks again for your time and effort Dave. See you in 2014!

Nant Sherry Cask

Distillery bottling, 43% ABV, cask No. 31, bottle No. 39, NAS, Central Highlands, Tasmania

Seeing as though The Whisky Ledger is based in Australia, I thought it would be fitting to make one of the first entries a local whisky. This little gem hails from Australia’s only ‘highland’ distillery, Nant, which can be found in a quaint little Tasmanian town called Bothwell.

After heading an hour north of Hobart, you put your faith in your GPS and turn off a sealed road onto a slightly dodgy-looking dirt and gravel track. After a bit, your GPS starts blinking and telling you that you’re no longer driving on a road of any description. Stones start to flick up and clank against the side of your car and you start thinking about that little clause in your hire-car contract about avoiding roads like this… then before you know it, you’re greeted by this.


I could go on for pages about the distillery itself, it’s just spectacular and has some great history behind it. I’ll save that for another time though, as this post is all about the liquid.

Nant bottle

The Nant single malts have an almost apothecary styled presentation, not all that dissimilar to the Elements of Islay bottling. I like the fact they’ve gone down this path with a squat, broad bottle – something a bit different to your classic taller single malt bottles.

Nant label

This particular bottle was from an American oak sherry cask, which was cut down and re-coopered in Australia to a size of 100 litres. The labels are hand numbered with batch and bottle numbers, so you really know that you’re about to sample some small-batch, craft distilling.


Easy to tell it’s a sherry cask, but quite different from the sherried nose you get on a Scottish single malt – it’s sweeter, lighter and slightly creamy – not that all out rich red-fruit kind of nose. You could almost say it’s got sherried-bourbon characteristics, which could have something to do with the fact it’s matured in an American Oak cask (albeit, an ex-sherried one). Really easy to nose this one for a while.


The nose carries through to the palate pretty well – nice medium mouth feel to it with some oils, initial sweetness, followed by spice and light alcohol burn. This release was pretty young (around three to four years), but it certainly doesn’t lack character.


The palate fades reasonably quickly to a long and slowly warming finish – you get this great, tingle at the front of your tongue, accompanied by a slightly creamy sherry coating at the back that just lasts and lasts.

This bottle has been open for around a year and has really evolved. At first it was a bit on the thin side and the younger spirit shone through, but with some air it’s really opened up and matured. It’s got some nice body to it now and those creamy sherry notes have become more pronounced.

I recently had the pleasure of re-trying their bourbon barrel cask-strength (which rates in the mid-90s by Jim Murray) and a port-cask version, bottled at 48% which had a pretty amazing palate to it.

There’s some really good stuff coming out of them there hills – one to keep an eye on for sure.