My little sister and I grew up in the relatively small town of Maysville, Kentucky. The closest “big” cities were Lexington and Cincinnati, each about an hour away. After graduating from Mason County High School (Go Royals!) and earning her degree from Transylvania University (We’re a real school, damnit!), she settled down in the heart of the Bluegrass, the county seat of Woodford County: Versailles.
Founded in 1792, Versailles was named for the town in France as a way of honoring General Lafayette. Of course, we Kentuckians don’t care much for fancy French pronunciation, so we all say ver-sails instead of ver-si.
A few years after the town was founded, and right up the street from where my sister’s house would eventually be built, Elijah Pepper set up a distilling operation. In 1838, the distillery building was built that is now the oldest distillery in operation in Kentucky. In 1878, the Pepper family sold the distillery to Leopold Labrot and James Graham. Labrot and Graham owned the distillery until 1941, when it was sold to Brown-Forman. They mothballed the distillery and sold it in 1971. Then, in 1998, the repurchased and refurbished the site. Three years later, in 1996, Brown-Forman introduced Woodford Reserve, a small-batch bourbon bearing the Labrot & Graham name.
In recent years, Woodford Reserve has released a number of Master’s Collection expressions. These have been distilled in traditional pot stills and finished in some unique manner. The two Master’s Collection bottles on my shelf are the seasoned oak finish and the maple finish. The other night, Black Belt Kurt came over and we opened up the Woodford.
First up was the seasoned oak finish. So after the standard aging in new charred oak barrels, this bourbon was finished in barrels made of oak that had itself been aged, or seasoned, for an extra long time. This one has a very deep amber color, almost like maple syrup. The nose doesn’t offer much beyond a bit of oak and maybe a hint of nuttiness. The flavor was warm and sweet with plenty of toasted oak. Kurt compared it to syrup. The finish was warm and a little spicy with a nice caramel note.
Next we opened up the maple finish. For this one, they actually made barrels out of maple in which to finish the bourbon. The color on the maple finish Woodford is a little lighter than the seasoned oak finish, but still a satisfying golden hue. I got a lot of brown sugar on the nose. The flavor was very rich with a lot of honey and vanilla. Kurt agreed that it was sweet and quite smooth. The finish was a pleasant caramel with just a hint of citrus.
Now I just need to get my hands on some of their Master’s Collection Four Grain.