Whiskey Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Cherry Wood Smoked Barley

, | November 2, 2017

Born in 2006, Woodford Reserve’s Master Collection affords Woodford Reserve’s master distiller Chris Morris an opportunity to take advantage of the modern distillery’s capabilities by creating small, one-off batches of unique whiskies. Previous years have brought us a brandy cask-finished edition, an 1838-style white corn whiskey, and a four grain, among others. The series was inspired by the experimental nature of bourbon pioneers Oscar Pepper and James Crow, who spent the early 1800’s developing recipes at the Woodford County Distillery. It is said that during this time, Pepper and Crow refined techniques in all facets of distilling including yeast propagation, mashing, and experimental oak aging.

Cherry Wood Smoked Barley marks the 12th release in the Master’s Collection series, and showcases two unique deviations from bourbon norms. First, the malted barley used in the mash was not standard kiln-preserved malt, but dried instead using the smoke from burning cherry wood, a technique most popular with German brewers and barbecue pit masters. In addition to the smoky twist, the percentage of barley in the mash bill is a soaring 30%, much higher than your average American bourbons, which usually clock in at about 10-15% malted barley.

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Cherry Wood Smoked Barley

Tasting Notes: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Cherry Wood Smoked Barley

Vital Stats: 90.4 proof. Made from 30% barley. $99/750ml

Appearance: Pours a light and sunny glowing copper color, complete with sturdy, cascading legs and a wobbly posture showing viscosity. This whiskey is quite bright and brilliant, creating an inviting air about it. Some more burnt straw highlights are hidden at the edges of the liquid.

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Nose: Immediate swirls and sniffs cause a sort of savory salivation, something umami lurks in the initial first grand whiffs. Seeking out standard vanillas and cookies and baked goods in the aroma here seems a fruitless effort, as notes of soy sauce, coriander, and salted mixed nuts leap out strongest. Something smoky is there, but less like burning embers and more like barbecue meats with a stonefruit glaze. The sweetness of the stonefruit plays off a deep brown caramel note that, between the lines, reminds the drinker that this is, indeed, a glass of bourbon.

Palate: While the smell sets you up with the promise of salty weirdness, the taste thankfully presents itself in a more cohesive manner. The first sip is dry, roasty, heavy with minerality, and carries a pleasant astringency, not unlike an American single malt whiskey. The palate coating then pulls out more classic aromas with further sips – the nose becomes straight marshmallow once the palate adjusts to the bitterness of the actual liquid. Smokiness creeps up on you like chili burn- it is most noticeable a minute or two after sipping cessation, and is unfortunately more of a distraction than part of an inline drinking experience.

The finish comes across a bit too ashy and falls in contrast to the buildup of brown sugar flavor, which also appears late sip.

The Takeaway

I admire this series of experimentation and have enjoyed, or at least appreciated, every one I’ve tried in the past. Woodford’s Cherry Wood Smoked is no different, although I’d plug it squarely into the ‘appreciated’ group. It has its little pockets of brilliance and adventure, but falls slightly short on refinement and drinkability. Recommended surely for fans of drier, spicier bourbons and single malt drinkers looking for something different.

User Review
2.85 (41 votes)

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