A toasted oak barrel finish is kind of like pumpkin spice: A little bit goes a very long way and can completely dominate any other flavors, and some people (me) think it should maybe just go away. But every now and then it can be done right, with a bit of restraint, and perhaps even be forgiven. In the case of this new whiskey from Woodford Reserve, there’s so much going on that perhaps toasted oak is just the thing to bring it all together.
Woodford Reserve Toasted Oak Four Grain is the latest entry in the Distillery Series, a limited-edition collection of whiskeys that allow the Woodford team to experiment with different casks, mashbills, and flavor profiles. What we have here is a blend of the four different types of whiskey made at Woodford—bourbon, rye, wheat, and malt—that were individually aged in new charred oak barrels for five to eight years, then batched and finished in heavily toasted, lightly charred barrels for one to two years. Finally, those barrels were blended together. This also happens to be the very first Distillery Series whiskey that has Elizabeth McCall’s name on the bottle, the master distiller who took over for Chris Morris (now master distiller emeritus) in January of 2023.
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It should be noted that this is not the first time Woodford has blended together all of these styles of whiskey or used a toasted oak finish, but this does mark the first time those two things have been put together. The individual whiskeys do make themselves known, each bringing their unique flavors to the palate—the bourbon’s oaky vanilla, the rye’s pepper spice, the malt’s fruity chocolate, and the soft sweetness from the wheat whiskey. Unsurprisingly, the toasted oak finish does demand your attention, bringing layers of baking spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to the palate. Surprisingly, however, the effect is a bit more muted than you might expect, and perhaps that’s actually helpful in binding these disparate flavors together. The result is a whiskey that deserves a place in the Distillery Series, which after all is focused on boundary pushing and innovation, but might not really be necessary as a permanent member of the lineup—which it is not.
Toasted Oak Four Grain is one that dedicated Woodford fans will want to try, along with those who crave that pumpkin spice fix—sorry, baking spice fix that toasted oak provides. The whiskey is bottled at 90.4 proof and has an SRP of $60 for a 375-ml bottle, which you can maybe find online for a whole lot more than that. Give it a try if you’re curious and see where you think this whiskey stands on the toasted oak spectrum.
100: Worth trading your first born for
95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram
85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this
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