Steve Crotty reviews the Seasoned Oak batch from the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection – Seasoned Oak
Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky
Woodford Reserve Distillery
Approximate price £95 – 110
I have a confession to make, dear reader. I am not the supreme connoisseur of whisky that you believe me to be. I am getting there slowly as when I review I do not sample. I do not give a review on a whisky until at least three quarters (or preferably all) of the bottle has been consumed. This, as far as I know, makes me unique in my reviews. It also means the process is expensive. Damn expensive. Therefore, that makes this Woodford Reserve easily the most expensive whisky I have consumed.
This is the fourth of the Master’s Collection series which comprise a set of unique experiments where the traditional distilling process has been tweaked in some way to offer something different to the customer. To explain this I will need to give a quick climate lesson. America = rather hot. Some of you may know that most barrels used to make whisky are left outside for a period to ‘season’, which reduces the astringency of the spirit that is poured into the barrel. As stated earlier America is quite hot, so the standard seasoning time of the barrels is a mere three to five months. The Seasoned Oak Finish laughs in the face of this puny timescale. Any barrels used in its creation have been aged for between three and five years. Unsurprisingly this has had a profound effect on the finished product.
I will always maintain that colour is in no way essential to the quality of a whisky, in fact quite the opposite as it often implies the addition of colouring caramel which does nothing to improve the taste of the whisky. The colour on this bottling however is epic. Hold it in the right light and it becomes an absurdly dark and brooding red. Clearly the barrel has bled into the whisky over the course of its maturity.
Nose it and you enter a lumber mill that has been set ablaze, the firemen putting it out having used sweetened rubbing alcohol instead of water. Whilst it is certainly a different aroma to any other whisky I have tried, at my kindest I would say that the sheer weight of the oak mutes any other smells. At my meanest I would say they simply aren’t there.
On initial tasting your tongue will recoil in terror as the oak juggernaut thunders into your consciousness, laughing as it carries on down your throat leaving behind its wooden tyre marks. To be frank the first thought I had was that this must be what varnish tastes like. Do not mistake this for a slur, as there is definitely some sweetness that lingers on the finish but its essentially oak for all three courses plus you get to eat the cheeseboard for dessert.
I have another confession to make. My initial ratings for this were quite harsh. I had it down as a low 5.5 due to its over reliance on oak and nothing else. It grew on me though as I worked my way down the bottle (some bottles grow on you, others you just want to finish and get rid of) and I realised I was missing the point. This is an experimental bottling and it’s a ‘Seasoned Oak Finish’. It does everything it is designed to do as a whisky. You want oak, this is for you. You don’t, go elsewhere. I also found myself having a begrudging respect for the way that each time you drink some you are still woefully underprepared for the oak tsunami that washes over you, even as you reach the end of the bottle.
It’s also hard not to be influenced by price. Whilst impartiality on price is of the utmost concern as a reviewer, you can’t help feeling that you want the earth to move when you buy a whisky at this price. The Seasoned Oak doesn’t provide that. It is limited by its idiosyncrasy. So as a whisky it does not represent value. As an experience however it has an oak presence I have yet to encounter in my whisky tasting so far. Therefore I have rated it on the basis that it delivers what it promises but lacks any other flavours. It also comes with a warning. For those of you thinking of adding water or even ice to reduce the ferocity of the oak I urge you not to bother buying it, as this defeats the purpose that this whisky was created for. Instead pour yourself a generous measure, sit out in your garden and allow yourself to be taking on a journey through wood. You may not have another one like it.
Overall Rating 7.5/10