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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    Yesterday, at the distillery outside Versailles, Kentucky, Woodford Reserve unveiled its long awaited four grain bourbon.

    The full name of this new product is Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The concept of the Masters Collection is that it will be occasional and very limited releases of unique 100 percent copper pot still whiskey made at the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Four Grain is the first. Only 250 cases of it will be released, at $80 a bottle. It will be 92° proof.

    The gimmick at yesterday’s event was that they had me, Gary Reagan, Jim Murray, John Hansell, Lew Bryson and a writer from the Wall Street Journal taste samples from 14 different barrels then, by our votes, we eliminated two. The twelve barrels remaining are what they are going to bottle so we helped “make” the whiskey. All of this whiskey was distilled in the Spring of 1999.

    Master Distiller Chris Morris would not reveal the exact mash bill, but did admit that the malted barley component is the Brown Forman “standard” of ten percent. Since it is bourbon it must be at least 51 percent corn, so that leaves us with 39 percent of the recipe still to pry out of him.

    Chris said their recipe was inspired by one they found from 1903. They can't say when a four grain bourbon was last produced, but most likely it was before Prohibition. At the event, they also made a lot of hay about their warehouse cycling (artificially creating a hot-cold aging cycle during the winter) and their “designer” barrels (BF is the only distiller that also owns a cooperage). The four grain formula includes a proprietary yeast strain not used for any of BF’s other whiskeys.

    The entire event was fully documented, on video and with still photographs, so the results of that promise to be pretty frightening.

    Probably the biggest attraction of this product, more so even than the four grain mash bill, is the fact that, unlike standard Woodford Reserve, this whiskey is 100 percent from the copper pot stills. That also is the most prominent characteristic of the taste. You can taste copper. The grain signature I would call muddy, as in confused. A more positive way to say it would be complex. It definitely has a unique flavor, unlike any other bourbon including Woodford itself (which contains no wheat). I don't think it will produce much demand for a mass market four grain bourbon, but in terms of showing us another possibility within the context of bourbon, it's a wonderful thing.

    I have been told by other distillers in the past that one of the obstacles to making four grain bourbon is the fact that distilleries are built with three grain mills over the cooker. As Chris pointed out, all they have to do is put the wheat and rye together into the small grains bin in the appropriate quantities.

    Although it's not supposed to be in stores until October, I expect there will be some four grain at the festival next month, probably at the gala if nowhere else.

  2. #2
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    Probably the biggest attraction of this product, more so even than the four grain mash bill, is the fact that, unlike standard Woodford Reserve, this whiskey is 100 percent from the copper pot stills. That also is the most prominent characteristic of the taste. You can taste copper. The grain signature I would call muddy, as in confused. A more positive way to say it would be complex. It definitely has a unique flavor, unlike any other bourbon including Woodford itself (which contains no wheat). I don't think it will produce much demand for a mass market four grain bourbon, but in terms of showing us another possibility within the context of bourbon, it's a wonderful thing.
    Not the most glowing review I've ever read but not all that unexpected either. None the less, I'm interested enough to try a bottle if I should happen across one.

    Cheers,

    Ken

  3. #3
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    One thing I wonder about is if 6 years is long enough to age a pot still whiskey (think of the much longer periods Scotch malt whisky is aged). The coppery elements might dissipate over 8-10 years or more. And a lot gets into the spirit with stills as small as Versailles' and 3 to boot. Yes, U.S. whiskey ages faster than Scots whisky due to climate differences and use of new charred barrels, but still... I have noticed the copper more in recent batches of WR, presumably from ever higher percentages of pot still. I think the best WR would go easy on the pot still. I have seen the benefits of this by commingling 80% pre-pot still WR with 20% of a current bottling.

    Gary

  4. #4
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    Objectively, you may be right, but we've all been clamoring for them to release some 100 percent pot still whiskey, so we can't very well complain when they do. There probably are a lot of differences between the way WR is making bourbon in pot stills and the way the Scots make scotch.

  5. #5
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    I am not complaining, I am saying that based on my taste impressions, the concept of quality based on a heavy, or 100%, pot still component aged 6 years may not be the way to go. There is a noticeable "congeneric" element deriving from the pot still that 6 years may not modify sufficiently. Scotch malt takes a minimum of 10-12 years. I don't see the essential differences between the two methods of distillation. The only one I am aware of is that the full mash is distilled in Versailles, not a wash (filtered). I don't think that makes much difference to the spirit when aged and if anything I wonder if the Versailles method may create more flavouring elements in the new spirit than the Scots way. Yes, new wood and Kentucky heat probably mature whiskey faster than reused wood and the cool Scottish climate, but how much faster? Even column still bourbon is preferred by many at 8 years and older. So much more so, one would think, for a pot still spirit..

    I do however plump for pot still - added to column still whisky. That was the original concept and the early post-90 batches were great but recent ones impress much less. My view is to keep mingling the two but keep the pot still in rein. To me you get the best result that way and the distiller can make more of it, for less. Win win.

    Gary


  6. #6
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    My only thought is that the way the mash is shot into the beer still so it swirls around the perimeter may tend to scour the surface more than a stationary wash does, thus putting even more copper into play. Distillation proof may play a part, to the extent it differs, and the different grains, particularly corn, produce different congeners than malt, which may react with the copper differently.

  7. #7
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    Chuck, or anyone who is "in the know" re: the new WR 4 grain product, any comparisons to be made to Corner Creek with respect to taste and/or mashbill? Not sure if we're in the minority, but we actually enjoy the Corner Creek. Based on Chuck's comments, we assume there's a significant distinction to be made with respect to the "copper" component of the taste experience.

    Thanks for the info - based on the review and the price, we'll not be actively seeking this out, but it's an interesting development.

  8. #8
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    Corner Creek is a nice bourbon. From tasting, I can't say it is a (let's coin a term) blended four-grain, and I can't say it's not. It tastes like a nice, fairly mild bourbon. It wouldn't surpise me to learn it's actually a wheater. It also wouldn't surprise me to learn its a low-rye bourbon like Old Charter.

    You are right about the difference between it and WRMC4G, where the biggest thing you taste is the pot still influence. Another difference is age, eight years versus six, especially considering Gary's reasonable theory that pot still whiskey takes longer to mature. On the other hand, WR cycles, so maybe this is less of a factor.

    As I said, though, the CC is a nice bourbon, but it is immediately recognizable as a bourbon. The WRMC4G has a distinctive taste, unlike any bourbon you've ever had before.

    So, I wouldn't say there is any similarity between CC and WRMC4G.

  9. #9

    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    ...Probably the biggest attraction of this product, more so even than the four grain mash bill, is the fact that, unlike standard Woodford Reserve, this whiskey is 100 percent from the copper pot stills. That also is the most prominent characteristic of the taste. You can taste copper. The grain signature I would call muddy, as in confused. A more positive way to say it would be complex...
    Chuck and I swapped tastes at the Gazebo during the recent Festival -- he got some Old Fitz BIB distilled in '58 and bottled in '64, I got a bit of Woodford Reserve's 4-grain. I'm afraid I likely confirmed to him that I'm a fool when my best response to his query about what I thought was, "I don't know what to make of it." Alas, in memory, I can't today come up with a much better answer.
    I might differ a bit with Chuck -- though I know what he means, I think -- when he says the bourbon is "muddy, as in confused". Instead, I think the problem I had with it is that I could differentiate all the grains, as they seem unblended, or unconfused: "Let's see, there's the corn, there's the rye, the wheat is there...".
    I really hadn't given much thought to the role of the copper stills until rereading Chuck's original post here, and I'll just admit it didn't register while tasting it, either. But I do recall a certain metallic something in it that I've only found once before in a bourbon -- an Elijah Craig 12yo bottling which seemed so unoaked and steely that it tasted like it was interacting with my dental fillings.
    Anyway, thanks, Chuck, for the tasting. While I understand the $80 price tag in terms of newness and availability, you saved me the cost of a Pappy 20!

  10. #10
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    Re: Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Four Grain

    Here's a link to a news article about it:

    http://www.thenews.org/media/paper651/ne...y-1004224.shtml

    In the article they state, "Dusting off a pre-Prohibition recipe, Brown-Forman Corp. has created a distinctively different bourbon at its Woodford Reserve distillery, a place packed with whiskey-making history amid picturesque thoroughbred farms.

    Anyone have any further info on this pre-Prohibition recipe?

 

 

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