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.