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Woodford Reserve Distillery

by Gavin D Smith, 11/08

Woodford Reserve is the smallest distillery operating in Kentucky, and is unique in using a triple distillation method. This employs three copper pot stills, built in Scotland by Forsyth's, the renowned Speyside coppersmiths . It is the only Bourbon distillery to use exclusively copper pot stills in the distillation process, the last having been the Old Crow distillery prior to its closure during Prohibition.

Woodford Reserve is operated by the Louisville-based Brown-Forman Distiller Corporation, which also owns Jack Daniels. It stands on the banks of Glenn's Creek, near the late 19th century town of Versailles, in the heart of Kentucky's 'bluegrass' thoroughbred racehorse breeding country.

Woodford Reserve traces its origins back to 1797, when Elijah Pepper moved from Virginia to Versailles, where he distilled corn whiskey in a small distillery behind the county courthouse. In 1812 he moved his operation to the present site on Glenn's Creek in order to take advantage of the excellent supply of pure limestone water.

pic courtesy Natalya Pak
   Two years after Elijah Pepper's death in 1831, his son, Oscar, hired the Scottish-born physician and chemist James Crow to work at the 'Old Pepper' distillery, later christened the 'Oscar Pepper' distillery, and the present-day Bourbon industry owes much to the work of Crow.

He had already been employed at two other Woodford County distilleries, and recognised the importance of consistency in whiskey-making, perfecting the 'sour-mash' process and discovering the benefits of maturing spirit in charred oak barrels. Crow worked as head distiller for 29 years, and the whiskey made by Crow and Pepper must have been good, as it became a favourite with such famous figures as the writers Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, not to mention the 7th US president Andrew Jackson.

The distillery left the Pepper family's ownership in 1870, and eight years later was acquired by Frankfort banker James Graham and French wine merchant Leopold Labrot who ran the plant until 1940, except for the Prohibition years, when it was closed. In 1941 Brown-Forman bought the site and more than 25,000 barrels of high quality Bourbon from Labrott & Graham for an extremely modest $75,000, but by 1970 Bourbon sales were falling, and many distilleries were being closed down. The small distillery by Glenn's Creek was no exception, and in 1972 it was sold to Freeman Hockensmith, with the proviso that Brown-Forman could buy it back at a future date.

Hockenmith proceeded to make the car fuel substitute 'gasohol' in the distillery for a short period, but when that venture failed, the distillery lay silent for 23 years. Then, in 1994, Hockensmith died, and with interest in 'small batch' Bourbon rising, Brown-Forman bought back the semi-derelict site, going on to spend $10.5 million restoring it to showpiece condition.

After almost quarter of a century, the renovated Labrott & Graham distillery reopened for business, and in 2003 the present Woodford Reserve name was adopted for both the distillery and its whiskey.

Between 40 and 50 barrels a day are filled at Woodford Reserve distillery, and to ensure consistency, the spirit produced there is blender with a quantity of Old Forrester straight Bourbon from Brown-Forman's Louisville distillery. The resultant whiskey is bottled at six to seven years of age. The mashbill comprises 72 per cent corn, 18 per cent rye and 12 per cent malted barley.
Woodford, Reserve Distiller's Select (USA)
Elegant, yet robust on the nose, perfumed, with milk chocolate raisins, dried fruit, burnt sugar, ginger, and a touch of saddle soap. Complex on the palate, too, Distillerís Select is fragrant and fruity, with raspberries, camomile and ginger. The finish displays lingering vanilla notes and peppery oak. This could almost be mistaken for a Cognac until that trademark Bourbon vanilla finish kicks in, though the vanilla is altogether more restrained than in some of Woodford Reserveís rivals. 45.2% ABV, 70cl, £24.99, Asda, Harvey Nichols, Sainsbury's, Selfridge's, Tesco, specialist whisky merchants.

Woodford Reserve Distillery
7855 McCracken Pike Versailles
Kentucky 40383 USA
Visitors welcome

Don't miss our interview with Woodford Reserve's Master Distiller, Chris Morris, when he talks to whisky-pages about making and marketing Bourbon, the drink's heritage and even the importance of Kentucky racehorses to the Woodford Reserve brand.

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