Woodford Reserve is a Kentucky bourbon, produced in Woodford County. The brand is owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation, manufacturer of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey and GlenDronach single malt Scotch whisky.
Distilling began in 1812 and the building is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the visitor centre welcomes up to 10,000 guests each year.
The grain mash bill is made up of 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley. The corn adds sweetness, the rye brings a little spice and the malt adds nuttiness. Maturation in oak barrels adds sweet vanilla and caramel.
The distillery favours a long fermentation process using its own unique yeast strain. This helps to create depth of character and a complex range of flavours in the whiskey Those flavours will be retained throughout distillation.
Whiskey used in the Woodford Reserve range is produced in pot stills and column stills. The column stills are installed at Brown-Forman’s Shively distillery in Louisville. The desired flavour profile is achieved through the careful vatting of both spirits.
The whiskey is aged in new, charred, American white oak barrels. A team of coopers craft, toast and char bourbon barrels at the company's own cooperage. The casks are then laid to rest in unique heat-cycled warehouses that maintain an even temperature throughout the year.
There is a wide range of bottlings available. The Woodford Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the flagship expression. Other releases include Double-Oaked, Rye Whiskey, Malt Whiskey and the Baccarat Edition. The Master's Collection has featured whiskies finished in wine and cognac casks.
The distillery was originally established in 1812 by Elijah Pepper, eight miles from the town of Versailles. When Elijah died in 1831, the business was inherited by his son, Oscar. After the distillery had been completely rebuilt, it was renamed the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery.
During the 1830s, the distillery was run by Master Distiller, Dr James Crow. Sometimes referred to as the Father of Bourbon, Crow developed some of the methods that led to the legal definition of “straight” bourbon. Among other things, he was often credited with developing the sour mash process. His Old Crow bourbon was considered one of the finest of its time.
In 1878, the distillery was bought by Leopold Labrot and James Graham. The Leopold and Graham Distillery traded until the company went bankrupt in 1940, a victim of wartime restrictions.
The dormant distillery was taken on by Brown-Forman who operated it until 1968. A market dip saw the site mothballed and sold in 1971. However, Brown-Forman bought it back twenty-three years later.
After a multimillion-pound refurbishment, the distillery was back in production. Brown-Forman launched the Woodford Reserve bourbon brand in 1996. In the beginning, whiskey used in the brand was produced at Shively. It wasn't until 2003 that liquor from Woodford Reserve made it into the bottle.
Since 1999, Woodford Reserve has been the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. Special limited edition bottlings are released each year to mark the occasion.