Little changes can really add up. Woodford Reserve was the first bourbon I made a scoresheet for, which is fairly appropriate given how I found out about them. Before getting into whiskey, I remember looking through my parents’ cabinet and finding a slightly bulbous glass with the Woodford Reserve logo etched into it. The design essentially said “simple and quality” to my unbeknownst mind, so when I did start delving into whiskey, Woodford wasn’t just one of the first I noticed, but one of the first I bought.
To this day I regard Woodford Reserve as one of the quintessential starting bourbons. I certainly prefer other brands and expressions, but I will always regard this standard offering from Brown-Forman as a gauge for aspiring drinkers. It checks many of the essential boxes for a quality bourbon while possessing some slightly unique characteristics to help it stand out. Despite fitting in with its sibling brands like Old Forester, Coopers’ Craft and even Jack Daniel’s, it stands out thanks to feeling like a Brown-Forman product, while also avoiding a couple potential pitfalls. But enough generalized talk, let’s get to my tasting notes.
Nose: Moderate and well rounded. Classic Brown-Forman essence; caramel, dark & golden fruit blend with hints of rye bread, corn and mildly musty oak. I get some molasses throughout it all, but without that pungent funk.
Palate: Has more heat than the nose lets on. Light-medium body. Grainy flavor up front with bitter fruit before quickly smoothing out to corn dustiness. Some general, mild Brown-Forman dessert notes like musty oak, chocolate and brown sugar. Maybe a hint of rye as well.
Finish: Short and oily. Starts out sweet with some earthiness followed by a brief play of mild oak tannins and sweetness going back and forth.
I’d be hard-pressed to find a more middle-of-the-road bourbon than this. For around $30, it’s right at the price point where bourbon stops feeling light and thin, giving you an idea of what a proper, quality pour feels and tastes like. Reliable and unassuming, Woodford Reserve may not be an expression I regularly reach for, but I’d definitely include it in a line-up for anyone between the point of bourbon novice and whiskey intermediate.