Woodford Reserve has played a small, marginally curious role in my whiskey journey. When I bought my first bottle my naïve mind thought “I’m in for the good stuff.” For most everyday drinkers, a bottle of standard Woodford Reserve is ample when tasking with pointing out a quality whiskey. This is also why my second (and last) bottle was purchased when I first had my girlfriend over for dinner. We sipped some while cooking steak, so I have some nostalgia about it. Since then I’ve come to the realization that Woodford Reserve exists in a rather precarious position. Although good, I don’t hold it to the same pedigree I once did, and the brand’s more premium offerings tend to be slightly allocated and priced rather steeply. The options boil down to the readily available and not unreasonably priced Double Oaked, and the various Master’s Collection expressions which fetch over $100 per bottle.
Fortunately for me, a fellow whiskey enthusiast was kind enough to send me a sample of last year’s Batch Proof.
Details on the expression are scant; it’s an annual barrel proof release (the 2019 batch was 61.6% ABV) with no age statement and one of the best bottle designs the industry has to offer. Due to this lack of information, we have no way of knowing whether this is anything other than standard Woodford Reserve, only uncut. If that’s the case then charging over four times the price of the core offering just seems…off. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s dig into the whiskey itself, shall we?
Nose: Sweet oak, darker brown sugars, chocolate covered cherries, and vanilla syrup. Hints of fruit (apricot, plum, raisin and/or fig) and berries with an air of darker caramel and butterscotch mingling with what I assume is moderately aged oak. After sipping the hints of fruit begin to taper off in favor of the oak, caramel, and vanilla notes, but they’re still balanced.
Palate: Feels high proof without being “hot.” Fruit notes take over on the palate—like a medley of apricot, fig, raisins, and bananas mixed with a classic musty oak and brown sugar/molasses combo. Mixed in is a building sweet tobacco and warm, mildly toasty vanilla on the back palate, which kicks off the finish. Nice and warming, this makes for a most pleasant drinking experience.
Finish: Generously lengthy and full of flavor. Nice balance of dark and bright fruit notes with more oak and molasses. Maple slowly creeps up with a final whisper of fruit.
There’s no denying Woodford Batch Proof is a high-quality bourbon. Just like its lower proof kin, everything about it screams “balance.” Judged as an individual pour, this borders on being fantastic for checking nearly ever box a bourbon should. Soon as we consider price and value, however, the picture becomes far less attractive. $120 minimum is a steep ask, especially when something like Old Forester 1920 exists at less than half the price, offering a pour that trades blows in more ways than not. As nice as it would be to have a bottle of this in my collection, I think that will only happen if someone actually gifted one to me.
If you’re a Woodford Reserve fan and a local bar has this available for a reasonable cost, I’d recommend ordering a pour to find out for yourself. Yet that’s as far as my recommendation goes. Woodford Reserve Batch Proof doesn’t even begin to justify its full price; the fact something like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof gets released three times a year with a 12-year age statement retails at a lower price even on secondary is about as much perspective as you need. Jason from The Mash & Drum put it best: “…with so many great barrel proof bourbons on the shelf that are way more affordable, this just prices itself out a little bit…I do think they’re overpriced and I would like to see these between $75 and $100 rather than $120 and $160.”