Woodford Reserve Rye Scoresheet & Review

I’m still wrestling with the fact that the Woodford Reserve name isn’t even 30 years old. To be fair, I have only seven years on them myself (the brand came to be in 1996), but in that time they’ve become one of bourbon’s most ubiquitous faces. Nearly any liquor store or bar worth their salt has Woodford’s bourbon within arm’s reach. On top of being one my first bottle purchases, their bourbon was also the first whiskey I did a scoresheet for, so they’re understandably near to my heart.

And yet, my coverage of the brand has been somewhat limited. Much of this is due to a small core portfolio with one or two annual releases to keep enthusiastic customers interested. That core line checks a few boxes that other large bourbon brands don’t, namely in the coverage of whiskey categories, each distinguished by their dominant grain. Given that Woodford is owned by Brown-Forman, who have a great track record when it comes to rye whiskeys, it stands to reason that Woodford’s take should at least be competent.

Before diving in, let’s quickly touch on the essentials. Woodford Reserve Rye is made from a mash bill of 53% rye, 33% corn, and 14% malted barley, making it a textbook example of “Kentucky rye.” Although bottles mention being “produced by” Woodford, they’re actually created from a combination of the distillery’s own pot stills and column still whiskey from the Brown-Forman distillery in Shively. Like most expressions from the Versailles outfit, it carries no age statement, is bottled at 45.2% ABV, and retails for around $35.

Nose: Juicy, fruity, and candy-like, treading cherry bubblegum. Brown sugar, vanilla, a bit of licorice, and mildly sweet citrus (orange and lime) with a nice complement of sweet, musty oak. Get a burnt marshmallow-over-campfire essence after sipping.

Palate: Oily texture. Dark brown sugar and dried fruits, tobacco, and a surprising breeze of barrel char. Not quite as sweet as the nose indicates. Musty essence with hints of overripe banana, which should be familiar to Brown-Forman fans. Hints of white cornmeal between the back palate and finish become more obvious with each sip.

Finish: Initially more bourbon-like as a straightforward wood and brown sugar combo emerges, but a bit of green apple appears with a slightly drying sensation. Bit of pepper and rye spice kick up over time too.

I’ve found myself experiencing momentary déjà vu while working through this bottle. The profile on display is strikingly consistent with that of Michter’s rye, lending potential credence to the rumor that Michter’s source(d) from Brown-Forman. I’ve made no secret my fondness of Michter’s rye, so the similarity and potential association is a clear draw for Woodford. It’s even more so when we consider Woodford costs about three-quarters what Michter’s goes for while boasting a higher (though still low) bottling strength.

But let’s not turn this review into an utter comparison.

Woodford Reserve Rye walks a seemingly awkward line between that classic Kentucky rye profile and something more fun and interesting. Many budget-minded barely legal rye whiskeys can exude a light profile with a degree of dryness, all while exhibiting an arguable identity crisis, due in part to their bourbon-like mash bills. Woodford’s take is a bit different thanks to its oily texture and darker, mustier profile. The experience isn’t necessarily unique, but it still feels like a slight change of pace, given its less official designation.

For my palate and wallet, this is a welcome option. Woodford Reserve tend to hit the mark for whiskey drinkers who see a $35 as a steep purchase. They certainly represent your average whiskey consumer better than I do. And you know what? I think it’s an above average option for them. I certainly prefer other bottles and will sooner indulge them, but I’d probably reach for this before Elijah Craig, Sazerac, and High West Double Rye. The price is right, the profile is pleasing, and it’s simply easy to turn to.


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