Classification: Straight Bourbon
Distillery: Woodford Reserve Distillery / Brown-Forman Distillery
Release Date: October 2019
Mashbill: 70% Corn, 15% Chocolate Malted Rye, 15% Distillers Malt
Twice a year, Brown-Forman’s Master Distiller Chris Morris releases a special edition of Woodford Reserve called the Master’s Collection. For each release, Morris changes some aspect of the whiskey making process (e.g. barrel type, finish, grain, fermentation process, aging location, style, proof). The fall release focuses on variation, while the spring release focuses on proof.
For the fall 2019 Master’s Collection release, grain variation took center stage. According to Chris Morris, “the rye malt was roasted to a level that its natural sugars caramelised into a dark chocolate note.”
Baking chocolate and light vanilla interplay with a base layer of corn grain. Lightly lingering behind are smoked almonds, a youthful hint of oak, and green banana. The scents nicely set up what’s to come with the sip, however the lower proof doesn’t allow them to shine as brightly as they could be. Due to this, the nose comes across a little light.
Dry dark chocolate that you would find from an 80% or higher chocolate bar and cocoa nibs dominate the palate. Further hunting produces flavors of green peppercorn and a hint of oak. The dark chocolate flavors are clearly the star of the palate and do a spot on job of delivering a pleasing profile without crossing into the land of bitterness that you sometimes find with intensely dark chocolate. Where the lower proof may have hurt the nose, it allows for the palate to be rolled around in your mouth with zero burn.
Dry chocolate, oak, and leather start off the finish strong. Dry is the name of the game for the finish, although dry in this case doesn’t equate to bad though, as all of these drier flavors are also light and airy, intermingling nicely together. As they fade away, the finish transitions to dry oak with a dusting of chocolate powder. The long lingering finish is the highlight of the bourbon and leaves you wanting to go back for another sip.
The Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection always tries to bring a twist to the market every year both in proof variation from the standard Woodford Reserve and unique mashbills and barrel finishes. Some years are better than others, such as the Cherry Smoked Wood Barely released in 2017, while other years can fall off the mark. Thankfully the willingness of Brown-Forman to continuously experiment pays off, as this year’s release delivers in ways that encapsulate what the line represents.
Using chocolate rye grain in whiskeys isn’t a new concept. A good example of this is Balcones, who uses a chocolate rye grain in their Balcones Texas Rye’s mashbill. Where this year’s Woodford Chocolate Malted Rye exceeds though and truly differentiates itself, is that it’s a bourbon and still has a mashbill containing 70% corn. However it’s not readily apparent that this is the case due to the rich dark chocolate flavor profile that the sip delivers.
Chocolate Malted Rye milks every single ounce of the 15% chocolate rye in the mashbill and delivers a flavor profile rarely seen in a bourbon. More distilleries should take note, since this easy-to-replicate combination, produces a sip that is quite different from the standard bourbon without needing to take an extra step such as performing a specialized barrel finishing process.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection price has slowly been rising over the years, most recently steadying at $130, which is where Chocolate Malted Rye lands this year. From a taste perspective, the sip delivers, as the flavor profile is well balanced and enjoyable. Additionally, there is something to be said for Woodford taking a chance when they put these experimental barrels to rest years ago without knowing what the end result would be. While that doesn’t necessarily mean they should always be rewarded, in years where it works, like this year’s edition, it’s certainly hard not to take value into consideration.
However, the high price tag can’t be ignored either, especially when there are cheaper alternatives out there like the $40 Balcones Texas Rye or the similarly priced Corsair Ryemageddon Whiskey. This is a rye that delivers an even bolder chocolate flavor that is incredibly drinkable for less than a third of the cost of Chocolate Malted Rye. Sure one could argue that this is a little bit of an apples to oranges comparison since it’s a bourbon versus a rye, but at the end of the day, both products end up chasing the same flavor profile, and it can’t be ignored. While those who choose to spend the money certainly won’t be disappointed with Chocolate Malted Rye, it’s hard to ignore the more fairly priced alternatives that are available on an ongoing basis.
A standout for the sometimes lacking Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, Chocolate Malted Rye delivers a sip that is flavorful and unique, albeit at a price that can be hard to justify.
This year’s fall release of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection was a pleasant surprise. Where years past have delivered a hohum result, this year’s version encapsulates an uncommon and satisfying sip. While the bourbon could afford to be a few proof points higher, unless someone is not a fan of chocolate; dark chocolate in particular, most will enjoy the end result. That said, the hundred dollar plus price tag is something to pause over. This is especially true since more bolder chocolatey tasting whiskey alternatives are available for a fraction of the price. This shouldn’t stop individuals from seeking out a pour or a bottle, however individuals should be aware that they’re paying for the time Woodford spent experimenting to achieve this end result versus the actual flavor profile.