Brown Forman has been extremely patient and deliberate with their Woodford Reserve brand. Outside Woodford’s annual Master’s Collection, the brand has only added one product innovation to its core lineup: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Whiskey. Now, Woodford is adding a third product to the Woodford line with Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey. It’s no surprise to see Brown Forman jump on the American Rye Whiskey train as it’s been an extremely hot growth sector of the whiskey category, and other brands like Bulleit have seen immense success with expanding their offerings to include rye.
This isn’t the first time that Woodford has played around with rye. In 2011, Distiller Chris Morris featured two 100% rye releases as part of his Master’s Collection, one aged in new American cask and the other in an ex-bourbon barrel. Morris’ experience working with a 100% rye mashbill (which he’s recounted as nothing short of a nightmare) must have informed his decision to go with a lower rye content for this product at 53% rye (53% rye, 14% malt and 33% corn).
As with the traditional Woodford Reserve Whiskey, the new rye is a marriage of aged whiskey made at the Brown Forman Distillery along with whiskey made on the pot stills at the Woodford Reserve Distillery. Although there is no age statement on the bottle, as a Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey it must be at least 4 years old (which lines up well with when Morris was experimenting with rye for the Master’s Collection).
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (45.2% ABV, 90.4 Proof, $37.99) – dark gold in color, the new Woodford Rye leads with a nose that features very clear and pleasant rye spice. Accompanying the rye is caramel, cinnamon, ginger, dried cherry, oak, and cardboard. It’s a well integrated and balanced nose that delivers enough spice to let you know what you’re in for, but not so much to be brash or overly assertive.
The entry for Woodford Rye is bursting with flavor. The rye spice from the nose is immediately there on the palate, and it’s joined by cereal grains, corn, dried cherries, and caramel. This whiskey is quite dry in character and even the grain notes here read as dried grain. There’s just enough of a sweet undertone to create some semblance of balance.
In the midpalate there’s a strong shift from grain towards spice with rye spice, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and oak all in full throttle. All this spice is accompanied by a solid dash of heat, which compliments the spice. As with the rest of the taste experience, the finish is very dry and is centered around the spice from the midpalate.
The decision to use less rye in the mashbill doesn’t detract from what Woodford seems to be going for: a rye expression that is still very clearly Woodford Reserve. Fans of the classic Woodford Reserve will find many familiar flavors and some common character with the rye. Given how dry it is, and its structure, the Woodford Rye plays nicely into Woodford’s drive to closely associate themselves with the Manhattan cocktail. It’s great that Brown Forman stuck to their guns with Woodford Reserve Rye and produced something that clearly belongs in the Woodford family, rather than just trying to case the rye market. 86 Points.