By TW Wright
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, Rare Rye Selection - 2011
With a break in all the Christmas celebrating and entertaining, I finally found the opportunity to open the seal on the two bottles of Woodford Reserve Rye that I received for Christmas a year ago. It’s snowing outside this afternoon and the rest of the family is all on the couch watching a Christmas movie. So, with one hand I grabbed the two bottles by the necks and with the other hand a Rocky Patel and my cigar lighter and went out to the front porch. It’s actually not too cold today and the snow, for as fast as it’s coming down, is only sticking to the grass and the top of the parked cars. It really makes the scenery across the front lawn and the houses and trees beyond look nice.
For those unfamiliar with these whiskeys, they are Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Rare Rye Selection. Each year Woodford releases a special, interesting bottling. This was their 2011 Master’s Collection release, a rye that I am just now getting around to. And it’s not just one rye but actually two expressions, side by side: twins. These are two 375ml bottles, packaged together and containing the same distilled 100% rye whiskey. These two ryes however, differ by maturation; one is aged in first use barrels (like bourbon) and the other is aged in previously used bourbon barrels (like a scotch would be).
Both are rye to their fullest. Both have that slow…smooth…peppery burn that slowly sinks into the back of your tongue and the top of the back of your mouth. Born in pot stills and triple distilled, the craftsmanship is evident. Both worthy of reflection. Both great whiskeys. Their names are New Cask Rye and Aged Cask Rye. But their differences are immense.
Aged Cask Rye, ironically, seems the younger of the twins. No age statement is given for these two but I’m going to say that I’m pretty sure that they are aged the same length of time. I’m also going out on a limb and saying that the aging was probably stopped, and the whiskeys bottled, when New Cask Rye was ready, whether Aged Cask was at his peak or not. And I’m also going to state only my own opinion that the proud parents, who are makers of wonderful American Bourbon (aged in new casks), are a little giddy to show how a whiskey demonstrates so much more flavor with a short time in a new barrel than the same duration in a barrel previously used.
So how exactly is it that these twins, identical from birth, are so different now? Each was sent to fine, but different finishing schools. New Cask Rye was enrolled in the School of First Fill American Oak. There he received the greatest benefit from the charred barrel teachers in the study of the Arts. Those talented young staves instructed him and inspired him in their wealth of colors and flavors and very soon turned this child of a whiskey into an earth shattering, rock-and-roll dynamo prodigy with flavors well beyond his years. New Cask Rye is perfect and complete. I think he was watched and spoiled and given every benefit of the upper-class Woodford Estates neighborhood, and when it was his time for the coming out party the date was set.
The other son, Aged Cask, went off to his university, a more stoic institution, The Academy of Second Fill American Oak. Under the tutelage of Second Fill American Oak professors, he was afforded the benefit of their years of practical and worldly experience as they slowly and deliberately brought him along in the ways of a mature, complete master. He was no doubt top of his sophomore class and he demonstrated absolute potential for his PHD in due time. Unfortunately, his time was to be cut short.
Aged Cask, the quieter and intellectually deeper of the twins, needed more time to develop. He’s the late bloomer, maybe a little more awkward and nerdy in his youth and he was dragged along with his brother to be bottled before his prime. Given his own time to develop, Aged Cask could have been a phenomenal rye whiskey.
Unfair? Perhaps. But their Woodford Reserve Bourbon parents were too eager to demonstrate the qualities of a first fill barrel by showing off their exceptionally mature acting, Prom King son and not even notice that the other quieter twin is slowly developing into a fine whiskey in his own right; just needing more time.
For us, this is a great opportunity to really see the difference a barrel can make. To begin to experience the relationships that new-oak and used-oak have with the same spirit in the same amount of time, and to taste how different those results can be, is fascinating. With all the possible variations that can go into the making of a whiskey, it’s a rare opportunity to be able to reduce the differences down to just one variable and compare whiskeys at a level that usually only Distillers can.
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