The next victim of the Quarantine Bottle Count is the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Rare Rye twins from 2011. Yes, I’ve been sitting on two open 375ml bottles for nine years. Don’t judge me.
Let’s put this into context. Nine years ago rye whiskey was just becoming the hot item after decades of obscurity. And then here lands a pair of Woodford Ryes for $100. It was one of many signals that not only was Rye moving from the bargain category but that distillers and distilleries had been contemplating the move for a while.
The distillate is 100% Rye, probably a blend of malted and unmalted, triple distilled on the Woodford Pot stills and bottled at 92.4 proof. The only stated difference between the bottles is that one was aged in freshly charged new oak, just like Bourbon or American Rye legally must be, and the other is aged in reused Bourbon barrels. This technically makes it a rye “spirit” and not a whiskey.
What’s interesting to me though is that the New Cask is labeled as “Straight Rye Whiskey” with no age statement. Legally, this means that the “New Cask Rye” is a minimum of four years old. And as Woodford clearly says the only difference between the two bottles is the maturation process that means the “Aged Cask” is also four years old.
Whiskey makers are accustomed to think in the long term. Production is measured in years if not decades but even then it seems a risky move to have distilled a 100% Rye in 2006-2007 even if it was meant to be a limited release. But the demand for rye has only gotten stronger in the past decade, clearly evidenced in Woodford having a dedicated Rye as part of it’s core line up in 2020.
As interesting as all of that backstory is, how does the whiskey actually taste?
AGED CASK RYE
NOSE: Grassy, Bready, with a touch of green apple
PALETTE: Bright rye, a hint of vanilla and orange, honey
FINISH: Surprisingly Long, with a hint of mint and cinnamon, dry
NEW CASK RYE
NOSE: Tobacco, Honey, Vanilla, and oak
PALETTE: Cinnamon, deep baking spices, ripe apple, and leather
FINISH: Sweet, with a lingering oak and white pepper
Overall, these bottles are an fantastic example of the impact a barrel has on a distillate. The New Cask is 100% a rich, fully embodied rye while the Aged Cask is still young and fiery. It reminds me a lot of Mellow Corn, a personal favorite, but it could benefit from more time letting the flavors integrate.
They both unmistakably taste like Woodford. I’ve talked about this before but to me there is always a slightly undefinable, yet incredibly identifiable, characteristic to Woodford that I can only imagine comes from their Pot Stills. Both of these ryes carry that DNA.
Nine years after their release I’m not as excited by either of these bottles as I was when they first came out. But the world is a different place, the whiskey market is a different place, and I’m a different person.
While they’re not mind blowing whiskies on their own the weight of time evidenced in the aging and the drinking sits heavily with me as the last drops pour from the bottle.