Woodford Reserve small batch Distiller’s Select is, more or less, the reason behind my renewed desire for bourbon. The coup d’etat, you could say, of my perception of the spirit and honestly the genesis of The Bourboneer. And yes, I am man enough to say…Woodford was my first (in a matter of speaking).
I’ve enjoyed bourbon for over 25 years, beginning in my college days. Back then however, I had no appreciation whatsoever for the characteristics of the distilled spirit. The goal was a constant consumption of any bourbon I could afford and what mixer I could pour into it to improve the taste. Believe it or not, I did like the taste of bourbon over other whiskies but the true flavor was lost on me. Like the majority of students, “drinking” was much more about the quantity and effect rather than the quality and flavor. Needless to say, my “budget” at the time only afforded me the less expensive labels or what some may have considered to be of poor quality or even “rotgut.” Today, I better understand that price is not always the plumb line for a decent bourbon. Back then I considered Old Crow, Evan Williams, Early Times and Old Grand Dad to be close friends because they were readily available and cheap. I couldn’t and didn’t care to appreciate the difference. They served a purpose, albeit an extremely narrow one.
Unfortunately, this sophomoric approach to bourbon remained my “MO” until about a five years ago. Even as a professional, who could afford to sample a variety of bourbon at different price points, I still floundered about with what I knew. With what I allowed myself to know, that is. That all changed when I was introduced to Woodford Reserve.
As we did on a regular occasion, my good friend and neighbor often joined me to not only drink and shoot the breeze, but to gripe about some of our common interests; the Philadelphia Eagles being one. One evening in particular, however, my neighbor showed up with a brand new bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon. I had never heard of it before but he raved on and on about it. Of course I obliged, not necessarily because I wanted to broaden my “bourbon horizons” at the moment, but when such hospitality is offered then equal gratitude is returned.
Despite my immediate urge to add something to the bourbon, my neighbor recommended I just enjoy a dram on the rocks. Hold on here, wait just a minute. This went against everything I knew. No soda, no ginger ale? I actually recall thinking this may, in fact, be the last time he is allowed over here. No one tells me how to drink in my house! Internal angst aside, I did step out of my comfort zone and took a sip. His sage advice not to “shoot”, but allow the bourbon to gently cascade over my tongue was the trick to tasting the full flavor. It worked. The anticipated “burn” that I associated with all whiskey, never came. As a matter of fact, I experienced quite the opposite. Surprisingly enough, the customary sting or bite was replaced by an unexpected soothing warmth. The presence of the ice seemed to open up a bouquet of flavor I didn’t even know existed and had been hidden from me for nearly a quarter century. Even to my then uneducated palate, I could taste the nuance of cinnamon spice and a subtle smoky char. This was quite a revelation. Bourbon that had taste and wonderful taste at that. What the hell have I foolishly been missing for so long? Then, remarkably, the spice gradually faded into a silky sweetness of what seemed like caramel and toffee. WTF!?! No way. This is amazing! Candy in my bourbon!?! Absolutely the most refreshing characteristic and something so contrary to what I remembered bourbon to be was how easy Woodford was to drink. Each sip was like discovering buried treasure and now I had the map.
From that evening on, I was hooked. I almost felt a little stalker-ish the way I coveted Woodford. In fact, that’s all I bought for a long time. I think I was afraid to try other labels in fear of experiencing a let down. But once I regained a firm grip on reality, I realized the “bourbon education” that first glass of Woodford provided me, was the doorway to a brave new world just waiting for my arrival.
So, to my friends at Woodford Reserve, thank you for such a proper introduction to the world of bourbon. Just know that all I do with my future, in relation to bourbon and as The Bourboneer, began with that first sip of Woodford Reserve. And yes, I am aware that authentic experience several years ago could have easily been with another fine bourbon label from the dozens out there, but it wasn’t. It was with Woodford and I am thankful for that. I am also quite thankful for my neighbor not only for the introduction but his insistence. I owe him a lot.
Bourbon enjoyed while writing this article: Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select KSBW. 43.2%ABV or 96.4 proof (no age statement). Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles, KY.