Photos Courtesy of Stacey Von Busch
Bourbon, based on my partial knowledge, is a man’s drink--my dad’s drink. My first taste was in a mint julep at a Derby Party—in Michigan. Immediately I fell in love with the sweet, minty concoction. After moving so close to Kentucky, I appreciate the beverage more and more. So when my number was called as one of six in the whole resort to assist in choosing the next signature flavor, I was all in.
The hilly, windy roads leading to the distillery were bluegrass-green, serene, and bucolic. Upon arrival we were greeted by Master Distiller, Chris Morris. If his name sounds familiar it’s because he signed that bottle of Woodford Reserve sitting in your liquor cabinet. Morris explained the rationale behind the recipe. Woodford Reserve is a complex and balanced bourbon comprised of many flavors. As the liquid flows over the taste buds it resonates on each palate differently. This way, it appeals to more consumers. Woodford is America’s favorite small batch bourbon. Bartenders love it because it mixes well in cocktails to create many different tastes.
I asked if it was wishful thinking or if that was bourbon I smelled in the air. Turns out it was the smell of bourbon wafting over the subtle breeze! We saw all five sources of Woodford flavor in action. The deep well water filtered through limestone, the grains comprised of corn, rye and malted barley, Woodford’s own-grown yeast for fermentation, the distilling process and the aging process—presided over by Elijah, the 17 year-old cat in residence.
|Elijah--cat in residence|
fantastic outing, but wait, there’s more! Now it was time to taste, savor and blend.
In the tasting room we found several standard tables pushed together to make one large, square work space. They were elegantly covered in black pressed cotton tablecloths and set for the six of us, and our new best friend Chris Morris, to get to the business at hand. Laid out in front of each craftsperson was a placemat with six numbered circles.Each circle had a stylishly crafted Glencairn glass with a dribble or two of “bourbon” resting neatly in the bottom. I put bourbon in quotation marks because what we were sampling was not yet market-ready. It was straight, sans any additional water that is added to balance the alcohol content and/or proof. This was fully-leaded and high test fuel—well over 100 proof—straight from various barrels and different batches.
|Glencairn Glasses of "bourbon"|
As instructed by Morris, first we “nosed” or smelled the alcohol. We made notes on the different aromas. Then we “tasted.” Yes, again with the quotes. We were provided spit cups and water for cleansing our palates before moving to the next short pour; this time jotting down the flavors that we detected. After tasting all six, we voted for our four favorites. The four most popular barrels moved to the next level. Now equal measures of the four were combined with each other and water in six separate carafes. Once again we nose, sip and vote.
It came down to a tie. One that we noticed was split into an epic battle of the sexes. Women preferred the bourbon that was fruity, crisp and creamy with cherry, berry and a bit of tart on the tongue. However, the men in our group tended to prefer a fruity, creamy blend of floral with a hint of citrus resulting in a delicate, sweet and complex product. Tom O’Connor, French Lick Resort Food and Beverage Manager, would cast the deciding vote. He was visibly torn. Knowing that the ladies’ choice would function better in a cocktail and that the mens' pick was cleaner and better for sipping, Tom called upon his expertise and with much internal deliberation selected the sipper over the mixer.
|Tom O'Connor & Chris Morris|
Last year Woodford Reserve produced 247,000 cases of bourbon. The previous year it was 202,000 cases. With new customers like Quantas Airlines, launching product lines in Russia and Brazil, and an existing clientele of first-class resorts and hotels, it is no surprise that Woodford is America’s favorite small batch bourbon. In roughly six weeks or so, the barrel we crafted will arrive at French Lick Resort and you’ll be able to taste the fruits of our labor.