You'd think I'd have had my fill of the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection this year, what with this almost comprehensive tasting and this follow up. In fact, I fully planned to ignore the release this year, then they went and made rye, and not just one rye, but two. As a rye whiskey lover, I had an obligation, to both myself and my loyal readers, to check these out.
The 2011 rye release is Woodford's first rye and their first time issuing two whiskeys as part of the Master's Collection. They are sold as a set of two 375 ml bottles, so it's the same amount of whiskey as a full bottle, but you get two whiskeys for your $90.
The concept here is similar to the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project but on a much smaller scale. The ryes are the same except that one is aged in a new, charred oak cask and one is aged in a used cask (they also have different entry proofs). Both are triple distilled in pot stills and made from a mash of 100% rye. There are no age statements.
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection New Cask Rye, 46.2% abv. This one is straight rye whiskey aged in new, charred oak barrels. The distillate went into the barrels at 100 proof. The nose on this actually has some bourbony sweetness which is followed by a big hit of rye spice. The palate has a lot of rye but is a bit tinny as well (a common Woodford note). The finish is fairly bitter with medicinal notes. This reminds me of some of the craft ryes I've had.
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Aged Cask Rye, 46.2% abv. Since this wasn't aged in new, charred oak barrels, it's not technically "rye whiskey" but instead "whiskey distilled from rye mash." These were aged in used barrels that previously held Woodford Reserve bourbon ("aged barrels" sounds a bit better than "used barrels" doesn't it?). The distillate went into the barrels at 86 proof. According to Woodford Master Distiller Chris Morris on WhiskyCast (episode 341), they lowered the proof in order to "coax as much subtle barrel character out as possible."
The color on this rye is much lighter than the straight rye, more of a white wine versus the more typical amber/copper color of the straight rye. The nose is fruity with some white wine notes. The palate has a little bit of that trademark Woodford pot still tang, then some fruit and toward the end some medicinal minty flavors (a little bit of Vicks VapoRub). The rye spice finally comes to the fore in the finish. Overall, there is not a lot of rye character in this rye. Tasting blind, I might have guessed an American malt whiskey.
Point taken. The difference between new and used barrels is huge. I actually like the aged barrel, which had an interesting fruit/rye interplay, more than the straight rye which was a bit harsh.
Should you buy this set? If you like experiments of this type, you might enjoy the comparison, as I did. As with many such experiments, though, the end project is interesting but not particularly good. These weren't bad whiskeys but they weren't particularly good either, and neither was anywhere near what I'd be willing to pay $90 per bottle for. So in the end, I'd recommend this the same way I would the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Collection. If you are a whiskey geek with whiskey geek friends who might split it with you, it will be fun. If you're just looking for a good bottle of rye, look elsewhere.