Some distilleries live and die by age statements, considering that number on the bottle/label to be of utmost importance in denoting to the customer that they’ve put in the patience to craft a quality product. At the same time, other distilling entities, such as the bourbon producers owned by Brown-Forman (Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, etc.), have seemingly little regard for the importance of age statements, and almost no OF or WR products carry them prominently.
For the rank and file, everyday sort of whiskey releases, one could argue that the concept of age statements doesn’t really matter much—few consumers look at Old Forester’s everyday product lineup and opine that they wish there was a more concrete idea of age. But when it comes to limited time, special releases, the question of age becomes a bit thornier. Consumers might not necessarily expect an age statement to be involved in a bottle they buy for $20 or $30, but what about one with an MSRP of $130? Can a release like that ever get away without carrying some kind of age statement? Woodford Reserve’s newest Batch Proof argues that it in fact can.
Woodford Reserve Batch Proof was introduced as an annual release in the distillery’s Master’s Collection a few years back, in order to offer the bolder flavor experience now expected by American whiskey geeks. Almost everything in the typical Woodford line has the brand’s signature 90.4 proof point, so a barrel proof expression is quite a bit stronger, though each year’s Batch Proof release has varied pretty significantly. The 2021 expression, for instance, was more than 128 proof, while this one brings things down to a rather more approachable 118.4 proof, which Master Distiller Chris Moore commented briefly on, saying the following:
“Barrels drawn from the first floors of our heat-cycled warehouses routinely possess lower proof presentations due the more relaxed angel share process found there. This batch had more of these barrels in its composition, and therefore a lower batch proof presentation than past releases.”
This is effectively the concept of Woodford Reserve Batch Proof—it’s a showcase for the company’s belief in heat-cycled warehouses as a mode of accelerating maturation. It’s still probably (relatively) young bourbon, but one that reportedly benefits from a low barrel entry proof, before aging in #4, “alligator” char barrels. So no, you don’t get an age statement—that can make the $130 price tag seem a bit intimidating to some consumers, but this year’s batch is likely to win a lot of fans anyway in my opinion.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting Woodford Reserve Batch Proof 118.4.
On the nose, this one is extremely rich and fruity right off the bat, with loads of cherry and blackberry-like dark fruit, but also streaks of citrus brightening things up. This is a true fruit bomb, in fact—I haven’t smelled a bourbon quite like this one for a while, with full-on fruit punch aromatics. Simultaneously, I’m also getting plenty of vanilla, caramel and traces of sweet corn muffins, along with faint chocolate. It’s an engaging, distinct nose, though you’d have to be someone who likes fruit-forward bourbon to get the most enjoyment out of it.
On the palate, things are much the same—this is a really fruity whiskey, and I love the oddball fruit combinations that this somehow drew from the barrel or preserved in distillation. I’m getting lots of toffee and sweet cherry juice, almost fruit punch-like again, but also quite bright. The fruit here isn’t super “cooked” or concentrated, but instead retains a brighter and fresher profile throughout. On the back end, the bourbon segues into more roast and balancing elements—caramel, vanilla, a kiss of espresso and sturdy rye spice. The heat is definitely punchy as well, feeling every bit of 118.4 proof.
All in all, I don’t think anyone can accuse this bourbon of lacking in character or verve, there is plenty going on here. There will likely still be whiskey geeks out there who feel like anything with a $130 MSRP needs to have an age statement, no questions asked, but regardless of how you might feel on the matter, this release is one of the most engagingly unique bourbons I’ve had recently. Recommended to those who are big on fruit-forward bourbon in particular.
Distillery: Woodford Reserve (Brown-Forman)
City: Versailles, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 59.2% (118.4 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $130 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.