Woodford Reserve is continuing to capitalize on the popular "anyone can be a distiller" ethic that's helped fuel the current craft liquor fad, actively promoting a program in which buyers choose their own barrels for blending.
Woodford Reserve unveiled the "Personal Selection Program" eight years ago, but master distiller Chris Morris will be in town this week talking up the experience. Morris will also discuss classic cocktails and the distillery's "Master's Collection" at a pair of dinners at The Porch and The Mansion.
Participants in the Personal Selection Program spend a day at the Versailles distillery, learning how bourbon's made and enjoying a gourmet lunch.
"Then we pull from the barrels," Morris explains. "We start with eight barrel samples, spanning the range of flavor options. We'll have barrels that are grainy, barrels that remind you of cigar boxes and barrels that remind you of orange and cherry. As we mature Woodford, each barrel develops it own character."
Morris keeps the tasting notes. At the end of the session, drinkers are asked to rank the barrels: The four top barrels are then blended in various batches. From there, Morris says, "We go through the whole process again." The preferred blend is bottled.
"Every one is absolutely unique," Morris says.
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Morris says he isn't threatened by amateurs who pay big bucks to play distiller under his tutelage. He says the rookies respect his expertise.
"They're always like, 'What do you think?'" he says.
Morris is confident too that his pre-blending decisions mean even the most inept taster couldn't bungle Woodford Reserve bourbon.
"We have great whiskey," Morris says. "Every barrel is superb in its own way."