Interview: Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris Talks Small-Batch Whiskey

Woodford Reserve joined a growing movement in whiskey last year by starting its own limited-release, small-batch line. The Woodford Reserve Distillery Series launched last July with Double Double Oaked and Sweet Mash Redux, and expanded this year with Frosty Four Wood.

These distinctly tasting whiskeys are available only at the Woodford Reserve distillery, and select Kentucky retailers.

We recently connected with Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris (pictured above) to talk about the series, and the strategy behind small-batch lines.

SW: What was the impetus behind the Distillery Series?
CM: We wanted to show our consumers that Woodford Reserve is passionate about innovation and craftsmanship. The Distillery Series line gives us an opportunity to do that, through unique, collectable expressions that consumers can try and compare. They’re festive offerings, to be consumed on special occasions as opposed to everyday whiskies.

WR_DDO_060415With the series, we have taken the same approach as other Woodford Reserve products that focus on adjusting one or more of our ‘Five Sources of Flavor’: grain, water, fermentation, distillation and maturation. The Distillery Series expressions represent alterations across four of the five sources, as we do not modify our iron-free limestone filtered water.

SW: Is there greater consumer demand now for unusual whiskeys?
CM: We noticed more and more that whiskey connoisseurs and general consumers alike are searching for unique, collectable offerings. However, it is important to note that Woodford Reserve did not rely on market research or what our customers were asking for when we created Distillery Series.

SW: What went into creating the Frosty Four Wood?
CM: Frosty Four Wood, our third Distillery Series release, originated from our 2012 Master’s Collection expression: Four Wood. That expression was a historic whiskey, the first of its kind to touch four different barrels: Oak, Maple Wood, Sherry Wood and Port.

Some of the bottled Four Wood were exposed to record-low temperatures during the 2013 Polar Vortex, which caused flocking, or mineral precipitation in the glass. By performing filtration techniques to remove the precipitation, we created Frosty Four Wood, a more fruit-forward whiskey with heightened hints of maple.

SW: How was the response to the Double Double Oaked and Sweet Mash Redux?
CM: The response has been great! These expressions allow visitors to Kentucky to feel even closer to Woodford Reserve and the products we are creating. They serve as a continuation of their enjoyable experiences with Woodford Reserve, even after their visit to the distillery ends.

SW: These three whiskeys are takes on existing Woodford Reserve products, particularly from the Master’s Collection series. Was that always part of the plan? Will that continue?
CM: Yes, our Master’s Collection umbrella of products has played a role in some of the Distillery Series expressions. Some are a result of a previous Master’s Collection release, some are a twist on one, and others are inspired by them.

However, there are Distillery Series expressions that are new, and we look forward to unveiling them soon. We are proud to say that by using our industry and sensory knowledge, everything we had planned for with Distillery Series was successful. As such, we will continue using our approach in producing and releasing future Distillery Series expressions.

SW: How does the Distillery Series play into whiskey tourism?
CM: We’ve been fortunate to have seen tremendous growth with whiskey and bourbon tourism here in Kentucky, especially over the past few years. Consumers are looking to see firsthand how the spirit they love and enjoy is produced, and our Distillery Series gives them the unique opportunity to truly experience Woodford Reserve’s creative dexterity straight from the source.

Still House Exterior

The Woodford Reserve Still House

SW: Would these spirits ever be available for retail purchase outside Kentucky?
CM: Currently, there are no plans to widely distribute these expressions beyond the Woodford Reserve Distillery and select Kentucky retailers.

SW: What’s next for the Distillery Series?
CM: We have some exciting new Distillery Series expressions that we will continue to release throughout the year—you’ll just have to wait and see what they are!

Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Beverage Dynamics Magazine. Contact him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or follow him on Twitter at @kswartzz. Photos courtesy of Woodford Reserve.

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