Back in 2013, Woodford Reserve just did something very interesting, on the verge of awesome. For that year’s Master’s Collection release, they introduced TWO malt whiskeys – one aged in charred new oak (as is typical of bourbon), one in used (as is typical of Scotch). That’s right, these are malt whiskeys, which is highly unusual in the US and basically unheard of in Kentucky. AND they offer the chance to experience the difference that used vs. new barrels have on that malt whiskey. This listing is for the Classic Malt.
The color here is your first glimpse into the fact that the barrels used are… used. They’ve already been tapped out for maximum interaction between the whiskey and the wood, so the impact on color and flavor will be less dramatic. This “Classic Malt” is a pale but clear and bright gold color, think Chardonnay. On the nose, there’s a green character fairly prominently – you could say green wood, or green grain, but the thing that kept coming to mind for me was the smell of tomato vine. You definitely get the malt character on the nose as well, but it’s fairly subtle. Also subtle is the fruit – there’s a bit of something like candied lemon peel or lemon marmalade – but it’s not overtly citrusy or sweet. Sipping neat, there’s a good deal of heat for 90 proof – but it’s a tingly, mouth-watering heat, which could benefit from water or ice. Grain is indeed the prominent flavor, that green character from the nose fades away for the most part, but comes back in a very pucker-y finish. It definitely shouts Scotch rather than Bourbon. Adding a touch of water smooths things out considerably and brings out some fruit as well. A cube of ice does even better, making a pretty dramatic transformation. The nose becomes more grain-centric, the green tomato vine dials back, and a crisp, buttery pear tart note comes out. On the palate, the ice does wonders. That pear tart profile comes through strong now, though it’s not at all sweet (so maybe a tart isn’t the right descriptor – think of a tart without any sugar added). The body and finish smooth out significantly as well. Really nice. The pear character here and overall grain profile reminds me of the St. George Single Malt whiskey out of California, which is a very good thing.