Four Roses vs Woodford Reserve

Four Roses vs Woodford Reserve | Compare these 2 brilliant bourbons

Four Roses and Woodford Reserve are two of the most beloved and well-known whiskey brands in the world. Both brands have lengthy histories, and their respective bourbons have won numerous awards, accolades, and even presidential approval. 

For whiskey lovers, the debate over which brand is better is often heated; while both brands offer high-quality products, there are some subtle differences between the two that can help drinkers decide which is right for them. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at the history, production methods, and flavour profiles of Four Roses vs Woodford Reserve. By comparing and contrasting their flavour profiles, you can make an informed decision.

Four Roses whisky distillery building
Four Roses whisky distillery building in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

Four Roses backstory

The origins of Four Roses bourbon can be traced back to 1888, when Paul Jones Jr. purchased a small distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Jones was a prominent distiller who was known for producing high-quality whiskey. He wanted to produce a unique and special bourbon, and he achieved this by blending the whiskey with a specific strain of yeast that he developed. This yeast strain gave the bourbon a distinctive flavour and aroma that really set it apart from other drinks.

In the early 1900s, Four Roses was sold to Seagram’s, who marketed it as a high-quality American whiskey. In the 1940s, the brand was extremely popular and was the best-selling whiskey in the United States. It was served in some of the most prestigious restaurants, bars, and hotels in the United States, and it was the official whiskey of the United States military. 

In the 1950s, Seagram’s decided to discontinue the Four Roses brand in the United States. This was due to the fact that the popularity of whiskey had declined during this time. However, the brand was still popular in other countries, such as Japan. 

Kirin Brewery Company purchased Four Roses in 2002. They reintroduced the brand to the United States and began to produce a variety of different whiskeys. The brand has gone through several owners and periods of popularity, but has always been known for its high-quality whiskey.

Oak barrels outside Woodford Reserve whiskey distillery building on bright summer day
Woodford Reserve distillery in Woodford County, Kentucky.

Woodford Reserve backstory

Woodford Reserve is located in Woodford County, Kentucky. The distillery was founded in 1812 by Elijah Pepper, who started distilling corn into whiskey in 1797.

Elijah Pepper’s son Oscar took over the distillery in 1835 and assigned Dr. James C. Crow, a Scottish scientist, as head distiller. Dr. Crow is frequently given credit for developing the technique of using sour mash during fermentation.

In 1878, the property was sold to James Christopher Crow, who changed the name of the distillery to the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery. In 1941, the Brown-Forman Corporation purchased the distillery from the Pepper family and renamed it the Woodford Reserve Distillery. The Brown-Forman Corporation made several changes to the distillery over the years, including modernising the equipment and updating the production process. 

In 1996, the distillery was designated a National Historic Landmark, and it is now a popular tourist attraction. Woodford Reserve is also known for its participation in the annual Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a tour of some of the most famous bourbon distilleries in the state. Each year, the distillery hosts a variety of events, such as whiskey tastings, tours, and cocktail classes. 

The distillery is also home to the Woodford Reserve Distillery School, which offers classes on the history and production of Straight Bourbon whiskey. Woodford Reserve has become an integral part of Kentucky’s bourbon history and culture. Its unique flavour and iconic bottle have become a symbol of Kentucky’s rich history and distilling tradition. The distillery is a must-visit for any bourbon enthusiast.

Person holding a bottle of Four Roses single barrel bourbon
Large copper column stills within the Four Roses distillery

Making Four Roses Single barrel Bourbon

Ten recipes

One of the most unique aspects of the Four Roses distillery is their use of two mash bills and five yeast strains to create ten individual bourbon recipes.

Depending on the whiskey being made, different bourbon recipes are blended together to create particular flavours of spice, wood and various herbs.

For example, all ten combinations are used in their Yellow Label bottle whilst four recipes are used in the Four Roses Small Batch release. For today’s review, their Single Barrel bottling, just one recipe is used – also known as recipe 1 or ‘OBSV’.

Sour mash

Like most Kentucky straight bourbons, the traditional sour-mash method is used to create their single barrel expression. Corn, rye, barley and water are mixed together, heated and then left to ferment in a large vat. The mash is then transferred to another vat and mixed with yeast and a portion of previously used grains known as sour mash. The mixture is given up to 5 days to ferment, creating a low alcohol distillers beer known as ‘the wash’.


Four Roses use a double-distillation process at their Lawrenceburg distillery. The fermented wash is transferred to their 20 foot tall Vendome column still and then slowly heated. The alcohol within the wash evaporates, creating an alcoholic vapour which gets progressively stronger as it rises, until it exits the very top of the column still.

This vapour is gathered and cooled in a condenser, resulting in a relatively pure spirit of 66% ABV. To remove any remaining unwanted impurities, the spirit is distilled once more using a small spirit still called a doubler. Once more, the alcohol evaporates, exits the doubler and recondenses into 70% ABV “new make spirit”.


The new make spirit is then aged in American oak barrels for a minimum of four years before being bottled at a minimum proof of 80 (40% ABV). The fire-charred interior surface of the new American Oak barrel gives the bourbon notes of sweet vanilla and toffee as well as oak and woody flavours. During its four years of maturation, the new make spirit slowly adopts its colour and complex flavour profile.

Bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon in dark room

Making Woodford Reserve

The distillation process of Woodford Reserve is a meticulous and carefully designed process that has been passed down through generations of distillers. This process has been perfected over time and is a crucial part of the whiskey’s taste and quality. 

High Rye

Woodford’s mash bill is considered a high-rye recipe, comprising 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley. These cereals are separately milled into coarse flours which are then mixed with limestone water to make a sweet mash.

Sour Mash

To ferment their mash, Woodford used their own specific yeast type which is made specifically for their brand. This yeast is mixed in large vats with the sweet mash and a portion of previously used spent grains known as sour mash. Cooked and then left to ferment, the mash develops a complex range of flavours. After an abnormally long 5-7 day fermentation, the mash has become low alcohol beer called the wash.

Very unusual distillation

Compared to the other brands in the bourbon category, Woodford employs a truly unique distillation process worth mentioning. Their bourbon is a blend of both pot still and column still distillates.

Using three big copper pot stills imported from Scotland, the fermented wash (including the solid grains) is transferred to the first of three stills. It is then carefully heated to avoid burning the grains within, evaporating the alcohol to create the 30% ABV liquid called low wines. Separated from the grains, the low wines are then distilled twice more in the 2nd and 3rd pot stills. This creates a triple distilled ‘new make spirit’ which is then barrel matured.

The other portion of the Woodford Reserve blend is made at the Brown-Forman Distillery in Shively, Kentucky. There, they use a more common Vendome column still to make their new make spirit which goes through double distillation before barrel maturation.

After maturation, both of these bourbons are then blended to make Woodford Reserve.


Woodford uses American white oak barrels which are made exclusively for them by Brown-Forman Cooperages. The final step in the Woodford Reserve ageing process is a taste test. As Woodford Reserve bourbon doesn’t carry an age statement, master distillers sample the whiskey and make the final decision on when it is ready to be bottled. Once the distillers have determined that the whiskey is ready, it is blended, bottled and labelled as Woodford Reserve, Kentucky straight bourbon.

Single Barrel Four Roses vs Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon

Person pouring Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon into drinking glass

Four Roses Single Barrel tasting notes

Nose: Rich, fruity, spices, vanilla, chocolate.

Palate: Spices, vanilla, vanilla, cocoa, prunes and fruits.

Finish: Chocolate, butterscotch and oak.

Price: $43 / £36

Four Roses Single Barrel flavour profile

The nose of the Single Barrel has a rich and complex aroma. The first notes that come through are of sweet caramel, followed by hints of honey and spice. The aroma is rounded off with oak and a subtle smokiness. On the palate, it has a robust and full-bodied flavour. The whiskey is smooth and creamy with a sweet and spicy taste. Notes of caramel and honey come through, followed by a hint of oak and smokiness. The flavour is balanced and rounded out with a slight hint of vanilla. The finish is long and smooth. 

The taste of caramel, honey, and oak linger on the palate, while the smokiness fades out. The finish is slightly sweet and spicy, with a hint of vanilla that leaves a pleasant aftertaste. Four Roses Single Barrel is an excellent whiskey for sipping neat or on the rocks. It can also be used as a base for cocktails, such as a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. 

The whiskey pairs perfectly with a variety of foods, from savoury dishes to sweet desserts. For starters, a light and creamy cheese such as brie or Camembert will pair perfectly with the smooth and slightly sweet flavours of the Single Barrel. The sweetness of the cheese will bring out the subtle notes of honey and spice in the whiskey.

For those looking for something a bit heartier, a juicy steak or a roasted pork loin would be an excellent choice. The richness of the meat will bring out the woody notes in the whiskey, while the savoury flavours of the steak or pork will be enhanced by the sweet and spicy notes. 

If you’re looking for a lighter option, try pairing it with some fresh fruit. The sweet and tart notes of the whiskey will be complemented by the sweetness of the fruit. Try adding slices of fresh apple, pear, or peach to a glass of bourbon for a refreshing and flavourful combination. 

Bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon beside cocktail equipment and drinking glass

Woodford Reserve tasting notes

Nose: Creamy and thick with notes of honey and spice. A bit of cocoa, smoke, leather and vanilla cream.

Palate: Thick and full. Notes of espresso beans, rye, ground ginger, rum and toasty oak.

Finish: Long and mature with notes of toasty oaken spice and cereals.

Price: $40 / £33

Woodford Reserve flavour profile

The nose of the bourbon is rich and intense, with aromas of oak, caramel, and toffee. The palate is full and smooth, with a creamy texture and flavours of toasted grains, vanilla, and a hint of nutmeg. The finish is long and lingering, with notes of leather, oak, and spice. 

The Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon is a great whiskey to sip neat or with a few drops of water. This whiskey is also great for slow sipping, as the flavour profile will develop over time. 

Whether you’re looking for a sophisticated drink to accompany a special meal or a casual drink to enjoy with friends, Woodford Reserve is an excellent choice. The sweet and spicy notes are the perfect complement to a variety of cheeses. From sharp cheddar and blue cheese to creamy brie and goat cheese, Woodford Reserve pairs well with many different types. Try pairing it with a milder cheese like Boursin or Havarti, or a more assertive cheese like Gorgonzola or Roquefort.

The sweet and smoky notes of Woodford Reserve are a great match for a variety of chocolates. Try pairing it with a smooth, dark chocolate for a rich, decadent flavour. For a lighter pairing, try a creamy milk chocolate. Either way, it’s sure to be a winning combination. 

Four Roses vs Woodford Reserve comparison table
Four Roses Single BarrelWoodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon
ColourAmberDark copper
NoseRich, fruity, spices, vanilla, chocolate.Creamy and thick with notes of honey and spice. A bit of cocoa, smoke, leather and vanilla cream.
PalateSpices, vanilla, vanilla, cocoa, prunes and fruits.Thick and full. Notes of espresso beans, rye, ground ginger, rum and toasty oak.
FinishChocolate, butterscotch and oak.Long and mature with notes of toasty oaken spice and cereals.
AgeUsually, 8-9 yearsUsually, 4-7 years
ClassificationStraight BourbonStraight Bourbon
CaskAmerican white oakAmerican white oak
Chill filteredYesYes
Price (USD/GBP)$43 / £36$40 / £33

Four Roses vs Woodford Reserve final thoughts

The Four Roses Single Barrel and Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon are both excellent drinks that have a lot to offer. Both are classic bourbons that have stood the test of times and remain a popular among whiskey enthusiasts. They offer a unique flavour profile that is sure to please even the most discerning bourbon drinkers. 

The Four Roses Single Barrel is a good choice for those looking for a smooth, easy-drinking bourbon with plenty of complexity, while the Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon is ideal for those seeking something more robust and full-bodied.

Ultimately, the choice between these two great bourbons depends on the individual tastes and preferences of the drinker. No matter which one you choose, you’re sure to enjoy a delicious and memorable drinking experience.

Related post: Decode the Four Roses recipes system

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