Woodford Reserve has a reputation for being one of the finest Kentucky straight bourbons on the market. With their unique distillation and refined maturation techniques, their range of fine whiskeys are known for their sweet tasting high-corn mashbill and Scottish American heritage.
Amongst their portfolio are 7 core bottles, two of which I’ll explore in this detailed review; their flagship Woodford Reserve vs Double Oaked Kentucky straight bourbons.
I’ll explore each bottle’s key characteristics including smell, taste, finish, and price-value so that you can determine which one is the best choice for you. So if you’re ready to dive deep into these two bourbons from Woodford Reserve – let’s dive in.
Quick brand overview
Woodford Reserve are owned by the Brown Forman Corporation. Their range of spirits are sold as premium Kentucky straight bourbons which are made at their distillery in Woodford County, KY, USA. The brand was founded by Elijah Pepper in 1812 and were famously integral to the early systemisation of whiskey production including the standardisation of the sour mash fermentation method, pot still distillation and barrel maturation techniques.
Uniquely, Woodford Reserve use a dual distillation method to make their bourbons. Very similar to Scottish whiskies, one portion of their spirits are triple distilled using traditional copper pot stills. The other portion are column distilled. The combination of the two provide a flavoursome but very light new-make-spirits prior to barrel maturation.
What’s the difference between Woodford Reserve vs Double Oaked?
Woodford Reserve ‘classic’ and their Double Oak edition use the same recipe. However, their classic entry-level bourbon is matured only once in charred American Oak barrels, while the Double Oaked undergoes an secondary ageing in lightly charred, heavily toasted barrels. This additional finishing phase imparts comparatively sweeter and more oaky flavours with greater complexity and depth.
Woodford Reserve vs Double Oaked
Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Nose: Leather, spice, honey, oak, cocoa, vanilla & butterscotch
Palate: Spice, sweet, espresso, ginger, rum, almond & rye
Mouthfeel: Thick & full bodied
Finish: Lengthy, malty, spicy & oaky
Age: NAS (6-7 years average)
Barrels: New, charred, white American oak
Mashbill: 72% corn, 18% Rye, & 10% malted barley
Strength: 45.2% ABV / 90.4 proof
Price: £38 / $48
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Nose: Fruit, chocolate, oak, marzipan, caramel, apple & hazelnut
Palate: More fruit, spice, caramel, vanilla and winter spices
Mouthfeel: Full bodied & thick
Finish: Long, sweet, fruity & creamy
Age: NAS, 6 years + 1 year (average)
Barrels: Charred white oak + heavily toasted white oak
Mashbill: 72% corn, 18% Rye, & 10% malted barley
Strength: 45.2% ABV / 90.4 proof
Price: £55 / $69
A closer look at Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Known as their ‘classic’ bottling, this Kentucky straight bourbon is the most well-known within Woodford’s range. In every way, it’s the same as the Double Oak bourbon, but only uses a single step 6-7 year maturation in charred oak barrels. Slightly more expensive than your average ‘ground floor’ bourbon, it’s certainly a more considered purchase which I’ve explored in the breakdown below.
If you’re new to the brand, it’s worth mentioning Woodford’s combined use of both triple pot still and column distillation to make their spirits. Unlike most bourbons which stick to column distillation with a secondary doubler or thumper still, Woodford’s triple pot still method is somewhat unique within the industry.
Notoriously, pot stills produce more flavoursome, heavier spirits compared to the high proof light spirits from column distillation. By using both, Woodford retain a lot of their grains’ flavour whilst producing a very smooth and light bourbon.
Nose: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon has a rich and inviting nose, offering layers of complex aromas. Pouring myself a measure, there’s initially a sweet smell of honey and mixed winter spice. For me, I can smell clove, nutmeg and cinnamon.
With a little swirling, there’s a charming hint of leather, which is followed by cocoa and a very subtle smokiness. The oaken notes are particularly pronounced, offering creamy vanilla, hints of butterscotch, and fragrant toasted oak. It’s an altogether warm scent that beckons you to take a sip.
Palate: Taking a sip of Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon, the flavour is immensely full and wonderfully rich. For an entry-level bottle, this stuff is pretty darn good, I have to say! Straight out the gate, I’m greeted with the same flavours of sweet and spice which were promised from the nose. There’s little to no harshness with this bottle, which keeps my water jug at bay. (No need for you today, no sir.)
After a little ‘chewing’ and savouring, there’s subtler notes emerge. As a huge coffee fan, I can taste some espresso in there – which is truly wonderful. This is followed by winter spice, rye and along with a warming hint of ground ginger. All very tasty indeed, sweetened with some honey and fruit sweetness.
So far, I’m pretty impressed with this bourbon. It’s complex and changes on the tongue. There’s a light nutty taste on the mid palate and strangely, a sugary hint of rum. Combined with the oaky nature, it’s a very pleasing pour.
Mouthfeel: The texture is creamy and luxurious. It has a pleasant viscosity that isn’t overly heavy yet has enough body to make it feel decadent. On the tongue, you are met with a pleasant warmth and gentle spice that lingers for some time. The alcohol content is tempered with sweetness, making this bourbon smooth and easy drinking without sacrificing flavour.
Finish: The finish is lengthy, delivering warm spices, cereal sweetness and oaken spice towards the end. Oak is definitely the main star here with an almost smoky sweetness that lingers on the palate and has a subtle butterscotch note to it. The gentle spice is still present, adding a slight tingle at the end. The entire experience has fantastic balance between sweet and savoury, finishing off with a pleasant nutty finish. All in all, this is an enjoyable, complex finish.
Price: For me, this entry-level bourbon from Woodford Reserve offers great value for the price. At US $48/UK £38, it delivers complexity and depth that you’d expect from a bottle twice its cost. It’s an incredibly smooth pour with layers of flavour that unfold on the palate with each sip.
For a bottle of this calibre, it’s definitely worth having in your cupboard if you’re looking for something special – especially for those occasions where you want to treat yourself or be generous with guests at home.
Woodford Reserve food pairings
For starters, Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon pairs nicely with a variety of light snacks and appetizers, such as blue cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon or pan-seared scallops. The sweetness of the bourbon complements the salty bacon and the slight spice helps bring out the flavour of the dates. Meanwhile, the smoky notes in the bourbon match up perfectly with the caramelized scallop flavours. For a light entry, consider using Woodford Reserve in a highball soda cocktail to ease you/your guests in.
For main courses, dishes featuring steak or pork are ideal pairings for Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The sweet notes and oaky finish enhance grilled steaks, while also balancing out any heavier, more robust accompanying sauces. Similarly, its rich flavour profile adds depth to slow-roasted pork dishes like carnitas or pork ribs.
For dessert, chocolate based puddings match up particularly well with Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey. Rich cakes, brownies and even ice creams all benefit from its combination of sweetness, spice and smokiness which harmonise beautifully. The combination of sweet, decadent bourbon is a really nice way to end your meal.
Woodford Reserve cocktail suggestion
For a light and refreshing summer cocktail, the Porch Swing cocktail made with Woodford Reserve bourbon is a sweet but satisfying concoction. Make it for guests or just for you, it’s an easy sipping tea-based drink that work wonderfully with the Woodford whiskey.
- 50ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
- 175ml Peach Tea
- 25ml Lemon juice
- 12ml Honey
- Fresh peach or lemon slice
In an ice-filled Collins glass, measure in the bourbon, tea, lemon juice and honey. Stir with a long bar spoon until the honey is mixed through thoroughly. If required, add more ice and garnish with a slice of fresh peach or lemon cartwheel. Serve.
A closer look at Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
Straight away, you’ll notice the comparatively darker colour of the Double Oaked bourbon. It has a much deeper burnished amber colour, which is surprising, considering it’s only matured again for less than a year in very lightly charred (heavily toasted) barrels.
Keeping in mind that this bourbon is exactly the same grain recipe, proof and overall age, the secondary barrel finishing is the only real differentiator. According to Woodford themselves, this emphasises the sweet oaky character I experienced with the ‘classic’. Let’s take a closer look.
Nose: In my glass, the Double Oaked bourbon has a sweet and slightly fruity nose of caramel, toffee and cooked apples. Straight away, I find it to be more assertive than it’s sibling with decadent notes of chocolate, marzipan and honey.
Swirling it in my glass, there’s a strong base-note of toasted oak. It’s leathery and rich, reminiscent of old furniture and cigar boxes. It’s a beautiful aroma with hints of apple and hazelnut. This aroma feels more robust and enticing, pleasing the nose with its incredible depth of aromas.
Palate: On my first sip, the taste of the Double Oak is noticeably stronger in terms of it’s oaky, woody sort of taste. Strangely, it also tastes warmer in terms of spice but packs a similar sweetness to the ‘classic’. By no means is it sickly, as the winter spices and oaky character are much more evident on the palate.
Early on, it starts off with a typical bourbon sweet note of vanilla. I can taste caramelised orchard fruit of apples and pears mixed with winter spices. For me, these are similar to the ‘classic’ bottle but with more tannins and a slightly dryer sensation on the mid palate. No need for water, this bourbon is just as smooth as the one prior.
With some swirling and ‘chewing’ there’s more complex, nuanced sweetness with flavours of honey, dark caramel and toasted hazelnut. This nuttiness builds in your mouth and has a pudding-like hint of marzipan. Overall, it’s a lovely taste with very little harshness or burn. However, there’s a slightly more astringent character which I relate to the heightened oaky flavours.
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon is full-bodied and velvety, with a thick texture that’s almost syrupy. There’s a creamy smoothness that coats the tongue, giving way to a warming sensation on your palate. The 45.2% ABV provides a pleasant tingle on the tongue that balances out the sweetness and spice notes without being too overpowering. There’s no hint of harshness or burn, leaving you with an enjoyable experience from start to finish.
Finish: The finish of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon is long, sweet and creamy. It leaves behind a pleasant warmth that radiates long after your sip. The warm notes of honeyed apple linger on the tongue, creating a balanced harmony with the nutty and fruity flavours from earlier. Gentle tingles of spice add complexity to the smooth sweetness that lingers. All in all, this finish is both indulgent and refreshing – leaving me wanting more.
Price: When it comes to price-value, the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon is certainly an mid to top-shelf purchase. It delivers the same flavours as the ‘classic’ but with much more woody flavours. For some, this can be a little divisive, but this extra ageing results in a more complex bourbon.
At US $69 or (£55 GBP), the Double Oak delivers a broader scope of aromas and flavour. Despite using the same mashbill, there’s more variation in the spice. It feels warmer, with greater depth. There’s still enough sweetness to contend with the heavily oaky flavour, which overall, is a pleasant pour to savour neat.
Woodford Reserve Double Oak food pairings
For starters, Double Oak pairs perfectly with a smoked salmon tartare. The mild smoky flavour of the fish is complemented by the oaky flavours of the bourbon. Another great starter is a sociable, more laid back charcuterie board with brie and chutney. The creamy taste of brie helps to bring out the sweetness of the bourbon, while a caramelised onion chutney adds a rich flavour that pairs nicely with the woody notes.
Mains are equally enjoyable when paired with the Double Oak bourbon. Try Mexican mole sauce with pork or beef – the sweetness of the bourbon cuts through the rich spices of the mole sauce beautifully. For a lighter meal, seared scallops with a honey-lime glaze works well too. The freshness of the scallops is enhanced by the sweetness of the bourbon, while the citrus notes balance out the oaky characters.
For dessert, try an indulgent dark chocolate tart. The bitterness of dark chocolate complements the woody flavours from the bourbon, while its sweetness helps to bring out the fruity and nutty flavours. Another great choice is an apple crumble with a generous splash of cream. The sweet orchard fruits from the bourbon work perfectly with a warm, cinnamon-spiced crumble.
Double Oak cocktail suggestion
For a decadent, aromatic cocktail, why not try this Orange Fizz? Made with Woodford Reserve’s Double Oak bourbon, it’s a grown-up concoction of blood orange, oak, chocolate and spice. Perfect for the winter months, it’s a heady mix you can savour all night long.
- 50ml Double Oaked bourbon
- 15ml OUNCE Ferrand Dry Curacao
- 15ml OUNCE Blood Orange Juice
- 1 dash Angostura bitters
- 1/2 tsp Lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp Simple syrup
- 1 Egg white
- Soda water
- Blood orange slice
Excluding the soda water, add all your ingredients to an ice filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. Strain into a a chilled highball or Collins glass and top with soda until the egg white (foamy head) rises to the top. Garnish the rim with a blood orange slice and serve.
The Woodford Reserve Kentucky straight bourbon was a delight to drink. As their entry level bourbon, the nose, flavour and finish were all very nice indeed. The flavour profile was sweet and spiced with a lovely variation of cocoa, espresso, cinnamon and vanilla. For a reasonably accessible price of US $48 (£38 GBP) I thought it was a good pour and I’d recommend it for drinkers who’re looking for a more refined bourbon experience.
The Double Oak was everything its sibling previously delivered, but with more winter spice and abundant oaky flavours. The additional ageing seemed to ‘amp up the cinnamon, clove and nutmeg for an overall warmer palate. I personally found the oaky flavour quite enjoyable, but I could see why this dryer, slightly astringent taste could put people off. For the extra money, it’s certainly more complex but I’m not totally sure it warrants the price gap at roughly the same age.
Overall, I thought the Woodford Reserve ‘classic’ was a stellar bourbon. But the Double Oak just had greater depth and spice which won me over. Yes, the more costly bottle may be my favourite, but with the secondary ageing, it just brought more oaky depth to my glass. Both are lovely bourbons but the Double Oak steals my vote when comparing the two.