The Double Double Oaked makes us happy. | Photo by Sara Havens
The Double Double Oaked was the day’s winner. | Photos by Sara Havens

A handful of local and regional journalists gathered Monday at the rustic Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Ky. The purpose was to learn more about and taste two bourbons from the brand’s new Distillery Series, which IL wrote about earlier this month — Double Double Oaked and Sweet Mash Redux.

Instead of diving right in and appeasing our bourbon appetites, Woodford’s Master Distiller Chris Morris and Master Taster Elizabeth O’Neill gave us a full tour of the distillery’s facilities — from the mash tubs and the yeast strain to the bottling operation and the bung holes. They even gave us an up-close-and-personal glimpse at how a barrel is toasted, as opposed to charred — which is extremely important to the Double Oaked line of Woodford.

An example of a lightly toasted barrel, as opposed to a charred barrel.
An example of a lightly toasted barrel, as opposed to a charred barrel.

The Distillery Series gives Woodford and Morris a chance to experiment with various parts of the bourbon-making process to create an end product that is slightly different from the flagship brand. There will be six in the Distillery Series released through April of 2016, and the next one, Morris hinted at, will be a five-malt whiskey that’ll come out in early fall.

The catch here is the Distillery Series bourbons and whiskies are only available at the distillery in Versailles and retail for $49.99 for a 375ml bottle. The Double Double Oaked and Sweet Mash Redux — both bourbons — will be available beginning Thursday.

As a fan of the original Woodford Double Oaked, I was eager to taste the Double Double Oaked, which spends an extra year in the second, heavily toasted and lightly charred new oak barrel.

Double Oaked takes mature Woodford and “finishes” it in the new heavily toasted barrel for six months to a year. As Morris and O’Neill demonstrated with the burning barrel, the more you toast, as opposed to char, the more expressions of vanilla and caramel will seep into the bourbon. Think of a lightly toasted marshmallow as opposed to one that has caught on fire and is black and flaky.

We sampled the new Double Double Oaked alongside the original Double Oaked, and the first thing we noticed was the darker color of the Double Double. O’Neill then suggested we sniff the two to detect even more differences, but as I brought the glass up to my face, it only got as far as my mouth. I could not wait any longer.

An explosion of caramel, vanilla and dark chocolate tangoed with my taste buds. It was smooth and sweet — and I immediately pictured myself sipping this on my front porch as the day’s stresses slowly fade away. Morris suggested it makes the perfect after-dinner apéritif. I’ve tasted a lot of bourbons, and none have been this delicious and distinct.

Master Taster Elizabeth O'Neill and Master Distiller Chris Morris demonstrate the charing and toasting process.
Master Taster Elizabeth O’Neill and Master Distiller Chris Morris demonstrate the charing and toasting process.

Next up was the Sweet Mash Redux, which had prominent notes of fruit and herbal flavors, but it did not even come close to dethroning the Double Double for my palate. A few in our group liked the bourbon’s oak- and baked apple-detected notes, but a majority chose the Double Double as their favorite.

Woodford Reserve, which is a sour mash bourbon, first experimented with a sweet mash in 2008 for its Master’s Collection, hence the “Redux” in the title. To create a sweet mash, they modified the fermentation process a bit by manipulating the pH factor. I didn’t understand it very well, but I did taste a difference in the original and the Sweet Mash — and I believe I prefer the original.

Since yesterday, I haven’t been able to get the Double Double Oaked off my mind, and I foresee a trip this weekend back to the distillery for my own bottle of the toasted treat.

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."