From the State of Kentucky

by CWA @ 08 Aug 2019
From the State of Kentucky
Woodford Reserve is a renowned brand of premium small batch Kentucky straight bourbon whisky produced in Woodford County, Kentucky.
Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve, Mr. Chris Morris visited Singapore earlier to share about the brand and its premium line-up of whiskies. Cuisine & Wine Asia sits down with Mr. Morris to find out more about the brand.

CWA: What were some of the difficulties Woodford Reserve encountered in the beginning? How did Woodford Reserve tackle those difficulties?

CM: When Woodford Reserve was introduced to the market in 1996 it faced number of obstacles on its road to success. First of all, the bourbon category in the United States was in the midst of a long term decline. A number of the large historic bourbon distilleries had recently closed and a number of brands had been discontinued. Obviously, there was no demand or need for a new bourbon brand or distillery.

We therefore look at the creation of Woodford Reserve as the innovation that saved American whisky. Innovation is doing something new, doing something different and doing it so well that others copy you. Since the introduction of Woodford Reserve, there have been over 250 new Kentucky straight Bourbon Brands introduced to the market. 60 new distilleries have opened in Kentucky and a new term, “Bourbonism” has been coined to describe the fact that distillery visits are now the number one tourism attraction in Kentucky. Woodford Reserve certainly changed the face of the whiskey industry in America. But this took a long time because it wasn’t easy in the early days.

CWA: Do you see any difference in the drinking preferences between Asian and Western customers?

CM: In my brief exposure over the years to the Asian consumer market, the biggest difference I see in drinking preferences is that Asian consumers drink their whisky neat while western consumers will add ice to their whiskey and/or drink it in cocktails. I do believe that this is changing now as more Asian consumers and bartenders have come to appreciate American whiskies like Woodford Reserve are so mixable and therefore are enjoyable in a wide range of cocktails. This seems to be part of the globalization of American whisky in general
and specifically for super premium Kentucky straight Bourbon brands like Woodford Reserve.

CWA: How does the environment of Kentucky contribute towards the production of whisky?

CM: It is the unique environment of Kentucky that led to the development of bourbon whisky in the first place. Early Kentucky settlers were of Scottish and Irish descent and they understood how to craft a great whisky. However, they had to adapt their whisky-making prowess to a new environment. Kentucky has four distinct seasons that range from bitter cold to extremely hot.  Therefore, the whiskey they crafted in Kentucky matured at a different rate than whiskey back in the old countries of Scotland and Ireland. Kentucky also has an abundance of oak trees. Also, the first market for bourbon required it to be shipped down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in barrel. The barrels would never be returned. Therefore, bourbon is always matured in a new oak barrel. Our ancestors found that the best grain  to grow in Kentucky was the native American grain - corn, rather than barley, rye or wheat.  Therefore bourbon’s grain recipe has always been dominated by corn. Lime stone water is the primary Spring-water type in Central Kentucky. It is a naturally iron-free mineral rich water that aids in the development of flavour in the bourbon mash cooking process. So Kentucky provided the early settlers from Europe with a rich environment to re-create the whisky types they made in the old world into the great whisky now known as Kentucky bourbon.

CWA: What are the possibilities for the group’s whiskies in the future?

CM: We believe that the Woodford family of whiskies have great potential to become the next iconic global whiskey brand from the United States. Our Kentucky bourbon whisky expression is now the number-one-selling super-premium American whisky of any type in the world. The ultra-premium Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is the number-one-selling Kentucky bourbon in that price segment. We are just now introducing the world to our new rye, malt and wheat whisky expressions so they have a long way to go in building consumer interest. So the future for Woodford Reserve is looking extremely bright and our five core expressions certainly offer the Asian consumer a great number of flavour options to explore as they learn about this great brand.

For more information about Woodford Reserve, please click here.