Exclusive: Woodford Debuts 2020 Master’s Collection Made with Some of their Oldest Bourbon Ever

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Very Fine Rare Bourbon 2020. Courtesy Woodford Reserve.
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Very Fine Rare Bourbon 2020. Courtesy Woodford Reserve.

For the last release of 2020, Woodford Reserve is going into previously unexplored territory with Master’s Collection Old Fine Rare Bourbon: a limited edition small batch utilizing some of the oldest whiskey in their possession. The Bourbon Review got an exclusive taste of this new whiskey.

The whiskey is a blend of barrels up to 17 years old. That’s right: 17-year-old Woodford bourbon. This liquid was distilled under Master Distiller Chris Morris in his first year in the master distiller role, in 2003. “The name Very Fine Rare Bourbon is a nod to the descriptors used by our ancestors to auction highly-aged Bourbon barrel lots,” Morris said in an unreleased statement. “While Woodford Reserve will always honor the past, this Master’s Collection is about the present and future.”

This is, according to Woodford, the oldest stock in Woodford’s possession, so we’re seeing fundamentally the outer limits of what the Woodford mash bill and aging process is capable of doing to whiskey. “What a fitting tribute to use these oldest barrels of Woodford Reserve to celebrate Chris Morris’ legacy while also looking to the future, “ Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall said.

The age is not stated on the bottle, which means that this 17-year whiskey has likely been counterbalanced by something younger. It’s a similar concept to the beloved Booker’s 30th batching from 2018, which included some of Beam’s oldest Booker’s stock, but needed younger whiskey to make it truly great.

Woodford has never been the “age statement” kind of whiskey anyway, and Master’s Collection has never really been about numbers, so that would have been an unusual change of pace. The Woodford folks were also quick to clarify that Master’s Collection isn’t changing course and that, going forward, “all future Master’s Collections will focus on modern innovation by Morris and McCall.”

The 2020 Master’s Collection was apparently also an excuse to debut a new bottle design. Gone is the classic round “pot still” shaped bottle, replaced instead with this new version of the more familiar hip flask shape. This will also be the first Master’s Collection release ever to feature McCall’s name since she started in that role in 2018.

What does Woodford Reserve bourbon taste like at 17 years of age? The Bourbon Review obtained a sample ahead of the announcement and we have to say: it’s a once in a generation sort of release.

From the start this whiskey is a unicorn’s unicorn. The nose begins deceptively sweet, showing sweet oak and praline notes, but quickly balances with an alluring waft of pipe tobacco.

On the palate, it weaves together sharply defined notes of vanilla and green apple with tons of clove and candied orange peel.

The structure of this whiskey is gorgeous and defined throughout, but the finish is where this whiskey shines, like some 90.4 proof symphony coming to a crescendo.

Initial depths of oak seems to separate into individual flavors of component grains. The finish begins with a fresh corn sweetness, veers sharply into spice, but ends with a pleasant, earthy maltiness that continues into the finish in long tendrils of dark chocolate.

What’s incredible about this whiskey is that, throughout all these flavor twists and turns, it manages to sustain a baseline of those slightly spicy-sweet oak notes that never disappears. That dark chocolate seems to hang in your mouth for minutes after the last sip, counterbalancing with returning hints of vanilla long after the last swallow.

Put simply, this is the best Woodford we’ve ever tried—and we’ve tried a lot of Woodfod. It’s an elegantly old whisky immaculately counterbalanced by younger stock to make something profoundly delicious.

It’s also a fitting batch to bear both Morris and McCall’s names, and as the distillery begins to hint that a formal transition of duties from Morris to McCall is likely coming before the decade is over, it’s nice to see Morris’s work (specifically his barrels) put to such incredible use. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last of this stock, either.

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Very Fine Rare Bourbon is on sale nationwide this month with a suggested retail of $130. Quantities are limited—good luck.

G. Clay Whittaker
Clay is Editor at Large of The Bourbon Review. He has written about whiskey, food, drink, and culture for Esquire, Playboy, Men's Journal, Popular Science, Southern Living, Maxim, among others.