As a lover of crazy and fun cocktails I have steered clear from bourbon, thinking it was a strictly serious drink. I am happy to report my misconceptions have been reversed after attending a Woodford Reserve Bourbon wheel tasting. Not only can bourbon be serious and sophisticated; but it also makes a refreshing variety of cocktails.
With National Bourbon Heritage Month around the corner in September, Woodford Reserve Master Taster Elizabeth O’Neill traveled from Kentucky to Miami to host a Woodford Reserve wheel tasting. I was invited to participate in the tasting. I had so much fun – I’m already planning my own tasting!
The Woodford Reserve Flavor Wheel
Each of the steps and ingredients in the Woodford Reserve creation process gives the bourbon a specific flavor. The rye in the grain recipe adds a spicy character; the fermentation process with the iron-free limestone filtered water gives the fruit/floral profile; the distillation in cooper columns crafts the sweet aromatic flavor; and the charred, white oak barrels, in which the bourbon matures, gives the hint of smoke and wood.
There are over 200 detectable flavors in Woodford Reserve craft bourbon. During the tasting you sample a variety of foods. By comparing the flavor notes of the samples with the Woodford Reserve Flavor Wheel, you experience a great deal of the subtle flavor cues in the Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon.
All bourbon is created using the same five sources of flavor, but Woodford Reserve does something special with all five. Their whiskeys are crafted through an artisanal process that creates bourbon rich in complexity with a distinct taste and crisp, clean finish.
Bourbon Flavor Wheel Tasting
A bourbon flavor wheel tasting is a whiskey tasting technique that pairs certain foods to highlight new flavors when sipping your bourbon. We experienced a tropical version of their traditional wheel tasting with coconut flakes, hazelnut, banana, pineapple, dark chocolate, and sorghum (molasses).
We started with the hazelnut and took a sip of bourbon, making sure it coated our mouth. The roasted hazelnut made the nuttiness of the malted barley stand out. Hazelnut always reminds me of Nutella so I was on board with this combination.
Next, we tried the pineapple which highlighted the alcohol. It made the bourbon taste sharp and I could really feel it in my nose.
One of my favorite pairings was the dark chocolate. It completely changed the flavor of the bourbon, bringing out hints of coffee, caramel and vanilla.
We ended with sorghum, a type of molasses. This was my favorite combination of the tasting. The sorghum highlights the herbal characteristics of Woodford Reserve followed by spice, vanilla, caramel, and fruit.
As a bonus, we paired Parmigiano Reggiano with Woodford Reserve Bourbon. The fats in the aged parmesan absorb the alcohol taste allowing the spice, vanilla, and caramel flavors to the forefront.
Flavor is a personal thing. Everyone has created their own unique flavor memory based on the different tastes and aromatics they have experienced throughout their life. That’s why hosting your very own wheel tasting is so much fun! Everyone experiences something different during the pairing.
If you’d like to host your own Woodford Reserve Tasting Wheel, visit the Woodford Reserve website. Lucky for you, they have a step by step guide to conduct a tasting. It even includes a script in case you don’t notice the flavors during any step of the tasting. So load up on supplies and email all your friends. You’re about to go on eye opening bourbon adventure!