I’ve always been impressed with the ingenuity of people who can repurpose things. It doesn’t matter if it is an entertainment center converted into a bar, a ladder made into a bookshelf, or a wheelbarrow that gets a new life as a planter. To me, it is fascinating (and, frankly, I’m jealous that I can never think of those things).
Distillers have done the same thing for many years. Bourbon and American Rye can only be aged in brand new barrels, and many find new life in other countries where whiskeys (and other spirits) can be aged in vintage oak. More recently, those barrels have wound up at breweries, wineries, coffee estates, and beekeepers, where their products are kept and take on the qualities of what’s stuck in the wood.
What’s fun is when a distillery sends off a barrel, it is used to store something else and then returns to that same distillery to become a finishing barrel. And, that’s how we wind up with today’s Woodford Reserve Honey Barrel Finish review.
Honey Barrel Finish is part of Woodford’s Distillery Series, an annual release of experimental whiskeys where Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall have some fun with their creative juices.
“One of the best parts of my job is being able to experiment with new ways of making Woodford Reserve. It’s been rewarding to work with a honey producer here in Woodford County to create this unique Distillery Series expression and support local business and agriculture.” – Chris Morris
This release begins with a standard, used Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrel sent off to a local honeybee farmer in Woodford County, Kentucky. After the honey was aged, it was returned to Woodford Reserve and filled with properly-aged Woodford Reserve Bourbon for a short time.
Honey Barrel Release is bottled at Woodford’s usual 90.4° and is available in a 375ml package. It can be procured from the distillery gift shop and “select retailers” around Kentucky.
Before you start scrambling to get your hands on a bottle, I’m sure you’d like to know how it tastes, and the only way to do that is to #DrinkCurious. But, first, I must thank Woodford Reserve for sending me a sample in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.
Appearance: I poured this neat into my Glencairn glass, and it appeared as a deep, dark caramel. One of the thickest rims I’ve seen stuck to the wall until it set free slow, thick tears.
Nose: The influence of the honey was impossible to miss as the aroma wafting from the glass. Butterscotch, vanilla cookies, and oak came next. I tasted coconut macaroons when I pulled the air in through my lips.
Palate: From the stickiness of the rim, I would have expected a heavy mouthfeel. Nope. It was oily and thin. Bit O’Honey was the first thing I tasted, and as it turned out, was the entirety of the front. The mid-palate consisted of orange blossom, toasted coconut, and nutmeg flavors. The back exploded with allspice, clove, and dry oak.
Finish: The oak became chewy, and the spice notes continued to build. The clove and allspice competed for attention. Then dark-roast coffee came out of nowhere. I sat there and waited for it to end, and it took several minutes to begin to fall off. Once it did, it dropped quickly.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Nothing is reminiscent of Woodford Reserve’s flagship Bourbon here. When you think of something with honey, you don’t often associate that with a big, bold spice bomb. Yet, that’s what Honey Barrel Finish gave, especially on the back and finish. All the sweetness was up front, and by the time I swallowed, it was nowhere to be found. If you’re searching for a Bourbon way off the beaten path, I believe Woodford Reserve Honey Barrel Finish will satisfy that desire. As for me, I wasn’t a fan on the first sip. But by the third, I found myself refilling my glass to enjoy this some more. I am happy to have this one in my whiskey library, and it earns my Bottle rating. Cheers!
My Simple, Easy to Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It
Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.