Any decent website for men originating out of Kentucky has to dedicate some space to the ultimate man’s drink: bourbon. While some think of bourbon as a fall and winter spirit, in the Bluegrass state we drink it all year long. So, we’re going to do a highlight a specific bourbon each month and give it a review. I like to think of this feature as a “regular-guy bourbon review”. Although I’ve been a bourbon drinker for several years and have been exposed to a broad range of bourbons, I’m far from an expert.
But here’s the thing: neither are most people. It does most people little good to hear experts drone on about various notes of this and that when they’re probably two years of consistent intentional tasting away from sensing any of it. Regular guys want the highlights: a description of the noticeable features, the level and timing of the burn, and the cost. So that’s what I’m going to try to give you.
To pull it off, and so that you’re not just getting my personal taste preferences, I’ve put together a panel of regular-guy bourbon drinkers. All of us drink enough bourbon and enough different kinds of bourbon that we have a sense of the differences between the different versions, but I don’t think any professional distillers will be calling any of us any time soon to conduct tasting for their products.
So here’s our panel:
Years of Bourbon Experience: Four
In the liquor cabinet: I usually keep around four bourbons, and always have Blanton’s on hand. Right now I have two Blanton’s, 1792, Weller Special Reserve, and Jefferson’s Ocean, Voyage Eight.
Years of Bourbon Experience: 16, but only seven full-time.
In the liquor cabinet:
- 1 House/Mixing Bourbon – Old Forester Signature
- 2 Value Bourbons (i.e. quality for price) – Basil Hayden and Four Roses Single Barrel
- 1 Special Occasion (Old Forester Mint Julep…it’s Derby season!)
- 1 Favorite (Woodford Reserve Double Oaked)
Occupation: Home builder
Years of Bourbon Experience: Four
In the liquor cabinet: I always keep around 90-100 bottles of varying price points and qualities, from the cheapest Johnny Drum to the most expensive Elijah Craig. Don’t steal my spot in line when there’s a new release, because I’m gonna be there.
Occupation: Amateur basketball analyst
Years of Bourbon Experience: 17, but only five that matter.
In the liquor cabinet: Woodford Reserve (my favorite), Jim Beam Black and Old Forester (for mixing in a cocktail), Jim Beam Signature Craft (a gift from a friend; it’s excellent), Old Forester Mint Julep (because the first Saturday in May is upon us).
Rating Scale and Criteria
We’re going to review on a scale of one to five “fingers” (if you’re new to the bourbon game, it gets poured in “fingers”) and give our impressions about the taste, finish, burn, and quality at the price point. Plus anything else that stands out to us. And we promise not to use the word “palate”, as no regular guy uses that word when discussing bourbon.
Woodford Reserve Double Oaked
The first bourbon we decided to tackle was Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. As the name suggests, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked is produced by the Woodford Reserve Distillery Company, which is owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation and located in Woodford County, Kentucky, smack dab in the middle of thoroughbred country.
The Double Oaked version is produced by using two different barrels in the maturation process. After initial maturation, the bourbon is then aged for the last year or so in a second barrel, which has been toasted and “lightly charred” to add some oak flavoring.
The product website gives the official description:
Color: Dark Amber
Smell: Dark fruit, caramel, honey, chocolate, marzipan, and toasted oak
Palate: Vanilla, dark caramel, hazelnut, apple, fruit and spices
Finish: Long and creamy with lingering hints of honeyed apple
Retail price: $55.00
That’s what they say, here’s what we say:
As a guy who holds an annual bourbon-tasting party, there aren’t many bourbons that I haven’t come across. I’d tried the Woodford Double Oaked before, but, to be honest, it didn’t leave an impression. Marsh likes to say there are consumption-related reasons why I don’t remember it. But he’s wrong, as usual. In any event, it made an impression this time. I quickly noticed it to be warm on the front end, but smooth on the finish with very little burn. The finish is where I noticed the caramel taste, which stood out above anything else. At its price point, I’d buy it again, probably as a sipping bourbon that would go well with dessert. Of all the Woodford offerings, I think the Double Oaked is the best. Here’s how I break it down:
- Taste – 4 fingers
- Value – 3 fingers – at its price point, it’s an average bourbon
- Availability – 5 fingers – we’re blessed in Kentucky, but you should be able to find the Double Oaked without much problem.
Overall Rating: 3 fingers
As this is my first rating for The Regular Guy Bourbon Review, I felt it appropriate to provide some backstory on how I became a bourbon enthusiast. I went to pharmacy school in Lexington, Kentucky, ground zero for bourbon. I’m originally from Missouri, so my taste at the time was anything Budweiser related. The day I moved to Lexington, my Dad took me out for a good-luck steak dinner. I decided to order a whiskey and diet with my steak since that is what I always order on “Two for Tuesdays” back home. The steakhouse let me know they don’t serve “whiskey” and I needed to select a “bourbon” (my first lesson was a great lesson) I chose Woodford and diet. As I go to take my first swig, my father says, “When I come to your graduation in four years, that better be on the rocks” (my second lesson was a better lesson).
Now, back to Woodford Double Oaked. I tend to say my favorite bourbon is one shared with friends over a special occasion, but in the case of Woodford Double Oaked, if you made me choose one bourbon to have the rest of my life, I choose this one. Right next to Lexington in Woodford County, amongst the white fences of surrounding horse farms, is the birthplace of my favorite bourbon. The Woodford website notes its deep amber color with a full-bodied mix of vanilla, dark caramel, and hazelnut. Apparently that’s what I like in bourbon. Even if your ice ball melts while you enjoy this pour, it remains full of flavor and, at 90.4 proof, it always takes the edge off after a long day. Yes, there are more expensive bourbons. Yes, there are harder bourbons to find. But if you are going for flavor, smooth finish, no burn, and available, this should be a staple to your liquor cabinet, as it is in mine.
Bonus tip: try it with a bite of peanut butter…totally changes the flavor experience. Here’s how I break it down:
- Taste – 5 fingers
- Value – 5 fingers – great tasting bourbon that won’t break the bank
- Availability – 5 fingers – you can find it in most stores where bourbons are sold
Overall Rating: 5 fingers
My first real experience with bourbon was mixing Evan Williams and Coke at a graduate school party about 17 years ago. This was introduced to me by a dearly departed friend and classmate of mine who was from, of all places, Alabama. My true bourbon experience began about five years ago with some friends, who began as neighbors, who are now great friends, introduced me to the proper ways to drink bourbon (on the rocks, neat, in a classic cocktail, at the poker table, or by the fire pit). Since that time I have had a chance to try quite a few different bourbons, mostly in the $30-$50 range. The range that I have had a chance to try is likely not as vast as others. On the high priced side, I have tried 10 year Pappy Van Winkle on a couple of different occasions. I have read how Pappy isn’t necessarily the best, that it’s just rare, but it’s the best that I’ve ever tried for reasons I can explain later. This bourbon represents my five finger benchmark. Having said that, I realize my bourbon tasting scale isn’t as sophisticated as most, but that’s what the The Regular Guy Bourbon Review is all about: talking about bourbon in a way that most guys talk about bourbon. For me, bourbon usually boils down to “I like it”, “I really like it”, or “I don’t hate it.”
As for the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, I really like it. As Woodford Reserve is my favorite bourbon to drink on the rocks, Double Oaked is similar in the things I like about Woodford. It is very smooth without a lot of burn, a characteristic I look for (as if you needed any additional evidence I’m not a professional bourbon drinker). The caramel flavor I get from regular Woodford is not as pronounced, but that’s not a bad thing, it has an excellent flavor. As the ice melted and I reached the bottom of the glass, this bourbon stayed easy to drink and flavorful. I’m planning to add this one to my cabinet as soon as possible and it’s going right next to my bottle of Woodford. Here’s my breakdown:
- Taste – 5 fingers
- Value – 4.5 fingers – very good even at $50.00-$60.00 a bottle.
- Availability – 5 fingers – It’s always in stock at Liquor Barn.
Overall Rating: 4.5 fingers
I had the Double Oaked both neat and on the rocks. My typical protocol when tasting for comparison is to drink it neat, but when drinking for pleasure, I always add some ice. And TJ always makes fun of me for it. While you will notice some differences in most bourbons when you add ice, I really noticed it with the Double Oaked.
When drinking it neat, I noticed some caramel and a late light burn. When I added ice to the mix, the caramel opened up and, honestly, became overpowering. I felt like I was drinking a flavored bourbon – like a Jim Beam Maple or something. The light burn at the end remained the same, but the ice opened up both the oak and the caramel in a way that gave it a heavy, almost smoky taste. Ultimately, I thought it was overpowering.
The Double Oaked typically retails for $50.00-$60.00. I had it at higher-end restaurant where it was served for $12.00 per pour. I don’t mind paying for good bourbon, but I didn’t like the Double Oaked enough to have it again unless particularly in the mood for something heavy and smoky. Or unless I was hanging out with Ness and Honcho and had to drink it to avoid a duel or something. Here’s how I break it down:
- Taste – 3 fingers – It’s fine, but the caramel is too much.
- Value – 2 fingers – It’s priced like a very good bourbon, but tastes more like a flavored bourbon, which you can get much cheaper.
- Availability – 5 – as the others have noted, you should be able to find the Double Oaked without much problem.
Overall Rating: 3 fingers. Overpowering caramel and oak taste. Light burn at the end (which I liked). I’d probably only have it again if particularly in the mood for it. So, if you’re looking for a $12.00 pour, there are many better options.
Overall Rating: 3.875 fingers. That’s a fairly high rating, so give it a shot the next time you’re out and let us know what you think in the comments section below. Also, let us know which bourbons you’d like to see reviewed. Thanks, and enjoy the Derby this weekend.