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Best of the Best 2011: Spirits: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish

Generally, we are averse to selecting the same distillery for inclusion in our Best of the Best issue two years in a row, even when the whiskeys in question are dramatically different. Yet we cannot ignore master distiller Chris Morris’ consistent innovation in developing his ongoing Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection. Last year we recognized his Seasoned Oak Finish, which made use of exceptionally well-aged barrels. But this year’s selection, Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish (www.woodfordreserve.com, $90), the fifth in the Master’s Collection series, raises bourbon to a new level. Taking advantage of the distillery’s on-site cooperage, Morris transferred 7-year-old, triple-distilled Woodford Reserve—which is traditionally aged in new, charred-oak barrels—to custom-made barrels of maple wood for additional aging. This technique violates the legal requirement that a whiskey must be aged only in new American white oak to be designated as bourbon; however, this bottling’s pleasantly unexpected maple-syrup nuances, accompanied by flavors of toasted cedar, lemon, and apricots, make this transgression eminently forgivable.

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