Today’s story comes from beer Guru & writer Stephen Beaumont <www.worldofbeer.com> who recently traveled to Kentucky to get a sneak preview of the new Master’s Collection whiskey, 1838 Sweet Mash.
Being a Canadian, even one who travels regularly south of the border, there is many a special edition whiskey that comes and quickly goes before I have a chance to get my hands, and palate, on it. Such was the case with the first two editions of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, the much ballyhooed Four Grain and only slightly less celebrated Sonoma-Cutrer Finish.
So when the opportunity arose to travel to Kentucky for a preview of this year’s entry, courtesy of Brown-Forman, no less, I jumped at it. Along the way, I suspected, I might even be able to score a sip or three of the first two, as well.
I was right. Following a first night reception at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville, and a couple of post-prandial cocktails in the Seelbach Hotel Bar with Woodford Master Distiller, Chris Morris, it was up at the crack of dawn and off to the distillery in nearby Versailles. There, I was promised not just a preview of the new edition bourbon, but also a sampling of the Four Grain and Sonoma-Cutrer.
Those two whiskeys arrived first, beginning with the spicy, big bodied Four Grain, a whiskey I thought exceptional but also quite at odds with the relative elegance of my favorite Manhattan bourbon, the regular Woodford Reserve. The Sonoma-Cutrer came next, less impressive to me with its softly herbal, honeydew melon nose and buttery, soft fruit body, and of a character I thought best described as feminine. I took a lot of ribbing for that comment from the women in the room, but I stand by it.
Finally, we got into this year’s entry in the Master’s Collection, the 1838 Sweet Mash. As the name implies, this is a non-sour mash bourbon, which was, of course, how all whiskeys were once made, hence the 1838 designation. (The best guess, we were told, is that sour mashing took hold sometime around the mid-1800’s.) Given a different environment in which to feed, the yeasts naturally behave differently and produce different compounds, even though the recipe remains the same as that of the regular Woodford, and herein resides the “specialness” of this bourbon. As per the Master’s Collection tradition, this is a limited edition brand that will premier in the U.S. on November 1, and in Canada on December 1, and is not expected to be seen again.
Not surprisingly, given that only the mashing method has changed, the color of the Sweet Mash is identical to that of the Woodford Reserve. The aroma, on the other hand, I felt was significantly sweeter, with notes of plum, raisin and stewed peach predominant, and a peppery spice lurking in the background. Similarly, the front end of the taste I also found sweeter, with more fruit, including a hint of cherry, less vanilla and a rounder, “fatter” overall character. Towards the end of the taste, however, the whiskey does a full back flip and suddenly becomes drier than its better known cousin, leaving only a lingering sensation of brown spice.
Overall, I’d place the Sweet Mash somewhere between its predecessors, less spectacular and spectacularly different than the Four Grain, but more successful an experiment than the Sonoma-Cutrer Finish. That said, it is a piece of liquid history, and who wouldn’t want a sip of that?!