El Gaucho Portland’s Nicholas Henley and Peter Strong were given a very important mission: Travel to Versailles, Kentucky to visit the Woodford Reserve Distillery to blend the next iteration of El Gaucho Portland’s Personal Selection. Nicholas gives us a sneak peek into the custom blending process and how our teams work with our spirit partners to create something special for our guests.
Our goal was to create one special barrel of Woodford Reserve for El Gaucho Portland that will taste great neat and give our world-class bartenders a new toy to use when concocting delicious libations.
It was about an hour drive from Louisville to Woodford, the oldest distillery in Kentucky still operating today. The beautiful scenery made the trip go quickly as we treated to views of lush green, deciduous trees and rolling countryside. As we entered the grounds, a light rain began to fall we passed one of the first buildings constructed in the area in 1838 on our way to one of their “small” on-site rickhouses. I couldn’t tell if it was humidity or if the air was thick with all the history.
I will never forget the smoky, sweet and inviting smell of that magnificent rickhouse. The building itself is made of stone with iron bars and thick, metal shutters on the windows. Our guide, Rob, explained that the security is because the Bottled in Bond act of 1897 required the whiskey to be stored in bonded warehouses under government supervision to assure the quality and content of the whiskey. Not even the master distiller was allowed into the warehouses without a Treasury Agent making sure that the whiskey held within remained pure.
Today’s master distiller, Chis Morris, joined us for a private, unscheduled Q&A session. While many establishments go through this barrel blending process, Chris made the experience feel unique and memorable with his light-hearted, friendly, and candid conversation. Woodford Reserve has been proven to contain more than 200 different flavors and Chris is able to pick out all of them. He would prove to be the perfect guide by listening to our suggestions of flavors and aromas before sharing what he was tasting and smelling.
We began by tasting four individual barrels. Barrel #1 was filled on November 1st, 2013, was stored toward the bottom of the rickhouse and came in at 115.5 proof. It had baked apple and apricot on the nose with flavors of baked apple and a hint of mint or eucalyptus. Barrel #2 was born on November 15th, 2013, was stored higher up and came in at 129.0 proof. The nose was berries, oak resin, and cinnamon with flavors of sweetened berry preserves. Barrel #3 was also born on November 15th, 2013, was also stored higher in the warehouse and hit 133.9 proof. Aromas of maple syrup and tropical fruit were present and the palate was quite viscus with butterscotch being the dominate flavor. Barrel #4 did not have enough of a distinctive character for us and was put to the side so that we could focus on our top three.
Next, we started blending. Chris put together a 50/50 mixture of barrels 1&2, 1&3, and 2&3 and then diluted them down to approximately 90 proof. It was pretty remarkable how vastly different the new blended samples were from the single barrel samples in both aroma and flavor.
Barrels 1&2 combined were super complex. It took on the nose of barrel #2 with more of the fruity character as opposed to the apples but there was also a hint of mint and an underlying sweetness. The palate was where more of barrel #1 shined through as the baked apples and nutmeg were in the forefront and a little eucalyptus on the finish. Very nice! Barrels 1&3 became their own creation when it came to the aroma. We noticed smells of honey and sweetened spices. Deep, rich and warming describe the flavors of the vanilla, maple and graham cracker that lovingly washed over our taste buds. So good! On their own both barrels 2 & 3 were quite nice but together they canceled each other out when blended so we were one step closer with two options left.
After much tasting, discussion, re-tasting, more discussion and tasting again we finally made our choice. While both were very tasty, they were also quite different. We chose sample 1&2 because of its versatility and potential as a magnificent cocktail bourbon. We can’t wait to share it with our guests.
Our barrel of G-Blend VII will arrive in a few months and it is definitely the best version yet, if Pete and I do say so ourselves!
Visit Nick and Peter at El Gaucho Portland to find out more about their whiskey adventure!