Spirit Of The Week: Woodford Reserve ‘Double Double Oaked’ Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall turns an accident into a whiskey treasure.

(Woodford Reserve)

We previously covered the basics of Woodford Reserve “Double Double Oaked” Bourbon, but here’s the quick skinny: Double Double Oaked is a successor of Double Oaked, which was Woodford Reserve’s second permanent expression when it was released in 2012. 

Double Oaked starts with Woodford Reserve Bourbon, which is matured between five to seven years in virgin American oak. They then dump that whiskey into a second barrel—specifically heavily toasted, lightly charred, new oak barrels—for another 12 months. 

So the new limited-edition release, Double Double Oaked, utilizes the same process as its predecessor, except instead of second-aging in those heavily toasted, lightly charred, new oak barrels for 12 months, they age it for 24 to 36 months—two to three times longer than Double Oaked is aged. The results are a surprising twist in flavors, evolving the sweet, aromatic, butterscotch notes into bigger, bolder notes of dark roast coffee, nutmeg and tobacco.

We were lucky to enjoy a tasting and pairing with Compartés chocolates at Spago Beverly Hills this week and had a chance to speak with newly minted Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall about the making of this unique spirit. We also had a chance to discuss her background and history learning under esteemed whiskey maker and former Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Emeritus Chris Morris—a true legend in the bourbon game—and the evolution of oops in the bourbon-making process. Read our conversation below.

(Woodford Reserve)

Were you both proteges of former Master Distiller Chris Morris at the same time?

Yes, that is accurate. He’s done a good job mentoring us, I’d say. We were both in research and development. She was in process research and development, and I was in a sensory lab working on quality control taste testing.

Is the work in the sensory lab done with spectrographs and such, or does the human palate come into play? 

My work was more with your palate. I had wet chem training so I could do the spectrophotometer, density meter and pH and all that. But what I was focusing on was the tasting side of it. 

What was it like working under Chris? Because one of the things that he’s best known for is being very experimental, thinking outside the box. 

I would say he definitely taught me his innovative spirit, or he kind of instilled that in me. And a lot of that comes from just having to be able to pivot. When whiskey things happen—sometimes things happen during production and you have little accidents—how do you innovate and take something that’s happened and turn it into a positive and utilize it to its fullest extent? 

I feel like that’s really where Chris excelled. Other than, yes, pushing the envelope and creating something truly unique, but then taking things that already exist and turning them into something that you can really capitalize on and leverage. And so that’s been really one of the greatest skills and something I really enjoy doing in my role.

So when unexpected things happen, it’s a matter of thinking on your toes and being able to innovate with the variables life throws at you?

Yeah, truly it is. We recently tried to do a honey barrel release. We had an opportunity: One of our local honey guys came and wanted to finish his honey in our barrels, and it was prior to me going out on maternity leave. Well, I thought we’re going to have five barrels filled with honey, and then we’ll get all five back and we’ll make a special release for April or around Derby time, end of 2024. It’s going to be great. Well, when I get back from maternity leave and call him he tells me, “Oh yeah, I filled one of the barrels.” Like, oh shit, you only filled one of the barrels? Well, that’s not going to work. So then I was like, “Okay, well, how can we spin this? I guess let’s look in the inventory.”

Luckily, I know our barrel inventory, and I thought, “Okay, we’re going to take another little oops that happened and work with that.” What happened was we accidentally filled some barrels that aren’t normally filled with new-make spirit, and now that will be out in April instead [of the honey barrel]. Hopefully it all comes together. So we were able to pivot again. 

So, I feel like Chris just taught me to learn that we’re dealing with bourbon—we’re not performing open heart surgery. There’s really no true emergency, and it’s fun. Just put on your creative hat and think of something cool. And so I think what we’re going to release in April, I don’t want to give away exactly what it is, but it’s something that makes me really excited.

What about our Spirit of the Week, the “Double Double Oaked” Bourbon we paired with the chocolates. How did that come about?

Double Double Oaked was actually another oops thing that happened. So standard Double Oaked ages in that second finishing barrel up to 12 months. But what happened is we had barrels that accidentally sat longer, and so they were no longer in spec to be Double Oaked, and so we were like, “Okay, well let’s hold onto ’em a little longer and then put that whiskey into a bottle, see what it tastes like.” So these are going up to 36 months in that second barrel. So it’s still the same second-finishing barrel, it’s just instead of dumping the barrels at 12 months, we’re going up to 36 months. 

What was your expected result of that extended second aging, and what was the actual result? Were there any delightful surprises in the final product?

Yeah, I was surprised. I couldn’t believe how much the Double Oak shifted from being this very sweet, aromatic, butterscotch, creamy, soft sort of profile to then Double Double Oaked being roasted coffee, dark chocolate, much more oak forward, clove, nutmeg—just bigger, bolder, leather, tobacco, all that. It shifted so much in the second barrel when you age that much longer, which was just really impressive to me. I loved seeing how it changed it.

So the Honey Barrel was about an oops moment that led to a delicious whiskey, and then this Double Double Oaked was also the direct result of an oops, right?

Exactly. Well, that’s kind of the story of bourbon, isn’t it? I mean, they didn’t initially intend to age it in barrels. It was just kind of like, “Oh, well, isn’t that cool—it tastes better when it sits longer in this barrel. Maybe we should let it sit for awhile!” So it’s kind of how it’s all evolved, no? Same as sour mashing—oh, that actually makes it taste better. The quality’s better, so maybe we’ll do that intentionally. So it’s an oops, but it’s also just how the whole industry has evolved, I think. 

Woodford Reserve “Double Double Oaked” Bourbon comes bottled at 45.2% ABV (90.4-proof), and as a Distillery Series release can only be found at their Versailles, Kentucky shop for $79.99.

Follow Deputy Editor Nicolas Stecher on Instagram at @nickstecher and @boozeoftheday.