Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Woodford Reserve Distillery
7785 McCracken Pike
Versailles, KY 40383
Tour / Review
Please enjoy our Woodford Reserve Distillery Tour Review!
The Woodford Reserve Distillery
Discretely nestled among the horse farms in Woodford County Kentucky is the home of Woodford Reserve Distillery. Located just 8 miles north of Versailles, Woodford Reserve is a beautiful and unique piece of Kentucky’s distilling history. Beautiful because the original farm-distillery land continues to be some of the finest in the Bluegrass region and unique because there have been only 4 owners of the distillery since 1812.
Woodford Reserve Distillery History: Ownership Changes and Developments
Around the aforementioned time, Elijah Pepper set up his grist mill and distillery on his 200 acre farm along Glenn’s Creek. After 66 years in the Pepper family, ownership was transferred to Labrot and Graham in 1878. Although L & G made great improvements and upgrades to the business, by 1940, Prohibition had taken its toll and the distillery was sold to Brown-Forman Distillers Corporation (currently the Brown-Forman Corporation).
Continued consumer abandonment of Kentucky’s brown spirit in the 50’s and 60’s led the company to stop distilling and eventually sell the distillery to local farmer, Freeman Hockensmith, in 1973. Hockensmith used the property mostly for agricultural storage, but also made a brief attempt at producing fuel alcohol. Renewed interest in creating a premium bourbon drove the Brown-Forman Corporation to repurchase the aged Labrot & Grahman distillery for the second time in 1994. After a total rehabilitation of the buildings and the addition of a brand new Visitor Center, the distillery opened to the public in 1996.
Woodford Reserve Distillery Tours and Tastings
The distillery’s designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2002 was well deserved. A tour of the distillery solidifies this distinction. There are a variety of tours and tasting available at Woodford. “Woodford Reserve’s Path To Flavor” tour is the most popular. This 70 minute experience includes a walking tour of the distillery, as well as a tasting of Woodford’s whiskeys. The cost is $32. If you don’t have time for a 70 minute experience, then opt for “The Spectacle For The Senses Tasting“. This 45 minute guided tasting costs $25 and includes five samples of Woodford’s family of whiskeys paired with lite bites.
Additional Tour Information
Woodford Reserve Distillery also offers a variety of other tours and tastings, including special ones that may be available for a limited time. The current experiences include:
- VIP Master Distiller Tour Experience – Two-hour behind-the-scenes tour and tasting with Master Distiller Emeritus Chris Morris and/or Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall – Very Limited – $500 (includes limited edition bottle)
- Innovation Inspired Tour and Tasting – 70 minute tour with an elevated tasting and the opportunity to purchase an allocated whiskey – Friday & Saturdays Only – $125
- Mixology Experience – 45 minute experience in Woodford Reserve Distillery’s Cocktail Lounge where guests learn to make various classic cocktails and their history; guests receive a souvenir rocks glass, recipes for all of the signature Woodford Reserve cocktails and bourbon balls – $50
- From the Reserve: A Curated Cocktail Experience – Guests explore crafting luxury cocktails with rare whiskeys from Woodford’s curated archival collection and receive a souvenir Double Old Fashioned tumbler – limited – Saturdays only – $150
- The following are available for a limited time only:
- Indulge The Senses Experience – a tasting of special chocolates, bourbons & a cocktail – February 2024 only, Wednesday-Sundays – $40
- The Perfect Pair – similar to the Indulge The Senses Experience, but led by Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall, and includes a gift pack of Double Oaked, Double Double Oaked and Compartes Chocolates to take home with you – Very Limited February 14 & 15 only – $250
Tour Times And Locations
All experiences (unless otherwise noted) begin at the Visitor Center which is located on the south side of McCracken Pike. Generally, there is ample parking, even during the very busy summer months, as there is a second lot available across the road on the north side of McCracken Pike. Tours and tastings (except as noted above) are offered Wednesday-Sunday as of January 2024. However they will be offered 7 days a week for the weeks of March 3rd & 10th, and then every week beginning in April 2024. For the most up to date distillery hours, tour times, and tour availability, visit woodfordreserve.com.
On our visit, we took “Woodford Reserve’s Path To Flavor” tour. We met our tour guide, Jaime, inside the Visitor Center and after his introduction and short safety spiel, we headed outside and down the softly sloped pathway toward the distillery. This is a walking tour, but very easy, with minimal stairs. Along the way Jamie covered much of the history of Woodford Reserve Distillery from its owners to its many buildings.
Upon entering the distillery proper through the fermentation room, we learned that portions of the building date back to 1838. While in the fermentation room, Jamie discussed Woodford’s mashing process and their 5 sources of flavor (Grain, Water, Fermentation, Distillation, Maturation). Although the eight 7500 gallon cypress fermenters might look really old, they are not. Half were put in when the distillery opened in the 90’s while the others came later as production grew.
Distillation and Barreling
After our stop in fermentation, we moved on to the still area in the next room. Woodford triple distills its product, which explained the 3 beautiful copper pot stills we saw. As Jamie explained Woodford’s triple pot distillation process, we had plenty of time to view the amazing equipment and take a plethora of pictures. Interestingly, barreling takes place in the same room. The freshly distilled new make is sent to the nearby 1400 gallon gauge tank. This tank is used to proof down the spirit from 125 proof to its barrel entry proof of 110. Barrels were being filled while we were in the still area, so we were able to see in action how Woodford moves their barrels.
Barrel Run and Warehouse C
With the distillery lesson complete, we headed back outside to view the almost nine decades old barrel run. Built in 1934, Woodford Reserve Distillery’s barrel run is over 500 feet in length and helps to expedite barrel movement to the warehouses for their long rest. Once a barrel is filled in the distillery, it is moved out of the building via a rail system. The newly filled barrel moves through a window type exit on 2 rails. These two rails are spaced perfectly apart so that the barrels run the rails without needing a worker present. That’s definitely working smarter, not harder, as a full 53 gallon barrel weighs around 500 lbs.
While it’s hard to top the active barrel run, the next point of interest, Warehouse C, was a close second. Right across the way from the distillery, Warehouse C is Woodford’s oldest active barrel warehouse. This beautiful stone building was completed over 100 years ago and still houses around 5000 barrels. The smell of the angels’ share is delicious. Another interesting note Jamie made is that Woodford heats the warehouse in the winter from the bottom up so that the lower level barrels achieve the same heated aging as the upper level barrels do in the summer. Once again, they’re working smarter, not harder at Woodford.
As we left Warehouse C behind, a quick stop was made at the building next door. This Is Woodford’s bottling facility. It’s the second 100 year old plus building still in use on the property. Bottling takes place Monday-Friday and Woodford bottles all of its own products. Due to pandemic restrictions, we just got a peek at the process through a screened door. There were plenty of barrels and bottles swapping juice.
Having covered Woodford Reserve Distillery’s bourbon making process from start to finish, the only thing left to do now was taste. Jamie led the way to Dryer House which is where our tour’s tasting took place. It’s a very short distance from the distillery as well as Warehouse C. In the 1930’s the Dryer House replaced the open cattle feed station which received the spent grain from the distillery. The Slop Dryer house instead allowed the used grains to be piped in from the distillery, dried out, and then recycled as livestock feed. While livestock still enjoy the grains as feed, today’s Dryer House does not house slop, but instead, some very tasty spirits.
Our tour’s tasting consisted of 4 products: the Woodford Reserve Bourbon, the Woodford Malt Whiskey, the Woodford Reserve Rye, and a very special taste not bottled, the Woodford Reserve Bourbon straight from the barrel. The tasting lasted no more than about 15 minutes. Jamie led the way, providing guidance particularly for those who are new to tasting whiskey. The final treat was the Woodford Reserve bourbon ball. These are most delightful. Even better is that all samples, except for the straight from the barrel, are available for purchase in the gift shop. With the tasting completed, our tour had come to an end and so we headed back up the pathway to the visitor’s center.
Shopping and Conclusion
After some shopping in the very spacious and well stocked gift shop, our time at Woodford came to a close. Woodford Reserve Distillery is indeed a lovely place to visit. Due to its close proximity to Lexington and Frankfort however, tours are often booked well in advance, particularly on weekends. Don’t let that be a deterrent because its history and grounds alone are worth the trip. Visit Woodford’s outside bar, enjoy your favorite Woodford spirit, and then sit back and relax on the scenic patio soaking in all the rustic ambiance your senses can handle. Woodford Reserve is a must see for the history lover and the bourbon geek alike!
We hope you have enjoyed our Woodford Reserve Distillery Tour Review! If you would like to read about a couple of Woodford’s whiskeys, then check out our Woodford Double Double Oaked Review and our Woodford Three Grain Whiskey Review! You can also check out our video virtual tour of the Woodford Reserve Distillery!
*NOTE: While the whiskey distilled at the Woodford Reserve Distillery is triple pot still distilled, whiskey distilled in column stills at Brown-Forman’s large Louisville distillery is also used in many of the Woodford Reserve whiskeys.
Original Visit Date: June 2021; Updated January 2024
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