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Tips From a Pro: On How To Train Your Palate – Conducting a Bourbon Tasting at Home

Tips From a Pro: On How To Train Your Palate – Conducting a Bourbon Tasting at Home

Bourbon is enjoying an upswing in the premium spirits market – the mellow allure of America’s craft liquid is seeing a growing number of South Africans becoming increasingly more appreciative of authentic American whiskey.

Whether you’re an avid whisk(e)y drinker or new to whisk(e)y, you can train your palate and have some fun by conducting your own Woodford Reserve bourbon tasting at home with these tips from Elizabeth McCall, Assistant Master Distiller at Woodford Reserve.

McCall is a Certified Specialist of Spirits, the second generation of her family to work in the bourbon industry, one of the youngest female distillers in the United States, and in line to succeed Chris Morris as Woodford Reserve’s Master Distiller, explains:

“There are more than 200 detectable flavours in Woodford Reserve – 212 to be exact,” she adds. “By comparing the flavour notes of the samples in this tasting, the subtle flavour cues in Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon can be experienced. Woodford Reserve is more than a bourbon. It’s a sensorial experience. Not only how it tastes, but how it smells, makes you feel or just looks in a glass. Happy Sipping.”

Woodford Reserve Gets its Unique flavour from 5 factors:

Woodford reserve bourbon tasting flavour wheel

“Woodford Reserve comes from the home of Bourbon, Kentucky in the USA. The distillery, one of the oldest and smallest distilleries, located in Woodford County, and with only a small production facility, the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity,” McCall says. “Each bottle is uniquely identified with both batch and bottle number included. The whiskey is a beautifully rounded and brilliant Bourbon, which works especially well in an Old-Fashioned cocktail, but is also outstanding sipped neat or on the rocks.”

  1. The grain recipe (72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley), has a high malted barley content for bourbon and contributes to the nutty characteristics.
  2. Limestone water is used which contributes to fruity and floral notes.
  3. The long fermentation period of 6 days produces more fruity characters with pronounced esters.
  4. Pot still and triple distillation are responsible for the spicy, nutty and floral profile.
  5. Barrel entry point at 55% ABV along with maturation in heavily toasted and charred barrels contributes towards more caramel notes.

She explains: “While there are many ways to taste bourbon, Woodford Reserve has developed an interactive and sensory approach to tasting the spirit with food pairings using the flavour wheel as a guide.”


She explains: “While there are many ways to taste bourbon, Woodford Reserve has developed an interactive and sensory approach to tasting the spirit with food pairings using the flavour wheel as a guide.”

●      Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon

●      Aged Parmesan/Olive

●      Toasted Hazelnut/Toasted Pecan/Cashew/Brazil Nut

●      Dried Cranberry/Dried Cherry

●      Orange Slice

●      Dark Chocolate

●      Maple Syrup


Arrange the samples clockwise on a small plate.

Conduct the sampling of each in the order indicated below with each followed by a sip of Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon.

After each, rinse the palate with a sip of water before the next sample.

How to Conduct a Proper Tasting in 4 easy steps:

Step 1: Chew the food sample and breathe through your nose to take in the full breath of the flavours.

Step 2: Take a sip of the Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon.

Step 3: Cleanse your palate with a sip of cool or room temperature water.

Step 4: Observe a conversational pause before moving on to the next sample.


tasting bourbon like a pro

Five sections make up the flavour wheel – grain, sweet aromatics, spice, fruit and floral, and wood – with some sub-categories. 

The methodology is to taste various foods that open the senses beyond just the flavour of bourbon. Some are used to contrast, other to complement the existing flavours in Woodford Reserve.

Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon is used to guide the flavour wheel experience. The tasting includes five specific food pairings that will accentuate certain characteristics of Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon.

  • Aged Parmesan Cheese;
  • Toasted Hazelnut;
  • Dried Cranberry;
  • and Orange Wedge;
  • high-grade Dark Chocolate;
  • and a small scoop of Maple Syrup.

The samples all have individual flavor properties that will excite the palate and bring out the subtleties of Woodford Reserve.

The sensory experience involves taking a bite of each food type, chewing on it without swallowing then sipping the whiskey.


conducting a bourbon tasting at home - bourbon pairing at home with cheese

We are going to begin the tasting with a piece of Aged Parmesan Cheese. You could substitute an olive if none is available.

The high fat content in the cheese in the cheese coats the mouth and highlights the woody and nutty characteristics presented by Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon’s unique maturation process. You may taste pecan, almond, or a hint of oak.


bourbon pairing at home with hazelnuts

Next up is the toasted hazelnut pairing. A toasted pecan, cashew, or Brazil nut could act as a substitute.

Toasted hazelnuts magnify the grain character bringing walnut and pecan to the fore.

The tannic acid in the nut highlights the contributions of the toasted oak that is carefully selected when producing Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon barrels.

This may bring to mind the wood, nut and pecan flavors of Woodford Reserve. You could substitute a toasted pecan, cashew, or Brazil nut.


bourbon pairing at home with dried cranberries

Our third pairing is with a dried cranberry.

The tart cranberry ignites the fruit and floral aromas in the olfactory system.

These notes come from Woodford Reserve’s yeast strain and extra-long six-day fermentation process. You may experience cherry, blackberry, and cooked peach in a sip after this pairing.


bourbon pairing at home with oranges

We will now move onto a sampling of a fresh orange slice.

The essential oils in the orange express the citrus characters that can be detected in Woodford Reserve. Bourbon that is triple distilled in copper pot stills and fermented with an extra long six day process contributes to the fragrant citrus notes from orange, lemon, or peach.


bourbon pairing at home with chocolate

Ready for the next step? A small piece of dark chocolate is the guest in this pairing.

The dark chocolate opens up the spice flavors in Woodford Reserve such as clove, cinnamon, pepper, coffee bean, followed by caramel notes, which come from the mashbill, extra-long fermentation process, and handcrafted barrels used to mature the whiskey..


bourbon pairing at home with maple syrup

Mild and round characters of the wood barrels with a hint of smoke.

The Maple Syrup extends the finish of the bourbon by bringing out sweet aroma characteristics found in Woodford Reserve.

The grassy notes in the finish stem from the corn, rye, and malted barley grain recipe. You may also taste caramel and honey. This is the only sample that brings out the grain section.

McCall concludes: “Congratulations, you have completed the official Woodford Reserve Tasting. Each sip has been a journey to create, and we hope you’ve enjoyed discovering the different flavor notes our bourbon has received along the way.”

For more information visit: https://www.woodfordreserve.com/ or visit Facebook or Instagram @woodfordresereve #woodfordreserve

Not for sale to persons under the age of 18. Crafted carefully. Enjoy responsibly.

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