My First Barrel Pick

By Eric Schmalz - June 27, 2019

There weren't many things that I had hoped for when I first started my position at Ray’s, but working around the products that I enjoy, developing my palate, and obtaining more knowledge than I could on my own were the main goals. However, one of the specific things that I had wanted to do since the beginning was pick out a proprietary barrel. Brandy, tequila, whiskey, it didn’t matter; what mattered was the idea. Not only would I end up with something that was ultimately more suited to my palate, but it would also leave me with a tale that I could share in perpetuity. So when the opportunity arose to pick a barrel of Woodford Reserve for the store, I immediately took it.

Going in, I had a vague idea of what to expect. Sitting down to a table with glassware and samples, tasting each sample, critiquing, and ultimately walking away with the best of what was provided. However, my expectations were swiftly and comprehensively subverted.

After being greeted and sat at our table, my co-worker and partner on this pick, Scott and I were treated to a wonderful introduction from the Assistant Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve, Elizabeth McCall. It was after this when everything changed: We were informed that not only would we be picking one barrel, we were actually picking two and blending them to create a custom small batch. 

We were provided with three samples, straight from barrels housed in the Woodford rickhouses, and set about surmounting this alien task. Sample one was the immediate favorite, serving savory banana bread, rich cocoa, and a nice cinnamon spice. Two was the least favored of the three, having a floral, soap, and chemical profile. Three proved little more than fine, as it was well balanced if somewhat muted. 

Finally, it came to blending each combination of these samples together. Through a bit of an odd process we ended up with three glasses of proofed down spirit, that would guide us to our final destination.

After some deliberation and discussion we made the choice: Samples two (which on its own was unpalatable) and three (which didn’t stand out in any meaningful way) came out to be the best blend out of all three and left us feeling satisfied in our work. 

What follows are the tasting notes taken of our final blend; a preview of the bottling to come.

Woodford Reserve (image via Ray's Wine and Spirits)

The nose shows vanilla, caramel, and chocolate to begin. The spice is present and well-balanced, with cinnamon, anise, fennel, and a slight hint of mint. There is a creamy quality, and combined with the sweetness reminds me of brownie batter or creme brulee. 

The palate is more fruit-forward, with raisins, apples, pears, cherries and bananas. The sweetness is still there but not as forward; confectioners sugar and cocoa primarily. An almond note is also present, like a good marzipan dessert.

This finishes with some florality; rose and violet, but with brown sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon as well.

Normally I would give a score to cap my thoughts. If I had to give this one it would be a solid 8, however; I will reserve that judgement until I taste the final product.

Overall, this experience was wonderful and I want to throw a huge thank you to Jacob for facilitating it for us, and to Erika and Harry for hearty and welcomed camaraderie throughout the evening!


Share This Page:

© 2017 Ray’s Wine and Spirits | All Rights Reserved | 8930 W. North Avenue Milwaukee, WI | 414-258-9821