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Woodford Reserve Distillery
Woodford Reserve Distillery

An American Place – Woodford Reserve Distillery

By Nancy Tappan
February 2017 • American History magazine

WHAT EVOKES the American spirit more than American spirit?

Woodford Reserve Distillery produces bourbon whiskey—which can made only in the United States, of no less than 51 percent corn—the old-fashioned way.

Distillery operator Mike Wollams samples a barrel during the aging process (Woodford Reserve Distillery).

Woodford, in Versailles, Kentucky, operates that state’s oldest distillery. The whiskey is made from a mash containing 72 percent corn, plus rye and malted barley, cooked in and diluted with water from a limestone-filtered spring on its property, says Woodford Master Distiller Chris Morris.

Woodford uses ancient distilling methods brought to Kentucky by settlers starting in the 1770s.

“Kentucky was settled by Virginians from the British isles who brought their Celtic distilling traditions,” Morris says.

Elijah Pepper built the first distillery at the site in 1812.  That operation eventually made the first great Kentucky whiskey, Old Crow. Now a unit of whiskey giant Brown-Forman Corporation, Woodford has revived using 18th century methods using local ingredients.

Woodford is a small player but gets pride of place at Washington, D.C.’s, Jack Rose Dining Saloon, which ranks Woodford bourbons among its biggest-selling premium spirits.

“What makes bourbon bourbon is that it is made according to strict rules and traditions,” said Bill Thomas, owner of Jack Rose and a bourbon historian. “What makes it magic is the creativity of the distiller.”

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