Showdown! Old Forester vs Woodford Reserve

Both Old Forester and Woodford Reserve are from Brown-Forman, with distilleries in Louisville, Kentucky. Many people claim that the highly rated, and moderately expensive Woodford Reserve essentially is just a new labeling of Old Forester bourbon, perhaps with select barrels.  Is there any truth to this claim? Do they really taste identical? Let’s see for ourselves.

To start, it does appear that when Brown-Forman first created the Woodford Select label, they didn’t have distinct whiskey to actually bottle in it. For at least it’s first year – maybe more – Woodford Reserve really was just select barrels from the Old Forester Distillery and warehouse. No significant difference: Same mash bill, yeast, barrels, and rickhouse aging. This was back when the distillery was still called Labrot & Graham.

So that is where the idea started: the “myth” that they are the same really was true. But since then there has been a change.


Later, the Labrot & Graham distillery was renamed to Woodford, and soon the distillate they were aging became ready to be sold. Brown-Forman made a decision to keep the flavor profile similar, yet distinct. As such, at this point they decided that Woodford Reserve would become a straight bourbon blend, from two different distilleries.

Both distilleries use the same mash bill, and likely yeast strain.  The Woodford Reserve distillery uses the pot still method. Differences between the two sources arise from aging, rickhouse location, etc. So WR is a straight bourbon blend from their Versailles and Louisville distilleries. Now, when we do a side-by-side comparison, how does WR compare the Old Forester?

Woodford Reserve

Color: amber.
Nose: lighter cocoa than Old Forester, a hint of maple, alcohol , light oak. A bit more aromatic than OF.
Palate: Lighter mouthfeel than Old Forester. No burn. Light caramel – I’m taste something that I can only call a floral toffee. A hint of smoke (yet not peaty), a corn-bourbon base. The mouthfeel is lightly oil-like (in a good way.)

Old Forester

Nose: Deep cocoa notes, some ethanol.
Palete: Chocolate, butterscotch perhaps a bit of oak. Mellow, warm, delicious. Unlike some other whiskies I have tried, this has the same flavor on the back palete. Has a maple syrup-like mouthfeel. Long finish.

Yes, they are different – but more similar than one might imagine. I went back-and-forth on this, and for now, I’v decided that I don’t need both bottles. For my money, I’m perfectly happy buying a $22-$25 bottle of OF rather than spending $30 for WR.  The next test would be to compare either of these to the upscaled Woodford Reserve Double Oaked!

Further reading

Straightbourbon forum discussion on Woodford Reserve

Behind The Scenes of Woodford Reserve: Drink Spirits

IL puts to rest the myth once and for all: Woodford Reserve is not Old Forester

pointing finger

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