I spent a couple of hours last night sharing drinks and swapping stories with Chris Morris, the affable Kentuckian whose job title reads Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve.
As we sipped Woodford both straight and in Manhattans – for the record, Morris prefers his with equal parts Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters – we discussed many matters bourbon-related, including the relationship of whiskey to cuisine. Some of Morris’ more salient observations and opinions:
- On the matter of pairing bourbon with food, Morris declared that he is of the mind that it can work, but requires a very skilled hand to perfect, suggesting that consideration must be give to everything from the shape of the serving glass to the alteration of the spirit’s proof with water.
- On cooking with Woodford, Morris was far more enthusiastic, particularly when the subject of desserts was raised. He displayed evident pride in the fact that, he said, Woodford is the only bourbon distillery with a staff chef, and that Brown-Forman (Woodford Reserve’s owner) has even published a bourbon cookbook.
- Confirming my long-held belief that there is some family resemblance between Woodford and the whiskies of The Balvenie, Morris said that Woodford has a good working relationship with the Scottish distiller and that the latter uses Woodford barrels extensively.
- Further on the barrel front, Morris declared that Woodford’s wood is the longest aged in the bourbon industry, suffering the elements for nine months before the Brown-Forman-owned cooperage makes it into barrels.
- Refreshingly, Morris spoke out repeatedly against the practice of p.r. people developing cocktail recipes, not just for Woodford but for any spirit. “The bartenders or bar chefs or whatever you want to call them are the professionals,” he stated, “They’re the ones we should rely on for our cocktail development.”
- Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, Morris spoke in favor of the creation of Woodford infusions, saying the practice was started by a bar in Gainesville, Florida, and has now spread to “happening” cities like Austin, Texas. Reinforcing the idea, Brown-Forman representative Jeremy Shepherd, also present, produced a card promoting four different Woodford infusions. I’ll remain silent on whether or not I think that’s a good idea, as I have yet to sample any of them, but will add that I think the momentary infusion of a maraschino cherry or two in a Manhattan seems entirely sufficient for a bourbon of Woodford’s grace and character.