Distilling into the 21st Century with Chris Morris

23 Dec 2015
3 min read
FOUR speaks to Chris Morris, Master Distiller and the man behind the legendary brand of small batch Kentucky straight Bourbon, Woodford Reserve, to give us a masterclass in Bourbon…

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the Louisville area though I spent a lot of time on my grandparents farm in Southern Kentucky.

What did you aspire to be when you grew up?

My first career aspiration was to be a teacher like many of my older cousins were.

How did you find your way to into the world of spirits?

Both of my parents worked for Brown-Forman so I was spending weekends at the Old Forester Distillery with my Dad by the time I was in grade school.I joined BF’s intern program during my senior year in high school and have been in the industry ever since.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of theWoodfordReserveand the Kentucky Bourbon it is famous for?

WR is the original contemporary bourbon. It is the result of Owsley Brown II’s vision to create a Kentucky bourbon that would have a flavor profile that appealed to drinkers of red wine, cognac, craft beer, malt whisky and of course Bourbon. Therefore it was to have a balance of spice, fruit, floral, grain, oak and sweet aromatic characteristics. This required a greenfield approach and that is what lead us to purchase a long abandoned distillery inWoodfordCounty, Kentucky. It was devoid of equipment so the processes needed to bring Owsley’s vision to life could be developed and installed without any pre-existing conditions influencing the outcome. The only ingredient needed that was already there was the famous “Pepper Spring” limestone water, first used to distill on site by Elijah Pepper in 1812.

Can you give us a quick masterclass in Bourbon?

Bourbon can be broken down into the five sources of flavour and the processes to impact this flavour have fine tuned over hundreds of years. Everthing starts with Kentucky’s famous naturally filtered limestone water. Following that the selection of grains. The percentage of corn / malted barley / rye impact on the final flavour of the whiskey. AtWoodfordReservewe use a high rye content of 18%. And we also are a triple copper pot stilled whiskey Copper pot stills develop a richness and complexity in the whiskey. Then the barrels. By law you must age in a brand new oak barrel and can only use that barrel once. We use white American oak. We alsotoastas well as char to develop extra caramels and vanillins in the wood. Lot’s of process and laws as well as a wonderful rich heritage and history of the famous amber liquid from Kentucky.

What interesting trends/themes are going on in thebourbonworld?

There are always new trends in the bourbon world. Using olive oil in drinks as very on trend as well as fat washing the bourbon with anything from bacon to pheasant. Seasonality always plays a big part. Seasonal produce and different drinks occasions. As well as barrel ageing and bottle ageing some people are ageing drinks in leather as well! So the sky is the limit really.

What does it entail to be a master distiller?

The role of aMaster Distiller variesfrom company to company,but atWoodfordReservethe Master Distiller is the ultimate responsiblefor the flavour profile of the product(whether it’s our wonderful bourbon, Double Oaked or Rye whiskey)and the production process to create it. I’ve been very blessed working with our company to have the ability to develop new products such asWoodfordReserveDouble Oaked andWoodfordReserveRye, along with our Master’s Collection each year.Ultimately, the role is all about thecreation, innovation and maintainingthequalityof ourproducts.

What are your FOUR indispensable spirit collection favourites?

Assuming we are talking about at home?I’m going to sound very cruel-I see no need to havevodka,insteadI would have agin, which canbe very complex and refreshing. Of course you have to have theWoodfordReserveand the Jack Daniel’s families.Finally,you need to havetequila. So agin,WoodfordReserve, Jack Daniel’s andtequila would cover all the bases for me.

Find out more about Chris and Woodford Reserve here…