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Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select, the proper name of this magical elixir, is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey manufactured by Labrot & Graham Distillers Co., of Versailles, KY.

Despite my lifelong love of bourbon - and the fact that Labrot & Graham has been around since 1812 - I had never heard of it until I saw it in my favorite bar four years ago. It is, on the whole, less cloying than Jack Daniel's (which, as any bourbon snob will tell you, is technically Tennessee Whiskey,) and far, far smoother than Jim Beam, my run-of-the-mill evening tipple. Even run up alongside Maker's Mark, Knob Creek or Basil Hayden's, it has a long, deep finish. Yes, I am fully aware I'm veering dangerously close to oenophile territory, but the stuff's so damned tasty that the tight-asses at the wine magazines are starting to review it. Bourbon! Manly drink! (Food & Wine, I am mildly ashamed to admit I know, calls Woodford "gorgeous and full-bodied.")

At 45.2% (90 proof), it has more kick than our old 80-proof friends Jim and Jack. More flavor, too. It's closest in taste to Maker's Mark - also a 90-proof bourbon - but with less of a caramel taste.

It also comes in a cool square bottle that looks like an oversized hip flask.

From Labrot & Graham Distillery, the Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select (its full name) is a deceptively smooth but sharp-biting bourbon, which weighs in a 45.2% alcohol (or 90 proof, fer us Yankees). Sipped neat, the alcohol bite is nearly overpowering, numbing the mouth briefly in a quick blast before fading swiftly away in a welter of flavors which are gone too fast. Successive sips, as the ice melts into the drink, allow it to offer the subtones which are only sensed generally on that first excursion.

There is a strong caramel to this bourbon, which never goes away (here I disagree with tooblasted) but it is rendered an asset by being balanced to a greater or lesser degree by other tastes. Anise, in the early stages; refined licorice in the middle, with a finish (breathe out through the nose) of sharp, aromatic oak. There is orange in there, along with a hint of lime, perhaps? An almost cinnamon flavor can be detected during the exhalation, if you do so through your nose. Mmmmm. The caramel is an elegant one, the result of a careful saucier rather than a brazen burnt sugar.

In sum, this is a moderately complex tipple. It can certainly hold its own against 'straight' bourbons, but should probably be drunk when one is in the mood more for flavor than familiarity. The Custodian recommends it be taken with one or two cubes, as the wide variety of flavors it offers will only be realized by the varying water content of the drink.

This liquor is recommended not only for its straight quality, but for the changeability of the drink as you go down the glass. Plus, it's got more of a kick than the 'standard' bourbons, which may or may not be to your liking. It's attractively presented in a squared-off, shallow glass bottle. It lends a rich, deep brown and orange to the glass.

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