MANCHESTER, NH – Small batch bourbon is having its moment and in New Hampshire, no one knows this better than Cotton.
For the past two years, Cotton has been the top seller of Woodford Reserve in the Granite State, followed by the Common Man and Hanover Street Chophouse. This distinction resulted in an invitation from Woodford Reserve for Jeff and Peaches Paige, owners of Cotton, to travel to in Versailles, KY to create their own custom blend bourbon with the guidance of a Master Distiller and Master Taster.
“Interestingly, if you don’t want to stand out as a tourist, the town is not pronounced Versailles like the palace, but Ver-sales,” said Jeff.
Jeff and Peaches visited the Woodford distillery in early August and got a behind-the-scenes tour, sampled cask bourbons straight from the barrel and began the task of creating their own bourbon blend.
Blindfolded, Jeff and Peaches were presented with two dozen different flavor profiles in beakers, pulled directly from barrels. These bourbon samples clock in at 140-180 proof.
“We were blindfolded because they didn’t want us to assume older bourbon was better. They wanted us to go on taste and scent,” said Jeff.
The samples had different flavor profiles, like cookie dough and burnt orange, and some were challenging to discern. While some scents and flavors they picked up right away, others they told the Master Taster she was crazy. Jeff said while it was similar to wine tasting, the high proof brought a different challenge. Just for reference, you can’t get on an airplane with a 140 proof bottle; it’s a fire hazard. Tasting at this proof is tough because it can numb your mouth.
“Once we narrowed down our four choices, different combinations were created with distilled mineral water to make it palatable. Then there were many different combos, lots of tasting, note taking and discussions,” said Jeff. “Until we finally got to one we really like.”
Woodford Reserve is the oldest and smallest distillery in Kentucky currently in operation, and their claim to fame is water from a naturally filtered limestone creek on the property, which is used in the distilling process.
Many mistakenly think of Woodford as a global brand because it is owned by spirits Goliath, Brown-Forman Corporation. But Woodford Reserve isn’t manufactured, its hand crafted in small batches, so the production volume is actually quite small. Woodford produces approximately 120 barrels a week, compared to Brown-Forman’s other brand, Jack Daniels, which produces 229,000 barrels each week. Woodford keeps it local too. They only use corn grown in Kentucky and have a cooperage to make their own barrels.
The Cotton Woodford Reserve bourbon is expected to arrive in New Hampshire the first week of October. Woodford will ship 180, one-liter bottles and the oak barrel used and put a commemorative plaque on the wall in the distillery. The Cotton Woodford Reserve bourbon will be available at one liquor store in the city, which has yet to be determined. And of course, Jeff and Peaches are thinking of ways to use their bourbon in cocktails at Cotton.
“Woodford invited us to come back when we finish this barrel and create another blend. They expect us to take a year to deplete this inventory, we plan to do it faster,” said Jeff.