Interview: Woodford Reserve’s Elizabeth McCall on Whiskey Trends and What’s Next

Woodford Reserve recently promoted Elizabeth McCall to assistant master distiller. We caught up with McCall to chat about what’s next for Woodford Reserve, whiskey in general, and what it means for her to be part of the burgeoning women’s movement in brown spirits.

Kyle Swartz: Woodford Reserve is known for experimentation. How will you continue that, and can you give us any glimpse into what’s next?
Elizabeth McCall: I am really excited about this part of my new role . . . getting my hands dirty on innovation in a big way! I can’t give away too many details but be looking for some very interesting grain recipes and some different barrel finishes to come!

KS: Why had whiskey exploded in popularity in the past decade?
EM: I think there are many contributing factors but one that I feel strongly about is the return to flavor.

In the 1980’s, non-fat became all the rage, which led into the rise of light spirits. We then saw the explosion of the flavored vodka category. Once this idea of light or non-fat was exhausted, people realized they missed flavor, but still looked for food to be healthy, more natural, and authentic. Bourbon delivers all of these aspects. Woodford Reserve in particular delivers on the consumers desire for a rich, complex, natural product that is all American.

KS: Will we see a decline in the brown spirits boom anytime soon?
EM: I doubt that. The brown spirits category is only just beginning to really hit the global market. There is a lot of opportunity out there.

KS: What do you look for in a great whiskey?
EM: When I am tasting whiskey, and more particularly when I am putting together batches, I am looking for the finish. I want the finish on my whiskey to be long and delightful. The finish should also show the complexity of the whiskey, it should build and change on the pallet as it sits.

KS: Where would you recommend a whiskey novice start?
EM: I recommend whiskey novices to start by heading to a great cocktail bar. Bartenders are a wealth of knowledge for consumers.

Have the bartender pour you a sample of Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select neat. Simply sit with the glass, nose the top layers of the glass to pick up any light aromatics, then take a breath with your nose deeper into the glass to see the richer notes such as brown sugar, dried fruits and some baker spice. Next, swirl the glass and nose it and notice the great clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg notes. Now it is time to taste by taking three separate sips. The first sip you take like you are drinking hot coffee or tea, roll it around your pallet, you are simply warming up you pallet to the 90.4 proof. The second sip focuses on flavor while your third sip you are focusing on the finish.

If tasting neat is intimidating, I suggest you ask the bartender to make you a delicious classic Old Fashioned cocktail. An Old Fashion is a great cocktail for entry into whiskey cocktails because it contains minimal ingredients. It lets the whiskey be the star of the show with a dash of sugar to soften the impact of the alcohol.

KS: What does it mean to be part of the women’s movement in whiskey?
EM: I am so proud to be part of the growing presence of women in the whiskey industry. What makes me most proud is the significant impact it has on all the little girls and young women out there dreaming of what they will be one day. Now they will see women in distilling roles almost as a norm and will be encouraged to step into these types of roles.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Wholesaler. Reach him at or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 7 Whiskey Trends in 2018.


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