10 Questions with Master Distiller, Chris Morris
1) Why is your brand so special? Give us your best cocktail party pitch.
Woodford Reserve is special amongst all the whiskeys of the world because it presents the five areas of American whiskey flavor in absolute balance. Therefore it has in it flavors that the individual palette will find attractive. This makes it versatile for use in all of the classic cocktails that are based on the use of American whiskey. A bartender can use the balance of Woodford Reserve to make each cocktail really sing as they prepare it bringing forth the flavors they want to highlight.
2) How did you get to where you are now?
I am fortunate to be the Woodford Reserve master distiller because I have a combination of long experience in the industry, a family connection to the business, great training and a passion for what I do. It took 28 years of apprenticeship to become the master distiller, a position I have the privilege to hold for the last 16 years. I am blessed to have had several mentors who collectively had well over 100 years of experience at Brown-Forman. That kind of learning you cannot get from any course or textbook.
3) What has been your greatest learning in this job?
My biggest learning in the job is not one of technical expertise or really experience, it is one of confidence. The master distiller of a great brand like Woodford Reserve must be curious and courageous. You must be willing to take measured chances because mediocrity is not the way to great quality or innovation. Therefore you must have confidence in what you are doing and confidence and of your taste palette or else you will be afraid to do anything.
4) What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received along the way?
The best piece of advice I ever received in the industry was from one of the legends that made Jack Daniels famous in the 1950s. He told me that when he was a young man he confided in one of the older generations that he was concerned about his ability to do the job. He was told to do the best you can and if your best isn’t good enough, don’t worry about it. I’ve never forgotten that advice — just always do your best.
5) What has been the most edifying moment of your working life to date?
The most edifying moment in my career was my first day as master distiller. It was the first day I was completely responsible for Woodford Reserve. At that moment, I realized I had been trained for this and that I had the ability to do the job — and with that insight I was on my way. That crisis of confidence had passed quickly, and I have never looked back since.
6) If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what would you be doing with your life?
I don’t do “what if’s.” I can’t speculate on what I would be doing if I was not the Master Distiller for Woodford Reserve because I’ve been in that position for 16 years. It’s what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
7) Name your ultimate dinner party guests and what would you serve them to eat and to drink?
My ultimate dinner party guests would include some of the most famous bartenders and chefs from the United States’ culinary history. These would include Jerry Thomas, Julia Child, James Beard, the unknown bartender from the 19th century Pendennis Club in Louisville who legend has it invented the Old Fashioned, and others. I would have as my co-host, our eight times James Beard nominee chef Ouita Michael to help me present the Woodford Reserve flavor wheel concept, the Woodford Reserve bourbonology concept and the five sources of Bourbon flavor concept. I would love to see and hear their reactions to Woodford Reserve’s Flavor story and to learn how they would use Woodford Reserve to make their specific areas of expertise come to life. I would serve all four expressions of the Woodford Reserve family, and the range of dishes that Ouita has created to highlight the flavors each expression exhibits. Each dish would be accompanied by a Woodford Reserve cocktail that compliments it. I’m sure it would be one heck of an evening for all.
8) If a film was made of your life, who would play you and why?
If a film was to be made of my life, I would have liked John Wayne to play me. Why John Wayne? Because he was a big, tough, funny and cool guy at the same time. I’ve always wanted to be big — because I’m not.
9) What would you order as your desert island drink?
I hope to never find myself on a desert island. That is why I avoid cruise ships and the ocean in general. However, if I found myself on a desert island I think I would want to drink Woodford Reserve on the rocks. It would be cool and refreshing. I can think of no better way of making life on a desert island bearable than a glass of Woodford Reserve on ice.
10) What is your one guilty pleasure, or are there more than one?
I don’t have any guilty pleasures, not even one. I don’t feel guilty about anything. At this time in my life, I enjoy what I enjoy and don’t worry about it.