There’s no less than three things that make Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel standout from other Wild Turkey straight bourbon expressions: 1. it’s bottled at 110 proof, 2. it’s non-chill filtered, and 3. it’s available as a private selection for retailers, distributors, or private organizations. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye shares all three of these traits, but is a completely different whiskey with very limited availability (at least, presently). And truth be told, Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit can also be found as a private selection barrel offering, but it lacks the other two unique traits and is also somewhat limited in availability (likely out of demand more than supply). While I’ve always found Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel to have near rock-solid consistency in quality, I was curious to compare different privately-selected single barrels side-by-side to test the consistency of the overall profile. And so without further ado, the tasting …
Please note: tastings were done in four separate phases as a group – color, nose, taste, and finally finish. So, each of the three whiskeys went through comparison by phase chronologically. My notes, however, will be by whiskey and not by phase.
Binny’s Private Barrel #337 (rickhouse K, floor 5) Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (2016) – NAS KSBW at 110 proof (non-chill filtered) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Neat in a Glencairn …
Color: copper red (lightest in color of the three sampled)
Nose: vanilla, mixed nuts, brown sugar, caramel popcorn, cedar chest, spicy oak, faint cinnamon
Taste: rich vanilla, toffee, caramel, sweet musty oak, baking spice, a pinch of pepper
Finish: medium-long, sticky vanilla/toffee, sweet oak, fading spice
Overall: To me this is the standard (but still high quality) Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel profile. Rich vanilla, nutty toffee, musty oak, and some spice. As a private select, somewhat disappointing, but as a straight bourbon whiskey, damn solid. This one gets a respectable B.
Davidson’s Private Barrel #2394 (rickhouse H, floor 7) Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (abt 2013) – NAS KSBW at 110 proof (non-chill filtered) – distilled by Austin, Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Neat in a Glencairn …
Color: copper red (deepest in color of the three sampled)
Nose: warm vanilla, rich musty oak, molasses, caramel/toffee, baking spice, hints of classic Wild Turkey tobacco & leather
Taste: (very creamy mouthfeel) sticky vanilla, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, blood orange, sweet & musty oak, baking spice, herbal tea
Finish: long & rich, thick vanilla, sweet oak, fading baking spice with hints of zesty citrus
Overall: Wow – Davidson’s really picked a killer barrel with this one! Perhaps it was because this was the inaugural year of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel and Wild Turkey really wanted to show it off, or maybe Davidson’s just has some talented folks picking barrels. Regardless, it’s probably the best Russell’s private select I’ve personally tasted. It shines in all the core profile notes and displays some unique ones as well. Hell, it even has a slight dusty Wild Turkey nose that could easily fool an experienced enthusiast in a blind tasting. This one gets an A- (and I wish I owned a bottle).
National Distributing Co. Private Barrel #3247 (rickhouse G, floor 6) Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (2016) – NAS KSBW at 110 proof (non-chill filtered) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Neat in a Glencairn …
Color: copper red
Nose: gingerbread, stove-cooked vanilla pudding, cherry cola, molasses, ripe fruit, cinnamon candy rounds, spicy oak, a touch of smoke
Taste: creamy thick vanilla, brown sugar, cherry cola, candy apple, fruity & rich spicy oak, cinnamon, pepper
Finish: medium-long, unmistakably fruity, sweet & spicy vanilla/oak fading out
Overall: So much promise on the nose, but in the end the spicy fruit and cherry cola dominate like a Four Roses OBSO and Cherry Coke married as a mixed drink. Not that it’s a bad Russell’s private selection – very far from it. It’s just a touch out of balance and lacks the finesse and subtleties of the Davidson’s selection. It’s an enjoyable and unique pour and I have no regrets purchasing it. That said, I’m giving this one a B+.
In closing, I had a great time comparing these three bourbons – much more so than my NAS Wild Turkey 101 tasting (which was somewhat exhausting picking out minor variances). The differences between single barrels in the same product line can be quite amazing. If sipped on separate occasions one might not even notice, but when compared side-by-side the individual qualities really jump out. I encourage everyone to try a few Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels in one sitting. Examine every aspect (as even color can vary by notable shades). You may just find a special whiskey that checks all of your desired profile boxes.