If you haven’t heard the news, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selects have been incredible this year. Not that past years’ selections have been disappointing – not at all. But this year … this year has been one for the record books. While I don’t discriminate when it comes to Wild Turkey rickhouses, I’ll admit that rickhouse B is a personal favorite. In fact, I’ve had an extremely hard time turning down any rickhouse B pick I’ve come across in the last several months. Case in point, the two 2018 Russell’s Reserve private selections I’m reviewing today: Barrels & Brews’ “Backstage Pass” and Beast Master’s “That Old Kentucky Chew” (orange label).
I’m not sure if there’s backstories behind these two picks. I know that Barrels & Brews is associated with Carother’s Wine & Spirits in Franklin, TN, and Beast Masters is a whiskey club based out of New York, NY. Each are well-respected on social media and have private barrels that receive notable praise from bourbon enthusiasts. But honestly, none of that matters to me. What matters most is that these are 110-proof, NCF, Wild Turkey KSBW single barrels pulled by Master Distiller Eddie Russell himself. It also helps to know that they’re from the second oldest rickhouse on Wild Turkey Hill … rickhouse B.
One might say it’s the bourbon history nerd in me, others might say it’s pure nonsense, but in my perception there’s something remarkably special with the profile rickhouse B creates. To me the flavor it imparts falls somewhere between rickhouse A and rickhouse G (another personal favorite). Whereas A often produces bourbon with a lighter bakery-esque vibe, and G often produces bourbon with a heavier caramel and spice vibe, B lands somewhere in between. Of course I’m stating generally, as these are single barrels I’m referencing. And, of course, seasons do matter. But whatever the reasons might be, it really worked out this year.
Speaking of which, I decided to reach out to Eddie Russell to ask why 2018 has furnished so many fabulous single barrel selects – particularly from B, D and H. As much as I’m convinced he pulled as many honey barrels as possible, Eddie gives sole credit to time and Mother Nature. He stated that he’s limited in which rickhouses he can pull from annually and that some years are simply better than others. Special thanks to Eddie for telling it straight. No flim-flam – no whiskey guru talk you sometimes hear touted by producers. No sir. The Russells and crew distill it, barrel it, rack it, age it, and pull it. No BS, just KSBW. And damn good KSBW too.
Based on the past several Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bottles I’ve enjoyed, I’ve got a feeling that neither of these private selections will be sub-par. But let’s not jump to conclusions just yet. A proper side-by-side tasting is arguably the best way to gauge the finer details of similar whiskeys. With that let’s pour and see how these two single barrels line up.
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #17-0336, rickhouse B, floor 6) – selected by Barrels & Brews, Franklin, TN – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: rich copper
Nose: (fresh-baked sweets) waffle cone, vanilla pudding, maple-oak, caramel drizzle, nutmeg, brown sugar, hints of citrus & herbal/floral spice
Taste: (well-balanced sweet & spicy) brown sugar, creamy caramel, vanilla, sweet charred oak, cinnamon, nutmeg, herbal spice, leather, pepper
Finish: medium-long w/ pleasant warmth – vanilla bean, caramel, sweet oak, nutmeg, leather, cinnamon, gingerbread, faint pepper
Overall: Barrels & Brews’ Backstage Pass is a quality pour. Is it a cut above a majority of the Russell’s Reserve private selections I’ve enjoyed this year? Not really, though the bar has been set rather high in 2018. While it’s certainly balanced and carries engaging complexity, Backstage Pass ultimately lacks that special or unique quality to help it shine above the virtual sea of similar 2018 Russell’s Reserve barrel picks.
I’m not saying I don’t recommended Backstage Pass. Not at all. I think anyone purchasing this release will be satisfied. Just don’t go into it expecting it to blow your mind – especially if you’ve already had a handful of amazing Russell’s Reserve picks. Give it time. Let it breathe. It opens up rather nicely if you’re patient and dig into the bottle a bit.
Rating: 3.75/5 🦃
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #17-114, rickhouse B, floor 6) – selected by Beast Masters Club, New York, NY – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: rich copper
Nose: (intense bakery notes) brown sugar, molasses, creme brulee, vanilla frosting, orange peel, maple-oak char, cinnamon, nutmeg, herbal spice, hints of floral perfume, faint clove
Taste: (robust & creamy) vanilla bean, caramel chews, citrus spice, brown sugar, sweet musty oak, honey-maple, cinnamon, leather, blood orange, spice drop candies, faint hot ginger
Finish: long & spicy – caramel, toasted vanilla, charred oak, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, maple syrup, hints of butterscotch & spiced rum
Overall: What a beast (pun intended)! The Beast Masters Club has quite a following, and based on the flavor of this bottle I can definitely see why. Almost everything I look for in a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection is here – notable complexity, ideal maturity, and balance in and relative to each phase of tasting (nose, taste, finish). It has all of that and a whopping dollop of rich, thick, syrupy sweet bakery spice.
That Old Kentucky Chew is without doubt a suitable name for this barrel select and precisely why I’ve been chasing after this year’s rickhouse B offerings. Well done, Beast Masters! I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be picking up more of your Russell’s Reserve picks very soon. Which reminds me … what’s this chatter about a “hot pickle?”
Rating: 4.25/5 🦃
Closing thoughts: While both of these bourbons are quality pours, I think it’s clear, at least to me, that Beast Master’s Old Kentucky Chew (orange label) has a touch more to offer. That said, I’m not talking leaps and bounds of difference. That’s the essential beauty of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. The proverbial floor is so high that rolling the dice on a purchase, particularly a private barrel selection, is never a bad idea. Some will be better than others, but realistically speaking “better” is entirely subjective. My approval of a whiskey isn’t a guarantee and my tasting notes, thoughts, and opinions are solely my own (no more or less valuable than those of others). So on that note I’ll close by saying, don’t let this Barrels & Brews Backstage Pass review set a precedent. I’ll be reviewing another one of their Russell’s Reserve picks next week. It’s very …… “My Little Pony.” You’ll see! 😉
Special note: Starting with this post I will be employing quarter-point ratings when applicable. While I’ve struggled with this decision for months, I’ve finally given in after tasting so many back-to-back quality single barrels and with the prospect of barrel-proof, single-barrel releases to come. I may go back and revise past ratings at some point (if warranted), though it’s not on my agenda at the present time.