When successful musicians get together they call it a supergroup. When superheroes join together they call it a superteam. When Kentucky master distillers get together they call it … well, a bunch of country boys sippin’ bourbon whiskey, of course. They may not sing like the Highwaymen or fight like the Avengers, but I guarantee they always have one helluva good time.
A few weeks ago a curious new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon showed up in the Wild Turkey Visitor Center – simply labeled “Master Distiller Selection 2018,” with no other description or display to explain exactly what those words meant. Was it a Jimmy pick? An Eddie pick? A Jimmy and Eddie pick? No one really knew. Thankfully, an incredible Turkey friend gave me a heads up (truly appreciate it, Ryan) and I was able to pick up a bottle before they sold out.
So with this new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel in hand, I decided I’d take on some detective work of my own. I reached out to Eddie Russell to find out its origin and he quickly informed me that it was selected by himself, Jimmy, Fred Noe of Jim Beam, and Chris Morris of Woodford Reserve at the time of the 2018 Kentucky Bourbon Affair tasting. You read that correctly – four world-class Kentucky bourbon whiskey master distillers selecting a Wild Turkey barrel. When I read those names on my cell phone, my jaw dropped. This was indeed a special bottle. Naturally, my mind raced at the thought of those esteemed gentlemen, all at one table, enjoying the best of House Russell.
I’m not sure of the actual details of that epic gathering or how many barrels were tasted or selected, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share my version of the events – at least my “based on a true story” version. I thought today’s review would be an excellent time to share it. So, pour your favorite Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection, sit back, and let your mind drift away to the blue hills of Kentucky …
It was a pleasant spring day in Lawrenceburg. With a copper thief in his left hand and a copita in his right, Eddie Russell took the short walk to rickhouse B. His goal was simple – find a set of impressive Wild Turkey barrels for the 2018 Kentucky Bourbon Affair Master Distillers Tasting. Jimmy didn’t accompany Eddie on this walk – didn’t need to. He’d trained Eddie well. Indeed, the once Bourbon Apprentice was now an experienced Bourbon Master.
It’s unknown exactly how much time Eddie spent in rickhouse B. Some say minutes, others say hours, but every eyewitness agrees on one thing – when Eddie strolled out his smile was ten miles wide.
Eddie’s next stop was rickhouse G. It was a straightforward visit. There was a barrel he’d hidden from Jamie Farris some months back and today was the day to claim it. In, out, done.
With B and G selections behind him, there was one barrel left to find. As Eddie headed back towards the distillery, the setting sun cast a glorious light on rickhouse D. It was then Eddie scrapped his original plan of pulling a barrel from the famed rickhouse A, and instead made his way into rickhouse D.
Some time passed, it grew dark, and Eddie had yet to exit. But just as workers began to grow concerned, a maniacal laughter echoed through the rickhouse floors. While some are certain it was Eddie’s, others swear they heard cell phone speaker chatter and a slightly distorted “Alright, alright, alright.”
Weeks rolled by and the day of the KBA Master Distillers Tasting finally arrived. Jimmy and Eddie each took a seat at the tasting room table and waited patiently for their special guests. Woodford Reserve’s Chris Morris first walked through the door. Beaming with confidence and pride, Chris shook hands with the Russells and took his seat next to Eddie. A few short minutes later, Jim Beam’s Fred Noe entered the room. Following immediately behind was Bruce Russell, who’d started up a friendly chat with Fred in the hall. With pleasantries and a few laughs exchanged by all, Fred took a seat next to Jimmy. The room grew eerily quiet as Bruce made his exit, slowly closing the door behind him. And just as the door was nearly shut, a strange music resonated from the hallway … an odd melody … medieval even. While unconfirmed, I’ve been told that Bruce’s ringtone was at one time “The Rains of Castamere.” Something was most certainly afoot.
And so the tasting began. First it was the rickhouse B barrel. Jimmy sat quietly with a stern innocence, while Eddie casually chatted and remarked on the barrel’s details here and there. It was a honey barrel of honey barrels, and the Russells played their hand like Rainman at a novice dealer’s table.
The sweat beaded on Chris’ forehead, Fred started on a throat-clearing fit that came and went like a train on shaky tracks, and Jimmy just sat quietly smiling on the inside. Not wanting their nerves to show, both Chris and Fred offered a few conservative compliments about the selection. It was too good – unbelievably too good – and something had to give. Luckily, there were two barrels left. An escape seemed almost easy.
The rickhouse G barrel was next. “Oh, damn,” thought Fred. It was an undeniably incredible pour – possibly better than the rickhouse B barrel. Things were getting real serious, real quick.
And that’s about when Chris spoke up. “Hey, um … so, I think …” His words trailed off as he fumbled around for his water bottle. After a swig that seemed to last five minutes, Chris finished his sentence. “So, yeah … I think this one’s a little too mature. Got any younger barrels we could try?”
Fred jumped in, “Yeah, I agree. I think we should try something … with maybe lighter vanilla and some peanut notes. Something like that. Or wait – I heard those Jewish Whisky guys found a great reject barrel. Got any rejects we can taste?” At this point Fred’s browline was showing as much sweat as Chris’ and the once stealthy handkerchief swipes were now a full-blown display of perspiration control.
Jimmy motioned to Eddie, and Eddie reached for the last bottle. “Fellas,” said Eddie, “I’m sorry, but we’ve only got one sample left.” It was taking everything Eddie had in him not to crack a guilty smile. He pictured a celebratory aftermath in his head … Jimmy’s chuckles, high fives with Bruce, McConaughey playing bongos … it was all happening. Then Eddie caught Jimmy’s eyes – his silent message delivered with a marksman’s accuracy. The deed was unfinished and Eddie needed to keep it together.
The last glasses were filled and at this point all Chris and Fred could do was pray for a miracle. Alas, it would never come. House Russell had delivered the final blow and it came from rickhouse D. The boys from Woodford and Beam surrendered to the fact that Wild Turkey had something far too special to run from. They each mustered up smiles and made their best attempts to at least appear as if they were mulling over a decision. In reality, Chris was trying to remember his most recent retirement account balance – would it be enough? Fred, on the other hand, contemplated an extended TV contract and raise for Mila.
Out of the foggy silence Jimmy spoke up, “I think that’s it boys. Whatcha got in mind?” Jimmy gently tapped the table, adding just the right amount of tension as Chris and Fred finally caved. Like insects fatigued in a garden spider’s web, they were done.
Chris was the first to speak. “I guess … just whatever that last one was.”
Then Fred responded, “Yeah, it was … nice. Fine, really. D, was that it? D? Okay, yeah.”
Jimmy and Eddie looked at each other then Eddie replied, “D it is. Thanks for coming, fellas! I’ll show you out.” And with that Eddie opened the tasting room door.
Fred Noe was the first to leave. If you’ve ever seen the movie Shane, well that’s how Fred rode off. Was he wounded or just tired? I guess we’ll never know for sure.
Chris Morris, still seated at the table, had a look of disbelief behind a fragile smile. “What just happened?” He asked himself. And at that very moment he felt a pat on his shoulder. Chris turned around to find a grinning Jimmy Russell standing behind him.
“That’s what we call Wild Turkey,” said Jimmy. He gave Chris’ shoulder one last pat, turned around, chuckled, and walked out the door.
Eddie led Chris out of the room and down the hallway. “Thanks again,” said Eddie.
Chris, still stunned, nodded and waved as he walked out the building.
It was over. Eddie headed back to the tasting room and gathered up the sample bottles. He took one last sip of the D barrel, smiled, and pulled out his cell phone. It was bongo time.
Alright, so that may not be exactly how it happened, but like I said before … based on a true story. 😉
At the end of the day, all that really matters is the whiskey in the bottle. Details are fun and frequently offer perspective (a point of profile reference, if you will), but it’s the bourbon itself that matters most. So without further fable or delay, let’s give this Master Distiller Selection a healthy pour!
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #17-781, rickhouse D, floor 6) – Master Distiller Selection 2018 – 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: deep copper
Nose: (robust & bakery sweet) brown sugar, toasted caramel, molasses, charred honey-oak, maple syrup, vanilla bean, nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, orange peel, herbal spice, leather, hints of clove tobacco & chocolate-covered cherries
Taste: (creamy & rich) caramel chews, vanilla spice, sweet hearty oak, brown sugar, dense honey-maple, nutmeg, buttered cinnamon rolls, blood orange, herbal tea & leather
Finish: long & flavorful – rich vanilla, caramel, charred oak, maple syrup, brown sugar, creme brulee, sweet herbal spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, hints of leather & pepper
Overall: Regardless of who selected this barrel (it all starts with a Russell 😉 ), there’s one thing I know for sure … it’s seriously delicious bourbon. Rich, robust, creamy, and unmistakably Wild Turkey, this bottle has arguably everything you’d want in a modern release. In many ways it reminds me of another stellar Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection, Motor Supply Company’s 2018 rickhouse D pick. Truthfully, I’ll have to give the edge to this Master Distiller Selection. There’s just something about it – a slightly darker nose; its faintly earthy finish. There’s a subtle intensity that immediately draws you in – begging contemplation, but never once demanding it.
Folks, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. 2018 is the year for Russell’s Reserve private selections – so many excellent ones to choose from, so little time and resources to find them all. If you’re not out there trying and buying these, you’re honestly missing out. Maybe I’m just lucky? Maybe I’ve just happened to run across the best of the lot? I just don’t think that’s the case. Whatever the reasons may be, all I can say is that I’ve never been so impressed. Some folks give sole credit to the individuals participating in selections. Personally, I think that’s a little pretentious. Eddie humbly gives credit to time and Mother Nature. When it comes to quality Wild Turkey single barrels, I think the majority of credit is always due the Russells and I’d like to believe that Fred Noe, Chris Morris, and any other master distiller would agree.
Rating: 4.5/5 🦃