I’m sometimes asked, “What makes Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel so special?” That’s a great question. If you’re new to this blog I recommend checking out 2017’s Ten Reasons to Sip Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, as it covers most of the specifics. While I’ll probably mention an item or two from that article in today’s post, my goal is to focus on one thing – profile.
Forget origins. Forget details. Forget brands. Let’s start with a baseline category: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey.
What do you look for in a quality KSBW? For me, it’s complexity, maturity, and balance. Excluding price, that’s about it. Brand, recipe, and proof are always second to profile. Period. Okay, well maybe I’m a little biased on brand, but anyway. 🙂 It just so happens that Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel (more often than not) checks all of those boxes at a considerably fair price.
And then there’s variance. For a single unaltered bourbon recipe, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel exhibits variance at a near-mind-blowing level. Fortunately, it’s a quality variance, and as such, complexity, maturity, and balance are all subject to a barrel-dependent rollercoaster effect. In other words, every single barrel has its own unique profile. Some barrels will be quite similar, others seemingly come from left field, but at a time when whiskey enthusiasts are craving the thrill of the hunt more than ever before, the variance found in Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel makes it incredibly appealing.
Speaking of variance, by 2018 a distinctively new type of profile was emerging from Wild Turkey – the “Camp Nelson Profile” (a reference to flavor traits attributed to barrels pulled from Wild Turkey’s offsite rickhouses at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, KY). While grounded in traditional Wild Turkey notes, Camp Nelson barrels have a signature zest or “prickle” – a unique Turkey funk all their own. This profile is best illustrated in Russell’s Reserve 2002, being composed entirely of Camp Nelson barrels, non-chill filtered at full barrel strength.
And then there’s Russell’s Reserve private selections, of which there were numerous Camp Nelson varieties last year. In fact, my own private selection, “One & A Century,” was pulled from Camp Nelson rickhouse F.
Speaking truthfully, it took me some time to settle into the Camp Nelson Profile. After countless Tyrone private barrel selections sipped and reviewed, it was as if someone grabbed the flavor wheel and spun it like the Price is Right’s Showcase Showdown. Thankfully, I’m a huge fan of variety. It didn’t take long before I not only appreciated the Camp Nelson Profile – I was swimming in it.
Which brings me to the subject of today’s review. I was recently gifted this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection by a generous associate named James, AKA “The Bourbon Enthusiast.” Upon first glance at the label (a very classy and detailed label, by the way) I noticed it was extremely close in age and location to my recent barrel selection. Interesting.
Well, I guess there’s no time like the present to determine how this selection measures up. Will I like it more? Less? Perhaps the same? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s pour!
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #18-0685, rickhouse CNF, floor 5) – selected by The Bourbon Enthusiast (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: rich copper
Nose: (fruit-laced bakery notes) vanilla wafers, toasted caramel, molasses, sweet oak, brown sugar, orange peel, raspberry ginger ale, faint pomegranate
Taste: (notable spice) honey-pepper, vanilla, caramel chews, oak char, clove, nutmeg, licorice, spicy ginger, fruit leather, cola, “Red Hots” cinnamon-flavored candy
Finish: medium-long & balanced – vanilla extract, caramel, spicy oak, cedar, sweet ginger, clove, pepper, leather, smoked maple, hints of lemon zest
Overall: Damn, I just love a captivating pour! From nose to finish, The Bourbon Enthusiast selection #18-0685 keeps you on your toes – far from the average “core notes” barrel. In many ways I’m reminded of “One & A Century,” though I’ll be completely honest – this bourbon is a touch sweeter with commendable balance. It may not be as unique as One & A Century, but it’s arguably a more approachable whiskey. Shooting straight – The Bourbon Enthusiast #18-0685 is the best Camp Nelson Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel I’ve tasted thus far.
Now, I feel it’s important that I clarify something before wrapping up. This bottle, nor One & A Century, nor any other Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel out there, is worth some crazy secondary triple-digit figure. It’s just not. Anyone expecting a life-changing experience from a Wild Turkey or a [insert your preferred distillery here] private barrel is looking at things from an extremely narrow perspective.
There’s so much whiskey out there. Let me repeat that – with emphasis. There is so much whiskey out there. You don’t need a club, group, or blogger like myself to fulfill your bourbon dreams. All you have to do is shop around – try different bottles. Hell, buy the single-barrel bottles no one else is talking about. Sometimes those little-known private selections collecting dust are the real gems. You just never know until you try.
As for this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection from The Bourbon Enthusiast … well done, James. You picked a damn-good barrel – better than mine. I look forward to your future Wild Turkey selections down the road. Until then, cheers!
Rating: 4/5 🦃