Campari’s Whiskey Barons Collection made its debut in the Spring of 2017. From the beginning there was an air of mystery surrounding the first two releases, Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard. The primary source of confusion was (ironically) the press release, which stated neither Jimmy nor Eddie Russell were involved with the two expressions while simultaneously asserting both whiskeys were distilled at Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. I guess it depends on what your definition of “involved” is, but to the seasoned enthusiast the press release created more questions than answers.
Regardless of Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard’s origins, the expressions were rather average in the end – neither offensive, nor entirely impressive. While aesthetically beautiful, their stellar designs simply weren’t enough to justify their hefty price tag of $50 per 375ml. As such, their popularity and performance were arguably lackluster – each failing to garner the same level of praise given to several contemporary Wild Turkey expressions of comparable specs. In fact, some enthusiasts questioned if the Whiskey Barons program would even continue.
Fast forward one year. In March 2018, the label for W. B. Saffell Bourbon Whiskey hit the TTB COLA registry. Apparently, Campari hadn’t thrown in the towel on the Whiskey Barons Collection. And there was even better news this time around – Eddie Russell would be key in crafting Whiskey Baron expressions moving forward. Based on Eddie’s track record of exemplary whiskeys (with both Russell’s Reserve and Master’s Keep), W. B. Saffell seemed promising. If there were ever a chance for the Whiskey Barons Collection to resonate among enthusiasts, it was now or never.
Here we are in 2019 and resting in my hand is a bottle of W. B. Saffell Bourbon Whiskey – Eddie Russell’s unique creation, for better or worse. Yet unknown to most, there’s a deeper connection surrounding this particular release. I recently learned that Eddie and family lived in the Saffell house for several years. The late Victorian Era structure is now a funeral home, which in many ways serves as a museum to the once prominent pre-prohibition distiller. But who was W. B. Saffell and what was his significance to Lawrenceburg?
William Butler Saffell (1843-1910) came to fame in the late nineteenth century. Having worked for distinguished distiller, judge, and politician, W. H. McBrayer, for some 20 years, Saffell decided to start his own distillery in 1889, the year following McBrayer’s death. Despite Saffell’s relatively unknown name today, he was considerably successful up until the day he died in 1910 (his impressive home stands as evidence of such). His famous “Sour Mash Kentucky Whiskey” was popular well past his death, rivaling brands like Cedar Brook, the very bourbon Saffell helped to put on the map for McBrayer. The W. B. Saffell distillery continued on until Prohibition, when its doors closed forever. The Saffell Distillery, its buildings and brand, were eventually lost to time.
I’ll happily admit, I’m quite pleased Campari is bringing attention to these lost Lawrenceburg bourbon brands. Sure, it’s for a profit (it’s a business after all), but they didn’t have to choose this route. Thankfully, they did and (spoiler) after this expression folks might start paying attention.
The history of Lawrenceburg’s distilling past is ripe for the curious mind. While other Kentucky locales gather far greater attention, none seem as unharvested and plentiful as Lawrenceburg’s. There’s a book-worth there and someone should write it.
History aside, I have a job to do. The best part is, it involves sipping whiskey. While I thoroughly enjoy the nerdy stuff (really, I do), I like the appreciation part a pinch more. And with that, let’s see what W. B. Saffell has to offer. It’s time for a pour!
W. B. Saffell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (2019) – Campari Whiskey Barons Collection Batch #1 – no age stated (reportedly a blend of six-, eight-, ten-, and twelve-year KSBW) – 107 proof – distilled and bottled by The American Medicinal Spirits Co. (produced at the Wild Turkey Distillery), Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: deep copper
Nose: (rich & robust) burnt caramel, vanilla bean, molasses, charred oak, brown sugar, clove, blood orange, nutmeg, cinnamon, hints of sweet & savory herbal spice
Taste: (notably balanced) vanilla extract, caramel chews, maple syrup, sweet oak char, pecan glaze, ginger beer, pepper, brown sugar, apple peel, nutmeg, faint leather
Finish: long, warm & flavorful – toasted vanilla, caramel, sweet & spicy oak, maple, black pepper, clove, licorice, leather, hints of citrus, cinnamon & sweet herbs
Overall: I have no idea what pre-prohibition Saffell whiskey tasted like, but if William Butler Saffell could somehow taste this bourbon today, I’d wager he’d be damn proud. This is fantastic … simply fantastic.
I can’t say for certain what barrels went into this expression, but I can say there’s a strong Camp Nelson vibe at play. Yet, unlike the numerous Camp Nelson rickhouse A and F private selections out there (most of which range eight to nine years), W. B. Saffell has a complex structure with noteworthy maturity. Even at 107 proof, it’s unmistakably better than every 110-proof Camp Nelson Russell’s Reserve private barrel I’ve tasted to date.
But of course, there’s the elephant in the room … W. B. Saffell’s price. $50 for a 375ml non-age-stated bourbon is undoubtedly a significant expense; however, the grand majority of 750ml limited edition whiskeys often start at well-over $100. If Saffell were Old Ripy or Bond & Lillard 1, I’d say try before you buy or simply move along. Luckily, Saffell stands above its preceding Whiskey Baron releases in both proof and profile. Its robust layers and considerable depth remind me of Russell’s Reserve 2002 – and – there’s not a single drop of 2002’s oaky bitterness.
As far as I’m concerned, W. B. Saffell has earned the title of “2002 Junior.” Just think about it – Russell’s Reserve 2002 retails for $250. You can throw specs at me all day – tell me why on paper Russell’s Reserve 2002 is best, etc. Fine. All I have to say in return is that W. B. Saffell deserves similar attention based strictly on profile and personal satisfaction. Yes, it’s that good.
Eddie – this should’ve had a Turkey on it.
Campari – Eddie deserves a raise.
Rating: 4.5/5 🦃
Bottle photograph courtesy Ryan Alves (2019)
I saw this when I stepped inside the gift shop in January. I took a photo and hoped to find a review before I purchased. Now I have one. I was also leary because of the last two. I hope it is still there when I revisit in a few weeks. Thank you.
Anytime Kelly. I think you’ll really love this one.
Great review!! I skipped the last Whiskey Barons release mostly based on your review of it. The WT fan in me wanted to try it just for completion’s sake, but I think I made the right decision.
I hope to see this one around me soon, and I’ll definitely pick up a bottle or two when it does.
Thanks Scott. This one is definitely a cut above. Let me know if you don’t have any luck.
Great review! Fascinating history: I hope this turns up in my neck of the woods!
I hope so. It’s damn good!
Great review. When I see a 375 that sells for around $50, I start questioning if I really want that, or if I’d rather spend the money on a Rare Breed or a Russell’s Reserve and get twice the juice for around the same price.
On another note, you mention the various warehouses often. Is there a decoder ring for which warehouses are at which facilities? Are they all designated with a single letter and are certain letters at certain facilities? Or is there a warehouse “A” at each facility? Is there a map anywhere that shows the layout of each facility and warehouse?
Keep up the fantastic work – love the site.
I’m not sure how McBrayer is categorized, but Tyrone and Camp Nelson are alphabetical starting with A. There is no rickhouse J as it burned in 2000. Oh, and Saffell is so worth it!
Thought you might like this tidbit RB. I was sampling Saffell at NO Bourbon Fest and the fella pouring for the WT booth at the tasting said that when Eddie walked in that night it was the first pour he requested. Really good stuff. Just wish it was $35.
Not surprised one bit. Eddie’s quite proud of Saffell (as he damn-well should be). Cheers!
How big is this release? Widely available like the first two releases?
Per Campari, it will be a nationwide release.
Thanks for the info. Keep up the great work!
Wow Dave! Time to update the top 10 list? It’s very good. I don’t get the creamy flavor I taste in WTKS, which I’ve become attached recently. The nose is great but do think the finish stops just a tad short? It’s really good without a doubt. Your tasting notes are really spot on IMO.
You know … I might need to update that. Hmm … Thanks Jason!
Not a bourbon expert by a long ways but this reminds me a lot like wild Turkey decades.any thoughts?
Not getting a Decades vibe – but – definitely an LE vibe!
Only thing I’m disappointed in is the store wouldn’t let me buy 2,I hope this isn’t a one time thing and they make more.
Not sure. Possibly a batch 3.
I regret not tasting this at Justin’s House of Bourbon today! Ended up with the Justin and Cassie wedding pick though – it’s amazing. It had a richness that took me by surprise.
5 34 3
They pick great barrels! Visited both WT and JHOB today.
A friend of mine and I were enjoying Wild Turkey Wednesday last night. We poured ourselves a little 101 and exchanged the knowing looks that we were almost getting away with having outstanding whiskey at a discount. After a couple pours I decided to go inside and grab another WT expression. I almost reached for a store pick of Russel’s Reserve, but hesitated and decided to break out the W.B. Saffel as it had been awhile since I’d last tasted it. I poured us both a nice pour in a glencairn and took in a nice deep breath through the nose. The nose on this is amazing. I could sit and sniff this four hours. I took a sip and looked at my friend and said, “Ohhhhhh…you know, as good as 101 is…” She said before I could finish that thought, “Yeah, this is sex.” That pretty much summed it up.
LOL! Incredible story. Thanks for sharing this. You put a smile on my face.
The Pennsylvania state store system was selling Saffell in late 2021 (also Bond & Lillard). I bought several bottles and opened one. It is excellent. The neck label says “Batch 1” as before but the date code is LL/JF. Do you know anything about this release? I also saw some available from K&L recently.
Just sounds like another batch, though not in label but laser code. Haven’t tried a 2021 batch yet. Looking forward to, though!
I would be happy to send you a sample. Let me know.