If you caught the Bourbon Pursuit podcast two weeks ago, you likely heard Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell discuss rickhouse floors and their impact on bourbon maturation. Taking that as inspiration, I decided this week’s review should showcase the differences that floors create in barrels pulled from the same rickhouse.

As many of you are well aware, Tyrone’s rickhouse D had some amazing private selections last year. Examples include (but are far from limited to):  Lexington Bourbon Society’s “Final Pour,” Motor Supply Company’s #17-0814, and the 2018 Master Distiller Selection chosen by Jimmy and Eddie Russell, Fred Noe, and Chris Morris.

When I heard that the Lexington Bourbon Society had selected yet another barrel from rickhouse D, it immediately caught my interest. Luckily, I was able to find a bottle through a friend (thanks James). About that same time I was gifted a generous “D-gem” from a bourbon associate and affiliate of Lawrenceburg’s own Go Big Blue Liquor Store (thanks Brandon). It just so happens that the LBS barrel aged on the 6th floor, while the Go Big Blue pick spent its years on the 3rd floor. As far as I’m aware, both are of similar age (9 years or thereabouts).

So now the big question is: Will there be considerable differences in profile between the two? One could argue that single barrels are unique by nature regardless of location. That’s not an inaccurate statement; however, rickhouse floors matter – not just to the average enthusiast, but to Eddie Russell and every other experienced master distiller out there. Surely three floors apart for 9+ years (give or take) should equate to some notable variance. Should, right? Well, there’s only one way to find out. It’s time for a good ol’ comparison tasting!

Russell's Reserve Go Big Blue

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #17-382, rickhouse D, floor 3) – selected by Go Big Blue Liquors, Lawrenceburg, KY – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – no age stated – 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:  caramel/candy apple, vanilla, sweet & musty charred oak, rich herbal spice, citrus, nutmeg, green apple peel, hints of red licorice & cedar

Taste:  (silky & sweet) vanilla, caramel apple, oak char, brown sugar, honey butter, tangerine peel, “bright” cinnamon, faint maple syrup

Finish:  long & vibrant – caramel drizzle, vanilla, spicy oak, brown sugar glaze, nutmeg, zesty sweet herbs, hints of clove & roasted almonds

Overall:  I’d initially set up this tasting as a blind comparison; however, it was evident from the beginning that this particular pour was the lower-floor whiskey. Go Big Blue’s Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel #17-382 showcases notable vibrancy with plenty of zest and fruity notes, as opposed to the typical earthy notes you often find in bourbon aged on upper rickhouse floors. While not exactly the red “summer fruit” notes you find in other Russell’s Reserve selections (Lincoln Road’s “Misty’s 2nd Pick” from the 3rd floor of rickhouse K comes to mind), Go Big Blue instead displays more of a crisp “autumn fruit” profile. It’s well balanced with interesting complexity – excelling in sweetness, yet maintaining an offsetting warm baking spice element. Very fine indeed.

Rating:  4/5🦃

Russell's Reserve Hops2Go

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, “Hops-2-Go #1, D-elicious” (barrel #17-0694, rickhouse D, floor 6) – selected by the Lexington Bourbon Society, Lexington, KY – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – no age stated – 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:  vanilla spice, caramel drizzle, sweet & musty charred oak, brown sugar, baked apples, cherry/orange soda, nutmeg, hints of leather

Taste:  (intense w/ light earthiness) burnt vanilla, caramel chews, nutmeg, rich oak char, brown sugar, clove, molasses, faint tobacco & pepper

Finish:  medium-long & robust – toasted caramel, vanilla extract, sweet oak, maple, clove, leather, black pepper, diminishing citrus & herbal spice

Overall:  I just love how upper-floor maturation brings out the earthy and robust profile notes in Wild Turkey bourbon – particularly Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. While this Lexington Bourbon Society selection doesn’t quite deliver those heavier notes at near the same intensity as other 6th floor barrels I’ve tasted, I’ll admit that it maintains commendable balance in exchange. Truth be told, it’s my favorite of the two selections I’m tasting today. That said, I hesitate to call Hops-2-Go #1 a better bourbon than Go Big Blue’s #17-382. It’s merely a personal preference in regard to profile, not quality.

Rating:  4/5 🦃

In closing:  I think it’s pretty obvious at this point that there’s distinguishable profile differences between these two Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections. While both barrels were pulled from the same rickhouse within the same year, each tastes undeniably unique.

And so the lesson today is … floors most certainly matter.

Overall, both single-barrel whiskeys perform well. While distinct, they each shine in their own ways – one more fruity and zesty, the other a bit more robust and earthy. Which started me thinking … what if you combined the two? Possibly get the best of both worlds?

Well, I couldn’t help myself and decided to 50/50 blend Go Big Blue’s #17-382 and LBS’ Hops-2-Go #1. Complexity level up!

Now I’m getting the signature aspects of each bourbon as a single pour. Sure, I’m losing a little vibrancy from the 3rd floor, as well as a little intensity from the 6th floor, but the end result is increased complexity with (arguably) improved balance. I’m a fan!

I now (more than ever) understand why Jimmy and Eddie Russell raised Wild Turkey’s barrel-entry proof back in the 2000’s. If you want a multi-layered and nuanced whiskey at well over 101 proof (take Rare Breed, for example), you have to start with a significantly higher barrel-entry proof. If you don’t, you’ll be limited on the number of lower floor barrels in your batches as they’ll inevitably decrease the net batch proof. Thanks to the current 115 barrel-entry proof, a blend of upper and lower-floor barrels at (or greater than) 110 proof is now possible. And even better – it works incredibly well.

But please don’t take my experience as a universal truth. Experiment for yourself. If you have at least two Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections from different rickhouse floors, give them a whirl as a blend. You never know – you might just end up with an extraordinary batch!