What makes a Wild Turkey private barrel selection truly special? Flavor profile? Barrel specs? Perhaps the events or people surrounding the pick itself?

I suppose any of these factors could make a private barrel selection special – but – what if a single Wild Turkey barrel selection had them all? Many certainly claim to – each with their own incredible story that (more often than not) involves a member of the Russell family. And who are you or I to deny those tales? Hell, I felt the same way about my private barrel selection with Eddie last year.

Maybe the question is better phrased as, who doesn’t feel their private barrel selection is special? After all, one of the many things that sets Wild Turkey barrel picks apart from their competition is the Russell factor. Jimmy, Eddie, Bruce, JoAnn … unless you’re tasting samples off site (and even if you are), you’re probably going to share the experience with a member of the Russell family.

But what if I told you that even in a sea of special barrels, one selection was extraordinarily unique – and – could be verified as such by none other than the Russells themselves? Well, such is the case with Moonshine Grill’s “15th Anniversary Cheesy Gold,” a 2019 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection.

If you’re familiar with bourbon secondary markets, then you may have heard of Moonshine Grill’s “Cheesy Gold” Russell’s Reserve. Even if you’re not familiar with the secondary, then you might have heard of it through social media channels. In essence, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to modern Wild Turkey 101 12-year KSBW, though in single-barrel form (hence the Cheesy Gold Foil reference). Sure, Master’s Keep Revival is 101/12, but it’s Oloroso Sherry finished (and as such technically not straight bourbon whiskey either). Moonshine Grill’s Cheesy Gold, on the other hand, is 110-proof, non-chill filtered, 12.5-year Wild Turkey KSBW at its finest.

So how did this come to be? Why Moonshine Grill? Is it really that unique? All excellent questions.

Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill first served the population of Austin, TX back in 2003. Since then it’s become one of the city’s hottest restaurants – especially for whiskey enthusiasts. Boasting one of the largest (possibly the largest) selection of private single barrels in the state, Moonshine Grill is a virtual bourbon paradise. As such, it’s no surprise that Wild Turkey Brand Ambassador Bruce Russell, a resident of Austin for several years, moseyed into the bar one day and started a relationship that over time extended through the Russell family.

This past year Moonshine Grill celebrated its 15th anniversary. Operations Manager Joe Nguyen reached out to Master Distiller Eddie Russell in search of a one-of-a-kind barrel to mark the occasion. Eddie more than delivered. Impressive specs aside, the barrel had been a personal favorite of Bruce Russell and Brand Ambassador Benny Hurwitz – likely a few others in the know as well. But fortune fell on Moonshine Grill, and rightfully so. The establishment has done its share of good works among the community – raising over $10,000 for the Make a Wish Foundation, and more recently, focusing attention on the Urban Roots charity.

Now it’s time to determine if Moonshine Grill’s Cheesy Gold is worthy enough to carry the cheesy gold crown displayed on its undeniably Turkey-centric custom label (very “Notorious C.G.F.,” I might add). Stories and stickers can be interesting and fun, but it’s ultimately the whiskey that matters most. While I’m fairly confident this one will deliver, you never know until you try for yourself. So with that, let’s pour!

Moonshine Grill Cheesy Gold RRSiB

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, “Cheesy Gold 15th Anniversary” (barrel #14-2772, rickhouse A, floor 4) – selected by Moonshine Patio & Grill, Austin, TX – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – no age stated (reportedly 12 years) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  amber rose

Nose:  (delicate, fruity) cherry cordials, vanilla creme, raspberry jam, fragrant oak, fruit punch, apple butter, herbal tea, ruby grapefruit, honey, faint floral spice

Taste:  (complex, layered) vanilla spice, plums, caramel, honey-maple, musty charred oak, cinnamon, herbal/floral notes, zesty citrus, sweet pepper, clove tobacco

Finish:  long w/ sweet drying spice – toasted vanilla, burnt caramel, rich oak char, brown sugar, honey-maple, tobacco, leather, blood orange, cinnamon, hints of clove & ginger

Overall:  Captivating. Unique. Lovely. Moonshine Grill’s “Cheesy Gold” Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel isn’t really Cheesy Gold Foil 101 12-year in profile, but its unique complexity is a testament to the quality of well-aged Wild Turkey bourbon. Starting with the nose it’s apparent this whiskey is distinct from what’s typically found in Russell’s Reserve private selections. Not necessarily better – just strikingly different. But the palate … that’s when things really paint a memorable picture – layers of mature complexity unlike any Wild Turkey barrel I’ve previously tasted. By the time you’re experiencing the finish, you’re mentally sitting yourself down for a long talk.

So many elements to reflect upon; so little whiskey left in my glass.

At the end of the day Moonshine Grill’s Cheesy Gold is classic Wild Turkey with a slightly unfamiliar twist. Not quite modern, not quite dusty, yet unmistakably and exceptionally Russell. If only we could have more barrels of similar age and profile available for selection.

Rating:  4.5/5 🦃

Closing thoughts:  What can I say? There’s benefits to becoming one of the Russell’s favorite establishments. This private selection speaks volumes of such a relationship. But what I find more interesting about this particular barrel is that it was passed over – several times over at the very least. If I’m reading its tag correctly, this barrel was pulled for the private selection program in 2014 – the first full year of the private barrel program. It’s likely (obvious even) that this bourbon had little to offer vendors back in 2014. Forgotten about, the years went by and rickhouse A worked its magic. As a result, we now have this beautiful whiskey.

If there’s any lesson today it’s this – strive to be Eddie Russell’s best friend. 😉 Joking aside, the true takeaway (of course) is that today’s passed-over barrel can sometimes become tomorrow’s sought-after unicorn.

There’s brilliance, and there’s the potential of brilliance. When it comes to whiskey, recognizing the difference is undoubtedly important. Much like the Jewish Whisky Company and their “accidental barrel” from rickhouse K, it’s knowing what you’ve got and when the time is right to share it with the world. Acknowledge and perfect that timing and your reward can be resounding.