One of the things I love most about whiskey enthusiasm is sharing. Whether it’s swapping cherished pours, comparing tasting notes, or simply exchanging one’s personal experiences, sharing is easily the best aspect of this hobby. But more on sharing later.

Two weeks ago I reviewed Moonshine Grill’s extraordinarily unique Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection, “Cheesy Gold.” In that post I discussed several factors that set barrel picks apart. One of those factors included stories – remarkable stories that make the barrel selection process, and thereby the chosen barrel itself, unique. The subject of today’s post involves one such story.

Last year a friend of mine named Ryan decided he was ready to take the next big step in life and tie the knot. Naturally, asking someone to marry you isn’t something to take lightly. It’s a very big deal, and big deals deserve big plans. But while plenty of folks travel to Niagara Falls, visit the Eiffel Tower, or buy front-row seats for a Garth Brooks concert to propose, die-hard bourbon enthusiasts often choose their favorite distillery – or if they’re really crafty – a private barrel pick to frame the moment. And what better place than Wild Turkey?

Now, as many of you readers already know, you can’t just walk into Wild Turkey and expect to pick a barrel. You have to plan ahead.  More importantly, you need a licensed vendor to sponsor the pick and purchase the barrel. Without that, good luck. Thankfully, Ryan had a willing sponsor, Justins’ House of Bourbon in Lexington, KY. For those unfamiliar, Justin’s House of Bourbon specializes in the sale of vintage bourbon and rye whiskeys.

As I began writing this blog post, I reached out to Ryan for more details about his group’s barrel selections. I’d heard the story before, but wanted to make sure I told it correctly. Then it dawned on me – why not let Ryan share his experience with readers in his own words? We’ve all heard stories of the “ultimate barrel pick.” Let’s face it – they’re a dime a dozen. But rarely do we hear stories like Ryan and Jessica’s.

So, here goes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

The idea started back in December 2017. Along with my dad, I put together a plan to propose. I decided I wanted to have a custom ring designed. I was generously gifted family heirloom diamonds and gold by my father, step-mother, and grandparents, as well as original wedding rings from Jessica’s mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. The jeweler put all of those pieces together into a single ring – a symbol of our two families melding together as one.

A few months later I was invited to join a barrel pick by Justins’ House of Bourbon. I talked with the owners, Justin Sloan and Justin Thompson, about proposing to Jessica on the pick. They loved the idea and then agreed that one of the barrels would be called “She said Yes!”

The day of the pick arrived (Jessica’s birthday) …

Bruce [Russell] and JoAnn [Street] helped to pull things off. They led the pick, as I believe Eddie [Russell] was out of town. Halfway through the tasting, JoAnn snuck off to get a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bottle from the gift shop. You see, prior to the barrel pick I’d had a special bottle hang tag made stating the date and GPS coordinates of our first date, as well as the proposal date. JoAnn hung the tag on the bottle, placed it in a bag, then rejoined us.

Marry Me Tag

After selecting both a Russell’s Reserve and Kentucky Spirit barrel (unanimously), we gathered on the rickhouse porch to talk and hang out. Bruce announced he had something he wanted to say. Since it was Jessica’s birthday, Bruce played it off like they were giving her a special present. Bruce handed Jessica the bag from JoAnn and said, “We even made you a special tag.”

Jessica read it … “Will you Marry me?”

When she turned around I was on one knee ready to propose. It was a total surprise.

Ryan and Jessica

Photo by Victor Sizemore

Quite the memorable barrel pick and marriage proposal, right? So much so, that I’m struggling with exactly how I should transition into my reviews. 🙂

I guess it’s best to simply move forward. Regardless of my opinions of the bourbons Ryan, Jessica & company picked that day, the importance of their selection – the experience itself – will remain unquestionably timeless.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #18-0708, rickhouse CNF, floor 5) – selected by Justins’ House of Bourbon, Lexington, KY – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – no age stated (aged 8 years per vendor) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rich amber

Nose: (fruity & lively) jelly beans, cranberry-orange soda, vanilla icing, Fruit Stripe gum, funky oak, honey glaze, caramel drizzle, herbal spice

Taste: (sweet & balanced) vanilla spice, caramel chews, sweet charred oak, fruit leather, cherry cola, cinnamon, nutmeg, citrus zest, Lemonheads candy

Finish: (atypically brief) medium-short – sweet pepper, fruity vanilla, zesty oak, ginger ale, cinnamon, tangerine peel, hints of herbal spice

Overall: CN “F” for Fruity, Fun, and Fantastic! I simply can’t get over how unique this is for a Camp Nelson F barrel. In many ways it has the fruit and citrus one often finds in Tyrone rickhouse K picks, yet at the same time this bourbon is entirely its own thing. While I’d like to think (and hope) that there’s more CNF barrels like this one out there, something tells me that’s probably not the case.

Lady and gents, my hat’s off to you! This is truly a special barrel. At just a few months past eight years, it showcases nearly everything one could want in a single-barrel bourbon at its price point. My only issue (and we’re talking about splitting some very fine hairs) is the finish. It’s a bit shorter than one typically finds in Wild Turkey expressions, but I can live with it. No problemo. Honestly, the nose and palate shine so brightly that it may be a good thing the finish is relatively short (as it keeps you going back time and time again for more).

Rating: 4.25/5🦃

Justin's House of Bourbon WTKS

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit – 101 proof KSBW – no age stated (aged 9 years per vendor) – bottled 1/14/2019 from barrel #17-0542, warehouse D, rick #62 – selected by Justins’ House of Bourbon, Lexington, KY –distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: copper

Nose: (rich bakery notes) toasted caramel, vanilla, English toffee, maple-oak, brown sugar, nutmeg, honey graham crackers, orange peel

Taste: (well-rounded modern WT) creamy vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, oak char, nutmeg, honey butter, gingerbread, toasted almonds

Finish: medium-long & balanced – vanilla spice, caramel chews, nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper, faint herbal spice

Overall: Here we have something altogether different from the fruity Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection tasted above. Different, but almost equally as enjoyable. For all the hell I’ve raised about the Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit redesign, I’m having a very hard time finding anything wrong with the whiskey bottled within. In fact, this is the third Kentucky Spirit I’ve had in the new bottle and I’ll have to say (outside of the price) … pretty damn impressive.

“She Said Yes!” reminds me in many ways of Motor Supply Co.’s Russell’s Reserve rickhouse D barrel from 2018. The bakery notes are strikingly similar, though not as intense or layered with this Kentucky Spirit. Still, it doesn’t get much better for a modern 101-proof private barrel. More often than not, I’d recommend the average Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel over Kentucky Spirit (retail or private select). This, however, is a noteworthy exception. I just wish I had a second bottle.

Rating: 4/5🦃

Closing thoughts: While each of these two bourbons taste amazing in their own special way, it’s hard to choose an absolute favorite. Sure, the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection rated higher and is truthfully the more unique of the two – but – the Kentucky Spirit selection (“She Said Yes!”) is no less the enjoyable pour. Frankly, I’m having a hard time keeping away from it as a regular sipper.

Regardless of scores, I’m just grateful for the opportunity to have these two bottles in my cabinet. That wouldn’t have happened had it not been for the friends I’ve made in this hobby, which brings be back to sharing …

The heart of whiskey enthusiasm beats with the times and moments we share with one another. Fellowships, tastings, barrel selections, special occasions – all intertwined with a sincere passion for whiskey. Much like Jessica’s engagement ring, each of us contribute to a singular beauty – a circle of appreciation and devotion. We sip. We smile. We share. It’s the heart of this hobby and I’m proud to be a small part of it with each and every one of you. Cheers!

Jessica's Ring

Congrats Ryan and Jessica! – David J.