It seems like so long ago … when Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections garnered considerably less attention than they receive today. Looking back, Russell’s Reserve’s buzz from 2014-2016 was relatively quiet – maybe the occasional talk on r/Bourbon or – but by the end of 2017, things had kicked into high gear. The word was out, and by the time 2018 rolled around, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel was no longer flying under the bourbon enthusiast’s radar.

Before the days of stickers, wax, wooden tags, and embroidered felt bags, there was the lone hang tag. Truthfully, hang tags have always been an inferior way to label private barrel selections (at least exclusively). First, they’re easily removable (and thereby transferrable), and second, they lack pertinent barrel information (distillation date, barrel proof, bottle date, etc.). It’s plain to see why so many stores, groups, and clubs have since opted to label bottles with custom stickers. Thankfully, according to a recent TTB filing, Campari/Wild Turkey has remedied this flaw. It appears Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bottles will be permanently labeled, as opposed to tagged, in the very near future.

Yet even though we’re living in 2019, one can still find older “hang-tag-only” Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections in retail shops around the country. Case in point, this 2016 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel pick from Petite Cellars of Ellicott City, MD. Special thanks to my cool friend Matt for tracking this one down!

From my perspective, countless quality Wild Turkey barrels were pulled in 2016 – many from rickhouse G (a personal favorite). Just the look of these tags with the old-school, low-digit barrel numbers draw me in. Sure, there were nifty handwritten tags a year or so prior (many on the old “strip label” bottles), but to me, seeing these early printed ones – especially with that tempting letter “G” – well, it’s “BIN” as far as I’m concerned!

And so the day has come to see how this 2016 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel ranks. I was certainly happy with it when I initially popped the cork in March – but then – I never judge a bottle by its first pour. Now that I’ve enjoyed numerous casual drams and allowed the bourbon adequate space to breathe, I think it’s time to get critical. With that, onto the tasting!

Petite Cellars RRSiB

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (2016, barrel #35, rickhouse G, floor 4) – selected by Petite Cellars, Ellicott City, MD – 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 amber

Nose:  (dense & complex) toasted caramel, creme brulee, brown sugar, “dark” honey-maple, Coca-Cola Classic, oak char, cherry, nutmeg, herbal spice, hints of sweet tea & tobacco

Taste:  (rich & robust) creamy caramel, cherry-vanilla, sweet charred oak, brown sugar, molasses, clove, blood orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, black tea, leather, citrus spice

Finish:  medium-long – brown sugar, caramel, vanilla, spicy oak char, sassafras, cinnamon, nutmeg, black cherry soda, clove, faint tobacco & leather

Overall:  Folks, this is a fabulous Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. Damn, how I miss rickhouse G! The toasted caramel … the rich cola … the sassafras, clove, and tobacco … exceptional! I’m so impressed that I feel I should put it up against another solid rickhouse G pick just for reference. How about Jamie Farris & Dixon Dedman’s Russell’s Reserve rickhouse G barrel from the same year? Sounds like a plan to me!

(Cues Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 5)

Well, that was … interesting. At least the whiskey put a smile on my face.

Believe it or not, Petite Cellars’ Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel #35 is surprisingly better than Farris & Dedman’s barrel #68. While both bourbons are no-doubt excellent (and despite Jamie and Dixon’s well-regarded palates), Petite’s selection has a slightly “darker” and multi-layered tone, with a captivating “Coke Classic” nose and an old-fashioned black cherry soda finish. Chalk it up to personal preference if you will, but for me the choice is clear.

If there’s one takeaway from today’s review, it’s this – you can’t judge a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel by its sticker (or lack of one). And just because a store pick looks overly “simple,” or as if it’s been sitting on the shelf for too long a while, doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. You also can’t go strictly by the individuals or groups that selected a barrel (regardless of how respected or popular they may be). Admittedly, it’s sometimes easy to play it too safe when bottle shopping. After all, there are hidden gems from everyday retailers and distributors waiting to be discovered. You just have to be willing to take the chance.

In the case of Petite Cellars’ barrel #35 from 2016, I can say for a surety that I wish I’d bought another bottle. It’s an amazing whiskey, hands down. Far better than countless (Wild Turkey or otherwise) single-barrel bourbons with catchy themes and flashy stickers (including my own).

Nice job Petite Cellars (and Eddie Russell too)! This is how a super-premium bourbon should taste. Bravo!

Rating:  4.25/5 🦃