Spend five minutes following Instagram’s whiskey hashtags and you’ll find Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections represented in full force. They’re everywhere. Hell, Wild Turkey is everywhere, and truthfully, it’s been a long time coming.
Of all the American distilleries actively producing bourbon whiskey today, none have faced an uphill PR battle quite like Wild Turkey. For countless years Wild Turkey has been perceived as the roughneck’s drink – still is to some folks – but the seasoned whiskey enthusiast knows better. Even the modern novice enthusiast appears to know better. Why? Because they open their minds, listen to their peers, and give Wild Turkey a chance.
I was recently asked why Wild Turkey is suddenly popular. Surely the investment Campari made ten years ago cannot be overstated. And then there’s Matthew McConaughey. While I greatly admire McConaughey’s raw talent and gracious philanthropy, his Wild Turkey marketing endeavors target a general, non-enthusiast audience. As cool and well-produced as his TV commercials may be, crafty camera shots of 81-proof Wild Turkey Bourbon aren’t exactly pulling me to my whiskey cabinet. No, there’s only two reasons why Wild Turkey is receiving the level of enthusiast attention it sees today: 1. The Russell’s make damn-fine whiskey, and 2. People love talking about it. And that’s the plain and simple truth.
If the bourbon Jimmy and Eddie Russell craft wasn’t exceptional, whiskey enthusiasts wouldn’t talk about it, much less buy it. Yet it is. And if there’s one expression that illustrates this point more than any other, it’s Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon – particularly, private barrel selects.
Recently, I was gifted two Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections from two individuals with completely different backstories (thank you, fellas). The first selection, “12 Thirsty Men,” is the result of a bachelor party barrel pick at Wild Turkey Distillery. The second, “Father and Son Generations 2018,” is a restaurant private barrel selection, arranged by and retailed via Lincoln Road Package Store. Each of these Russell’s picks come from unique rickhouses with unique specs, of course.
While I’ve had plenty of time to appreciate these Russell’s Reserve selections on their own, I’ve yet to compare the two side by side. With the number of Camp Nelson A picks increasing, and the number of Tyrone D picks disappearing (if not completely spoken for already), I thought it might be enlightening to show how distinctive Wild Turkey barrels from separate locations might be. But don’t consider this a “Camp Nelson vs. Tyrone” tasting. It would take a far greater sample base to pull that off. Consider this a lone example – a one-time snapshot of single-barrel profile variance. Let’s pour!
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #18-0441, rickhouse CNA, floor 4) – selected by “12 Thirsty Men” – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – no age stated (likely 8-9 years) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (modern WT) caramel candy, vanilla, nutty toffee, brown sugar, sweet oak, apple peel, pear, nutmeg, hints of citrus & herbal spice
Taste: (candy sweet) caramel drizzle, butter toffee, vanilla icing, brown sugar glaze, sweet & spicy oak, faint citrus
Finish: slightly dry, yet deceptively long (disappears, then returns) – vanilla, peppery spice, oak char, candy apple, maraschino cherry, faint leather
Overall: No surprises here. “12 Thirsty Men” is 101% Camp Nelson A. It’s damn-solid modern Wild Turkey in profile … but that’s about it. Maybe a pinch more fruit with a dash of “Camp Nelson prickle.”
Full disclosure – I’ve yet to find a standout CNA barrel. This one is no exception. Not that “12 Thirsty Men” is subpar. It’s perfectly fine. While some folks love CNA barrels, I just haven’t found near enough complexity to warrant considerable distinction from Rare Breed batch 116.8. I will say, however, that this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel has more finesse than Rare Breed. It’s classy, and as such, worthy of single-barrel distinction.
Rating: 3.75/5 🦃
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “Father and Son Generations 2018” (barrel #17-0459, rickhouse D, floor 4) – selected by The Manship Wood Fired Kitchen, Jackson, MS sold by Lincoln Road Package Store, Hattiesburg, MS – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – no age stated (likely 9 years) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (throwback classic WT) honey-maple, vanilla bean, brown sugar, musty charred oak, holiday citrus, sassafras, clove, licorice, dense herbal & floral spice
Taste: (notably creamy) vanilla spice, burnt caramel, molasses, sweet oak char, nutmeg, cola, leather, tobacco, blood orange, herbal tea
Finish: medium-long, warm & flavorful – peppered vanilla, toasted caramel, “earthy” oak, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, hints of sweet tobacco
Overall: I’ve sipped a lot of Tyrone D selections lately. None like this one. “Father and Son Generations 2018” is a rich, “gracefully earthy” beauty – in many ways reminiscent of Woodland Wine #16-490 (rickhouse M, 5th floor). Honestly, I think I like Manship’s Russell’s Reserve selection about as much. Thick layers of complexity and balanced flavor … Hell, I believe this may be the first Russell’s Reserve to remind me of Kentucky Legend (AKA “Donut”).
I’m not sure how long these bottles sat on retail shelves at Lincoln Road, but for those that took the chance, congratulations! The funny thing is, this barrel wasn’t selected by Jamie Farris. You’d certainly think so after tasting it. Incredible!
Rating: 4.5/5 🦃
Before wrapping up, I’d like to express how grateful I am to have received these bottles. It’s truly an honor.
To Matt – I appreciate the opportunity to taste and enjoy this whiskey. I’m sure you fellas had an unforgettable time, and regardless of my opinion, “12 Thirsty Men” will always be a special bourbon – arguably irreplaceable to you and your brothers. Thank you again, and cheers to you and your bride!
To Steven – Take a bow, sir. Not only did you choose an exemplary barrel – you did so with your father (his very first barrel pick). Like Matt and his buddies, I’m sure your experience at Wild Turkey will live on as a cherished memory. That in an of itself makes your bottle unique. But considering how exceptional “Father and Son Generations 2018” actually is, you have all the more reason to be proud. Next time you see your dad, give him a high five for me.