Trust. If you’ve been a whiskey enthusiast long enough, you’ve learned to value trust over anything else. It’s unfortunate, yet predictable – the more money to be made, the more trust becomes necessary. Thankfully, Wild Turkey is one of those brands that hasn’t fallen short on trust. Sure, there’s been missteps … “Old No. 8,” “Small Batch Single Barrel” (what the hell is that?), and non-age statements of “up to eight years” are all good examples. But these are labeling fumbles on the corporate side. Both Pernod and Campari have their share; however, they’re minor in the grand scheme of things and have very little (if anything at all) to do with Jimmy or Eddie Russell.
When I see Jimmy or Eddie’s name on a bottle, it means something to me. I can buy a bottle in confidence – knowing that the whiskey within is reflective of their legacy and decades of hard work. They’re the most experienced master distiller duo in the world. From everyday Wild Turkey 101 to the expressions of the ultra-premium Master’s Keep line, when you buy Wild Turkey, you buy quality. Period.
But Jimmy and Eddie Russell aren’t the only names to trust when it comes to Wild Turkey (or a plethora of other whiskeys, really). And I’m not talking about writers, critics, YouTubers, or other distillers. I’m talking about two average fellas you don’t hear enough about, but should – Joshua Hatton and Jason Johnstone-Yellin of Single Cask Nation and J&J Spirits (FKA The Jewish Whisky Company).
There’s countless great things I could say about Joshua and Jason. But if I could stress one thing above the (warranted) gushing and praise, it would be this … they genuinely love and care deeply about everything whiskey. As independent bottlers in the traditional Scottish sense, they operate outside of the typical American distiller/non-distiller producer realm. Simply put, they seek out the finest whiskey barrels, bottle them at full-barrel strength (non-chill filtered to boot), and offer them at a considerably fair price to consumers. But it’s not just what they offer – it’s how they offer it.
Let’s face it – Wild Turkey is hot right now. Single-barrel private selections like Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit are selling surprisingly well after years of moderate whiskey enthusiast attention. But these expressions aren’t bottled at barrel proof. In fact, the last time Wild Turkey bottled single-barrel whiskey at barrel proof was late-1990’s Kentucky Legend (AKA “Donut”). Donut bottles easily command a price of $500+ on today’s bourbon secondary markets. If there’s a niche to make money in, it’s single-barrel, barrel-proof Wild Turkey bourbon. Single Cask Nation is at present the only company bottling Wild Turkey undiluted, straight from a single barrel. Based on secondary trends – not just for vintage Wild Turkey, but for past SCN and JWC bottles – Joshua and Jason could ask a hefty premium for their bottles. Yet, they don’t. $101 is more than fair (and appropriate) in my opinion.
But fair pricing is only one aspect of Single Cask Nation that factors into their overall integrity. There’s transparency. Unless restricted by the producer, all SCN releases state their distillery of origin. And in the rare case disclosure restrictions occur, Joshua and Jason provide every clue they legally can to help point you to the source. Their whiskeys are age-stated and maturation details, such as barrel number, rickhouse, floor, etc. are disclosed as well. And finally, when approved by the TTB, they provide a profile chart and/or tasting notes on the bottle’s label. It’s transparency cranked to 11.
Before diving into Single Cask Nation’s latest Wild Turkey releases, I should mention one last thing about Joshua and Jason. They’re genuine fellas. They’re whiskey enthusiasts just like you and me. They love what they do and it shows. Far removed from corporate interference or Gordon Gekko’s philosophy of greed, J&J Spirits operates as a team of passionate whiskey do-gooders. Sure, they have a business to run, but from my point of view they display a similar “positive stubbornness” akin to Jimmy Russell: This is how we do it. And if you’re looking for examples of J&J’s passion and genuineness, look no further than their podcast, One Nation Under Whisky. There’s entertaining and informative episodes with both Eddie and Bruce Russell (a personal favorite), as well as various notables in the spirits industry.
Just recently, J&J sat down for a few drams with Emmy-award-winning actor Matthew Rhys. Rhys is an ardent supporter of Penderyn Whisky, which shares a commonality with Wild Turkey in its underdog status. Penderyn is Wales’ first commercially available whisky since the 1800’s, and as such, stands proudly independent in a virtual sea of Irish and Scotch whisky. Yet, they all share strong Celtic roots, as does bourbon in many ways. Were it not for Scotch-Irish settlers in America, there would be no bourbon whiskey.
J&J’s interview focuses greatly on Penderyn; however, I’d posit the episode is a worthy listen for any whiskey enthusiast as it showcases the authenticity of J&J’s collaborative passion. There’s absolutely no metaphorical wall between J&J and Mr. Rhys – just lighthearted, friendly talk about whisky, life, and yes, more whisky. It’s a rare exchange in our hobby – in occurrence and form – and one both Joshua and Jason should cherish.
And now it’s my turn to talk about whiskey – Wild Turkey whiskey, of course. Several weeks ago I received Single Cask Nation’s latest Wild Turkey offerings – a 9-year bourbon from Camp Nelson rickhouse A, and a 10-year bourbon from Tyrone rickhouse D. Both CNA and Tyrone D have proven themselves as extremely popular private selections over the past year, and from my experience, extremely different in profile as well. Truth be told, I’ve enjoyed these SCN bottles several times prior to this post – including a “first pour” livestream for patrons earlier this month. Will today’s tastings illustrate a similar experience? There’s only one way to find out. It’s time for a pour (or two)!
2019 Single Cask Nation (barrel #18-428, Camp Nelson rickhouse A, floor 4) – non-chill filtered Wild Turkey KSBW at 57.05% ABV – aged 9 years – distilled at the Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY – bottled by the Jewish Whisky Company, Bardstown, KY (one of 150 bottles)
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (sweet & spicy modern WT) candy apple, fruity vanilla, caramel, spicy oak, cinnamon, ginger, Red Zinger herbal tea, grape Jolly Rancher hard candy, tangerine, hints of potpourri
Taste: (intense spice) peppery vanilla, charred oak, cinnamon Red Hots, caramel/candy apple, nutmeg, confectioners sugar, “bright” citrus
Finish: long w/ lingering spice (sweet, then spicy) – vanilla, caramel candy, sweet oak char, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, apple peel, faint leather & clove
Overall: This is what I’d consider a “candy-apple spice bomb.” While the core of barrel #18-428 is surely modern Wild Turkey, surrounding it you’ll find an intense fruity & candy-like sweetness juxtaposed by a wallop of dry peppery spice. It’s not easy. It’s not subtle. It tingles your nostrils and punches your tongue with unrelenting flavor. Yet, I can’t say that its profile is as complex as I’d prefer it to be. Don’t get me wrong – it has an appropriate level of complexity for its age. It’s just a lot of sweet and a helluva lot of spicy. Absent are many of the warm bakery-esque notes and borderline earthy tones I crave in full-proof Wild Turkey barrels. Those just aren’t commonly found in 9-year Camp Nelson A barrels anyway (at least for me).
Perhaps unique intensity is why Joshua and Jason selected this particular barrel in the first place. After all, it’s far from their past Whisky Jewbilee and Single Cask Nation Wild Turkey releases in profile (maybe too far). But I’ll give credit where credit is due. It’s the best CNA barrel I’ve had to date. At the same time, it’s my least-favorite SCN Wild Turkey barrel.
Rating: 4/5 🦃
2019 Single Cask Nation (barrel #17-759, Tyrone rickhouse D, floor 6) – non-chill filtered Wild Turkey KSBW at 58.5% ABV – aged 10 years – distilled at the Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY – bottled by the Jewish Whisky Company, Bardstown, KY (one of 162 bottles)
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: rich copper
Nose: (warm, classic WT) vanilla extract, brown sugar, toasted caramel, molasses, charred oak, honey-maple, nutmeg, clove, sweet tobacco, cola, blood orange, herbal & floral spice
Taste: (silky & buttery) creamy caramel, vanilla bean, honey-maple, sweet charred oak, nutmeg, cream cheese icing, brown sugar, orange peel, molasses, heavily steeped herbal tea
Finish: long, warm & flavorful – vanilla spice, chewy caramel, dense sweet oak, cinnamon toast, clove, holiday citrus, milk chocolate, cherry cola, faint leather & pepper
Overall: Ah, yes. This is what single-barrel, barrel-proof Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey is all about. So much so, that if I close my eyes I can mentally transport myself back to the old rickhouses of Tyrone. Remember those York Peppermint Pattie commercials from the 1980s? Like that … with bourbon.
Honestly, Single Cask Nation barrel #17-759 has a bit of it all – rich and creamy bakery notes, warm/well-rounded spice elements, hints of herbal/floral fragrance, and an undeniably classic, practically “buttery” Wild Turkey foundation. Complex? Damn right. Mature? You know it. Balanced? Absolutely. It’s a remarkable display of what 10+ years in oak resting quietly on Wild Turkey Hill can do. If only Campari could make single-barrel private selections happen at full barrel proof. If only …
Rating: 4.5/5 🦃
In closing: Once again Single Cask Nation has delivered two excellent Wild Turkey barrels. My preference clearly lies with barrel #17-759 (Tyrone D), but someone else might easily prefer barrel #18-428 (Camp Nelson A). It all depends on one’s palate. For those that enjoy an intense, modern Wild Turkey profile, barrel #18-428 is definitely the bourbon for you. And for those that like a creamy, classic Wild Turkey profile, it really doesn’t get much better than barrel #17-759.
I realize that these SCN bottles aren’t something you can find at your local bottle shop, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get close with Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections. So, if either of these whiskeys sound appealing to you, look for a Camp Nelson A and/or Tyrone D Russell’s Reserve barrel pick. If you find one (or both), refer back to these notes and see if it comes close in profile. My guess is that you’ll find many similarities – at least more similarities than differences.
If, however, you really want to sip single-barrel Wild Turkey whiskey at full barrel proof, sign up for Single Cask Nation. It’s free and there’s plenty of new releases around the corner. They can’t all be from Wild Turkey, but if you’re a fan of whiskey (or spirits in general), I’d wager you’ll at least find something unique that piques your interest. More importantly, as with Jimmy and Eddie, Joshua and Jason are folks you can trust in this industry. And that means a lot nowadays.