You never know what you’ll find on a bottle hunt. “Dustys?” Rarely. Prized limited editions? Sometimes. Private barrel selections? With a little luck, sure. But one thing I’ve yet to see (until recently) is a store selling another store’s private barrel pick. As I said, you never know what you’ll find. But let’s start from the beginning.

Last month I stopped by a bottle shop I visit somewhat regularly. My local Liquor World has a bourbon and rye selection sure to put a smile on the face of any modern-day whiskey enthusiast. They also have fair prices and friendly service, not to mention a diverse range of Wild Turkey expressions from the last five years. (And yes, if you’re looking for Wild Turkey Spiced, they still have it. 🙂 ) To my surprise I discovered they’d recently stocked a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon private selection. I had no idea my local Liquor World picked a Wild Turkey barrel. I mean, it’s not like I know the inner-workings of the store, but I do inquire about these sorts of things (a lot). This was new.

Well, it turns out that one look at the tag said it all. “Emerald City Liquors.” Obviously, that’s not Liquor World. So, like any persistent (and annoying) Turkey nerd, I started asking questions. Thankfully, our South Carolina Campari representative is the most patient and forthright spirits professional you’ll ever meet. And she was completely transparent with the explanation: Emerald City Liquors picked the barrel, but decided afterwards it wasn’t for them. Wisely, Liquor World stepped in and committed to the lot. Note I said wisely, as Eddie Russell doesn’t place “any old barrel” in the private selection program. Yes, some barrels are better than others, but based on personal preference they each have the potential to satisfy the discerning palate.

I know what you’re thinking … but it was a rejected barrel, right? At least one retailer didn’t like it. Isn’t that a red flag? Maybe, but I’ll shoot straight with you. I’ve yet to taste a single Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection that wasn’t worth retail price. Premiums? No. Most bourbons aren’t worth premiums. But everyday retail price … that’s a safe investment when it comes to Russell’s Reserve expressions – particularly private selections.

Whiskey logic aside, I purchased the bottle because I trust the Russells and I like supporting local businesses. I’ll admit the specs had me crossing my fingers tightly – Camp Nelson rickhouse A, fourth floor. If you’re familiar with my blog or Patreon site you’re well aware that CNA barrels aren’t my favorites. They’re rock-solid modern Turkey – no doubt – but then, so is Rare Breed. However, I did help pick a CNA barrel back in May. This selection might just be as good as that one (Swan Song, a/k/a “the truck barrel”). Interestingly, there were Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel retail bottles with 2015 laser codes on the shelf as well, and truthfully, I couldn’t help myself. A few days later I left with one of those too.

So here’s what I’m thinking … Why not compare the 2019 CNA Russell’s Reserve private barrel to the 2015 retail bottle? Chances are the 2015 was pulled from a Tyrone rickhouse, so there should be some contrast between the two. Regardless of rickhouse origin, there’s still a four-year difference between their bottling dates. Surely that should account for something (even if relatively minor). But there’s only one way to know for sure. It’s time for a head-to-head tasting. Let’s pour!

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #19-0075, rickhouse CNA, floor 4) – selected by Emerald City Liquors (retailed by Liquor World of SC) – 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 …

Color: copper

Nose: (dense modern WT) toasted vanilla, candy-apple, English toffee, caramel, molasses, maple syrup, oak char, nutmeg, licorice, clove & black pepper

Taste: (oily mouthfeel) apple cider, vanilla spice, burnt caramel, sweet & spicy oak, brown sugar, honey-butter, nutmeg, sassafras, hints of leather

Finish: (medium long & textured) vanilla extract, charred oak, clove, apple-cinnamon, pepper, ginger beer, molasses, licorice & leather

Overall: While still not a huge Camp Nelson A fan, I’m scratching my head as to why Emerald City Liquors changed their mind about this barrel. There’s a lot to love here. It’s not mind blowing or “next level” Wild Turkey, but it damn sure isn’t subpar either. I especially like the juxtaposition between the prominent apple notes and the earthy spice notes. And even though apple is a common profile note in CNA picks (at least from my experience), this one adds a slight earthy touch. Yep, a damn solid barrel – one that I’d highly recommend to folks looking for a whiskey similar to Rare Breed, but with a thicker mouthfeel and more diverse spice notes.

Rating: 3.75/5 🦃

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon – 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 …

Color: copper

Nose: (sweet modern WT) vanilla Tootsie Rolls, caramel toffee, red fruit, sweet oak, herbal spice, orange/lemon peel, hints of bubblegum

Taste: (bakery notes w/ a fruity vibe) caramel drizzle, fruity vanilla, sweet oak char, Twizzlers, cherry-orange soda, herbal tea, nutmeg, baked apples, Jordan almonds, faint leather

Finish: medium-long, balanced spice & sweetness – vanilla spice, toasted caramel, charred oak, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar, citrus zest & red berries

Overall: Such an interesting pour in comparison to the 2019 Camp Nelson A selection. Dare I say there’s even a faint classic Wild Turkey note here? There’s an unusual amount of red fruit present for a standard retail release (at least from my experience). If I had to guess a rickhouse of origin, I’d go with Tyrone K first, then H. But honestly, it could’ve come from anywhere. Being a late 2015 bottle, there’s certainly other rickhouses from around that time (including CNA) to consider … M, N, and O, to name but a few. All said and done, this is exactly what I’d expect from a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel purchased off the shelf – a delicious and delightful Wild Turkey experience.

Rating: 3.75/5 🦃

In summary: Each of these single-barrel bourbons are solid in their own right and shine in different ways. If you prefer a signature Wild Turkey backbone with additional earthiness and spice, seek out a Russell’s Reserve Camp Nelson A private selection. If you prefer a sweeter and fruitier Wild Turkey profile, roll the dice and pick up a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel retail bottle from four years ago. While I can’t guarantee how any single-barrel release will taste, you might get close should you find a bottle filled in November 2015 (see my bottle code guide).

In closing, there’s something to be said for Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon’s reliability. Whether a private selection from a popular rickhouse, or an everyday bottle sitting on a retail shelf, there’s tremendous potential either way. It’s far too often taken for granted, but one should appreciate that Eddie Russell himself fosters this expression. It’s his baby, more or less. With or without fancy stickers or chance-of-a-lifetime stories, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is more than worth its retail price of admission.

The Russell name adorns these bottles for a reason (and it damn sure isn’t vanity). It’s a genuine promise of quality staked on 101+ years of industry experience. You’re buying the best that Wild Turkey has to offer, period. Jimmy and Eddie’s personal and professional reputations are on the line every time a Russell’s label is applied to glass. How many distilleries provide the same? So the next time you’re out hunting rare and ridiculously valued bourbons, don’t forget about Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. You might just find the finest barrel of bourbon ever bottled in the state of Kentucky.

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