Back in May, I had the pleasure of tasting a run of spectacular barrels with friends and supporters at Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. While there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch, in the end we walked away with three: two that won the day after a blind re-evaluation and one with a curious and memorable story.

As we were wrapping up our tasting on the first floor of historic rickhouse A, a distillery employee walked in to inform master distiller Eddie Russell that a truck had arrived with a new load of barrels. Eddie asked how many were on board and the response was simply, “One.”

One lonely barrel in a big-rig trailer … straight from Camp Nelson … just sitting there. We all knew what had to be done. Destiny was calling. We had to pop that bung!

The Truck Barrel

And so, Eddie did. We each boarded the trailer and gathered around the barrel to indulge and offer our individual opinions. But let’s be honest – after tasting, then re-tasting numerous barrels (including two rye barrels), our palates were considerably bushed. Adam Howard, our sponsoring vendor and all around great guy, loved it and convinced me on the spot that the “truck barrel” was special. (Truth be told, after sipping a healthy share of quality straight-from-the-barrel bourbon, I’d probably have agreed to a private selection of Wild Turkey American Honey. 🙂 )

Months go by and I now have a bottle of whiskey from that very truck barrel in my possession. Its official name is, “Swan Song: A Barrel to Remember,” and I’ll happily admit – Adam was right. This is an excellent bourbon.

It’s no secret. I’m not the wildest fan of Camp Nelson rickhouse A, at least when it comes to Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections. Sure, they taste great. They’re notably solid modern Wild Turkey in profile, but then, so is Rare Breed. So when I find a CNA pick that grabs my attention, I take note. Swan Song is one such barrel. That said, I can’t take credit for Swan Song. While our entire group ultimately encouraged its inclusion in our final three barrel selections, it would’ve likely been left behind had it not been for our sponsor. Cheers to Adam for soliciting fate!

Swan Song - Russell's Reserve

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “Swan Song: A Barrel to Remember” (barrel #19-0074, rickhouse CNA, floor 4) – selected by friends and patrons of Rare Bird 101 – 110-proof (from a barrel proof of approx. 114), non-chill filtered KSBW – aged nine years, seven months – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasting notes: (modern WT w/ a twist) cherry candy, caramel apple, fruit punch, tangerine peel, sweet & peppery oak, toasted strawberry Pop Tarts, red tea, nutmeg, clove, leather, savory herbs, cinnamon, ginger, black licorice, faint classic honey-maple

In summary: This is the everyday modern Wild Turkey profile cranked up and twisted about. If you’re a fan of Rare Breed or Russell’s Reserve 10-year, then this barrel is right up your alley. Swan Song showcases greater maturity than Rare Breed and more complexity than Russell’s 10; essentially, falling somewhere between the two expressions in flavor. 

I did mention there were two additional barrels, right?

If you follow this blog you’ve already read about our favorite selection, “Promise to Mr. PorkChop,” a tribute to the late Roy “Mr. PorkChop” Alves. But have you heard about “Russell the Muscle?”

On September 10, 2019, Master Distiller Jimmy Russell celebrated his 65th year of employment at the Wild Turkey Distillery. A monumental accomplishment, to say the very least. While I’ve written about Jimmy’s incredible tenure many times before, the last time we saw a Wild Turkey expression dedicated to his decades of service was 2014’s Diamond Anniversary. As such, it only seemed natural to dedicate a 2019 barrel to Jimmy’s 65th.

Longtime residents of Anderson County, Kentucky know Jimmy Russell not only for his incomparable distilling expertise, but for his remarkable athleticism as well. In high school he was known as “Russell the Muscle,” and there wasn’t a sport Jimmy couldn’t excel at. From basketball and football to track and field, he broke records (some that remained for 40 years) and led Anderson County High School to victory after victory.

In 1954, legendary pre-prohibition master distiller Bill Hughes saw the talent, drive, and determination in young Jimmy, and put those attributes to work crafting bourbon. The rest, as they say, is history.

Russell the Muscle - Russell's Reserve

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “Russell the Muscle” (barrel #18-0567, rickhouse CNF, floor 6) – selected by friends and patrons of Rare Bird 101 – 110-proof (from a barrel proof of approx. 122), non-chill filtered KSBW – aged nine years, eight months – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasting notes: (fruity w/ zesty spice) grape soda, blood orange, cherry-vanilla ice cream, sweet fragrant oak, candied almonds, clove, bubblegum, honey butter, caramel chews, cola, maple syrup, hot licorice, raspberry ginger ale, hints of cedar & floral perfume

In summary: Not your typical modern Wild Turkey – hell, not your typical modern bourbon! Russell the Muscle is an intensely flavorful whiskey loaded with dense ripe fruit, zesty spice, and waves of “fizzy” sodapop. It’s complex and layered with profile notes ranging the spectrum of sweet to earthy. Just like its namesake, Russell the Muscle is unquestionably bold and uncompromising.

Eddie Russell

If either of these single-barrel releases sound like bourbons you’d like to experience, visit Lexington Beverage Outlet in Columbia, SC today. Eddie Russell will be there from 1:00-2:30 to sign bottles and answer any questions you might have. My nerdy Turkey self will be hanging around as well. It’s sure to be a fun time and I look forward to sipping fine bourbon and chatting with as many Wild Turkey fans as possible. See you there! dj

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