If you sip single-barrel Wild Turkey expressions long enough, you start developing favorite rickhouses. It could involve a geographic area, like Camp Nelson or Tyrone. It could be a specific rickhouse, like Tyrone D or K. Or, it could be a specific floor of a specific rickhouse, like the fourth floor of H. It all depends on one’s palate, personal preference, and experience.

For some time now, my favorite rickhouses have been Tyrone B and G. Rickhouse B for its rich bakery notes and warm, welcoming spice; G for its all-around balanced profile with a little bit of everything (from caramel and fruit, to cola and tobacco). Some of these barrels, such as Motor Supply Co.’s 2017 #17-118 from B and Lincoln Road’s “15th Anniversary” from G, have helped forge the archetype of what I consider the finest modern Wild Turkey has to offer – but – neither are my pinnacle of choice barrels. What might that be? Woodland Wine Merchant’s 2017 rickhouse M short barrel, of course.

The first time I tasted Woodland Wine’s barrel #16-490, I knew it was special. And while many barrels I’ve tasted since have impressed me (Total Wine’s H #2342 from 2015, for example), none – not even full-proof Single Cask Nation barrels – have left me with more questions than Woodland Wine’s. Was it the fact it was so short (only 42 bottles)? Was it the barrel’s particular staves? The placement of the barrel or the rack it rested on? What made barrel #16-490 so incredibly unique? As with any single barrel, it’s hard to say (and there’s honestly no one answer). All Wild Turkey bourbon starts out with the same distillate – filled in hand-crafted barrels from the same cooperage. Additionally, neighboring barrels share the same seasons and shifts in humidity and temperature. Yet one stands out.

Isn’t Wild Turkey magical?

I decided I’d focus on finding more Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections from rickhouse M (be it via samples or bottle acquisitions). While all that I’ve tasted thus far have been delicious, one of late is excellent. It’s not what I’d consider equivalent to Woodland Wine’s famous short barrel, but it shares similarities and as such deserves praise. That particular selection is Frontier Liquors’ barrel #543 from the fifth floor of Tyrone rickhouse M.

Before jumping into today’s tasting, I thought I’d share a recent exchange with Eddie Russell. Last week I mentioned to Eddie that I was finding new appreciation for rickhouse M selections and asked what he thought made that warehouse special. He stated that he considered the 2016-2017 barrels from M to be very good as well and cited the rickhouse location – standing alone with ideal airflow – as the primary contributing factor.

Wild Turkey Rickhouse A

As many of you likely know, when it comes to aging whiskey, airflow is just as important as (and relative to) elevation and temperature. Rickhouses and the whiskey resting within benefits from “breathing.” Without adequate airflow, maturation is stifled and the whiskey’s flavor along with it.

There’s one thing I can say for sure: (Spoiler) This bourbon’s flavor was in no way stifled. Let’s pour!

Frontier Liquors RRSiB

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (2016, barrel #543, rickhouse M, floor 5) – selected by Frontier Liquors, Evansville, IN – 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: copper

Nose: (faint classic WT) creme brulee, toasted caramel, brown sugar, dense sweet oak, molasses, nutmeg, cinnamon, cherry pie filling, chocolate orange, clove

Taste: (silky mouthfeel) vanilla spice, creamy caramel, charred oak, sweet pepper, milk chocolate, tobacco, clove, blood orange, hints of sassafras

Finish: medium-long & layered – black pepper, clove, oak char, cherry cola, dark chocolate, orange peel, leather, herbal/floral spice

Overall: I’m genuinely smitten with this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection. While not quite as impressive as some of the stellar barrels mentioned earlier in this post, it’s undeniable … something about Frontier Liquors’ #543 that really pulls me in. Perhaps it’s those irresistible classic Wild Turkey notes? Or maybe the silky mouthfeel and full-bodied, layered finish? It’s hard for me to determine precisely, but whatever it is I damn sure love it. In fact, I made certain to secure a second bottle, which is not something I do that often.

If there’s any words of wisdom to impart here, besides the importance of having awesome bourbon friends that find hidden gems (thanks Aaron), it’s this: When it comes to single-barrel bourbon, Wild Turkey shines in the quality variance department. While no two well-aged barrels will taste exactly the same, you can often find similarities in barrels pulled from the same rickhouse. When you discover a single-barrel selection you enjoy, try seeking out additional selections with similar specs. You might even luck up on a neighboring “brother/sister” barrel if you’re vigilant enough.

As for Frontier Liquors’ Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel #543 from rickhouse M, it’s just about everything I look for in a quality bottle at $65. It may not be Woodland Wine’s now-legendary short barrel, but it stands on its own as an excellent selection nonetheless. Well done, Frontier Liquors!

Rating: 4.25/5 🦃

Rickhouse photo by Victor Sizemore (2019)

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