Sometimes you find a bottle that puts a smile on your face. It doesn’t have to be rare or award winning. It doesn’t have to be incredibly unique. It just speaks to you – fires the right cylinders. That’s how I feel about Columbia Bourbon Collective’s latest Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon selection, “Second Helping.”

Those familiar with American classic rock will surely recognize the inspiration for the selection’s name and custom sticker design. Second Helping is probably the most well-known Lynyrd Skynyrd album, as it features their defining hit, “Sweet Home Alabama.” I don’t consider myself a die-hard Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, but I appreciate a well-crafted, social/political-fueled rock song. “Sweet Home Alabama” has that in droves. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s as enigmatic as it is anthemic, composed and counterposed with 1960’s and 70’s racial tension and harmony, and unapologetic Southern pride.

Written as a response to legendary singer-songwriter-rocker Neil Young’s “Alabama” and “Southern Man,” “Sweet Home Alabama” covers a lot of ground in just under five minutes. From George Wallace to Watergate, it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what position Ronnie Van Zant and company are taking (other than unashamedly “pro South”). But before you write the tune off as a catchy, geographically biased, “good ol’ boy” diddy, note that the song would be nothing without Merry Clayton and Clydie King’s soulful – almost protestful – backing vocals.

Looking back, “Sweet Home Alabama” is very much an audio snapshot of its time: the black and white South, both divided and unified, with music acting as a poetic causeway. After Lynyrd Skynyrd’s tragic plane crash in 1977, which resulted in the deaths of Van Zant and five others, Neil Young praised the song, covering it in concert in tribute to the band.

For the Columbia Bourbon Collective’s (CBC) barrel, the origin story is much simpler. Having previously selected Wild Turkey barrels earlier in 2019, they assumed the next round wouldn’t come until 2020. Unexpectedly, opportunity came knocking when a South Carolina retailer backed out of a scheduled selection. Campari’s “Awesome Amy” McClam gave the CBC a call and the fellas were more than happy to go back for a second helping.

Whether you’re a fan of barrel selection stickers or not, you have to admit that some folks do it better than others. Almost anyone can copy/paste or use a little Photoshop wizardry nowadays, but far fewer can sit with ink and paper and create something with their own two hands. The CBC may have looked towards Skynyrd’s classic album as inspiration, but artist Connor Query effortlessly captured its vibe. There’s a lot of memorable private selection stickers out there and Second Helping is one of my favorites. It incorporates the beauty of a vintage vinyl collection to any average whiskey cabinet, and to me, that’s about as cool as it gets.

Stories and stickers aside, it’s the whiskey that counts most. Let’s find out if the CBC picked a bourbon that’s as classic as their muse. One, two, three … Turn it up!

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “Second Helping” (barrel #19-0450, rickhouse CNF, floor 6) – selected by the Columbia Bourbon Collective, Columbia, SC – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged nine years, eleven months – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: copper

Nose: (undeniably Camp Nelson F) blood orange, black cherry soda, boozy vanilla, caramel candy, sweet honey-oak, herbal tea, maple, cola, hints of lemon peel & cedar 

Taste: (flavorful & balanced) cherry-vanilla, toasted caramel, maple, peppery oak char, sweet licorice, brown sugar, nutmeg, leather, citrus & herbal spice

Finish: medium-long, sweet w/ zesty spice – cherry cola, creamy vanilla, caramel, charred oak, orange peel, brown sugar, cinnamon candy, pepper, faint cove & leather

Overall: This is undeniably excellent bourbon. Like Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” it’s not my everyday jam, but it’s equally as classic and impressive. In fact, I’d say that CBC’s “Second Helping” is the essence of sixth-floor Camp Nelson F. There may be other Wild Turkey barrels that are better or worse, but Second Helping sips exactly how it should: not too sweet, not too spicy, and with all the notes one would expect from a quality CNF pick (soda pop, prickly pepper, toasted caramel, and charred oak). Again, excellent.

Rating: 4/5 🦃

As I settle into this new world of quarantine and “shelter in place,” it’s comforting to know that I have quality whiskeys like Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon in my cabinet. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating that our current state of pandemic warrants dependency or increased reliance on alcoholic beverages. We should all be mindful of moderation (arguably more so in times of great uncertainty). What I’m saying is that we need our hobbies now more than ever before.

If you’re a whiskey enthusiast, take advantage of this time to sip, study, and appreciate everything you possibly can about the spirit. Having access to quality bottles not only makes the journey enjoyable, it can prove inspirational as well. Take for example this post, which had me searching Google and YouTube for additional information on Lynyrd Skynyrd of all things. There’s a world of discovery out there – you never know where it might lead – and it all begins with a bottle, a label, and a sip.

Cheers to you and your loved ones. Please stay safe.

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