Last week I discussed Camp Nelson F Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections. This week, I’m revisiting Tyrone – specifically Tyrone’s rickhouse G. Those familiar with this blog know I’m a vocal fan of rickhouse G – especially Russell’s Reserve and Kentucky Spirit selections from 2016. I’ve said it many times – G is one of my all-time favorite Wild Turkey rickhouses. There’s just something about its profile. It’s a little bit of everything – caramel, baking spice, ripe citrus, cola, tobacco – robust, complex, and always enjoyable.
But that was then. It’s 2020, and much like the world we live in, things change. In fact, bourbon arguably changes just as much, if not more. (We humans are predictable creatures after all.) Surely one can’t expect to find a whiskey barrel of the same (or even similar) profile bottled four years apart. Or, maybe one can? Keep in mind there are many variables at play – distillate, cooperage, rickhouse elevation/floor, seasonal factors (temperature, humidity, airflow), etc. It’s the innate beauty of a single barrel – variation.
Thankfully, Wild Turkey excels in the single barrel department – has since Jimmy Russell filled his first Kentucky Spirit in 1994. And with the introduction of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon in 2013, and a private barrel selection program that followed shortly after, today’s whiskey enthusiast now enjoys the quality single-barrel variance Wild Turkey is famous for – at 110 proof, non-chill filtered. Significant credit is due Eddie Russell for the ultimate success of the Russell’s Reserve brand. Each expression receives his personal attention, and none as much as Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel.
I’m not privy to what Eddie Russell does every day of the year, but it wouldn’t surprise me if half or more of his time is spent tasting barrels destined to become Kentucky Spirit or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bottlings. Be it on site in rickhouse A or the visitor center, at the distillery lab, or at a restaurant, bar, or private club in your average city, Eddie tastes hundreds upon hundreds of barrels. And while that sounds like an extremely fun job (where do I sign up?), if you think about it, it’s critical. The last thing a reputable producer wants leaving their premises is mediocre whiskey in a super-premium expression. And when your name is on the bottle … well that says it all, doesn’t it?
And that brings me to the subject of today’s review. I’m not exactly sure how this particular barrel was selected. Oregon is one of seventeen alcohol monopoly states (a/k/a “control states”). Each state’s laws, be it directly or indirectly, create inevitable roadblocks to single barrel programs. Some are more reasonable; others are damn near impregnable. Process aside, this barrel was selected by (or for) Downtown Liquor in Eugene, Oregon. Special thanks to my bourbon friend, Chris, for making this review possible.
Outside of a handful of barrel samples I tasted in April of this year, this Russell’s Reserve is my first 2020 Tyrone-aged Wild Turkey private selection. How will it compare to the monster Camp Nelson barrels of 2019 or the incredible Tyrone rickhouse G picks of 2016? We’ll soon find out. Let’s pour!
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #20-0220, rickhouse G, floor 4) – selected by Downtown Liquor Store, Eugene, OR – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged eight years, four months – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: metallic amber
Nose: (rock solid modern WT) caramel-apple, nutty toffee, confectioners sugar, cinnamon, charred oak, nutmeg, warm citrus, hints of herbal spice
Taste: (oily mouthfeel) toasted caramel, vanilla, spicy oak char, toffee, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, citrus zest
Finish: medium-long – brown sugar, cinnamon, butter toffee, toasted oak, nutmeg, pepper, faint citrus & herbal spice
Overall: I’ve spent considerable time with this whiskey (more so than others in recent memory) just trying to figure out exactly what makes it tick. I’ve tasted it in Glencairns indoors, rocks glasses outdoors, next to other Russell’s Reserve private selections (including 2016 fourth-floor picks), hell, even in an Old Fashioned cocktail. There’s absolutely nothing I dislike about this bourbon. It’s delicious. Is it the same as rickhouse G bottles from 2016? Not exactly. It’s certainly more vibrant. I’ll refrain from using the word “younger,” as I’m assuming the well-loved G selections from a few years ago weren’t too far from the eight- to nine-year mark. But vibrant, yes. Tasty too.
In a whiskey world rife with bottle chasing and flipping, one should easily find comfort with Downtown Liquor’s Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel #20-0220. While not as robust as picks of years past, it’s still a great barrel. Again, there’s absolutely nothing to dislike (unless you just don’t like Wild Turkey, or quality bourbon for that matter). At the same time, there’s nothing to rave about either. It is what it is – a rock solid modern representation of an admirable single barrel program. Considering the more-than-reasonable retail price, that’s a win in my book.
Rating: 3.75/5 🦃
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