After several weeks of opinions and musings on various topics, I thought I’d sit down and pen a good old fashioned review. And it’s about time, as my backlog of whiskeys needing critiques is growing faster than anticipated. A good problem to have I suppose, though sometimes my excitement leads to finishing off a bottle before I have a chance to share my thoughts. What can I say? It’s 2020. It happens.

Last Tuesday, I discussed the importance of accurately labeled Wild Turkey single-barrel expressions. Were it not for an astute bourbon aficionado, the subject of today’s review may have cost me unnecessary research time. Thankfully, James, a/k/a The Bourbon Enthusiast, discloses nearly every detail one could wish for on his signature private selection stickers. In this case, a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon from Camp Nelson rickhouse D.

Camp Nelson D isn’t a rickhouse easily found in Wild Turkey’s private barrel program. In fact, the only other Camp Nelson D private selection I’m aware of is Maisano’s “OGB2” Kentucky Spirit, which I reviewed back in August. While Maisano’s CND barrel fell under 110 proof, and as such could only be bottled as a Kentucky Spirit selection, The Bourbon Enthusiast’s #20-0420 made it over the 110 mark with a barrel proof of approximately 113. Regardless, both are relatively close to barrel strength. They also share an impressive eleven-year age statement, though I’m expecting a more full-flavored experience from this NCF Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bottling. We shall see!

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #20-0420, rickhouse CND, floor 3) – selected by The Bourbon Enthusiast – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged eleven years, two 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: (dense, mature) toasted caramel, brown sugar, vanilla bean, blood orange, musty charred oak, black cherry soda, leather, hints of cranberry sauce

Taste: (oily mouthfeel) English toffee, vanilla extract, maple syrup, oak char, honey-butter, heavily steeped herbal tea, root beer, faint licorice

Finish: medium-long, thick & developed – vanilla spice, dark fruit, peppery oak, cherry pie, nutmeg, burnt sugar, licorice candy, antique leather

Overall: This is a lovely representation of mature Wild Turkey bourbon. There’s a dense complexity rarely found in private barrel selections. On the other hand, there’s very little vibrancy. I’ve wrestled my thoughts on this particular barrel for months now. When I first opened it, I was confident it was a step above Maisano’s “OGB2” Camp Nelson D Kentucky Spirit. Alas, after numerous side-by-side comparisons with extensive note taking, that confidence is all but dismissed.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that The Bourbon Enthusiast’s #20-0420 isn’t worthy of praise. It damn sure is. But I’ve had better selections. This eleven-year barrel is somewhat of a one-trick pony. If you love a mature bourbon that holds a steady dark profile from nose to finish, this whiskey is for you. If, however, you prefer more of a flavor rollercoaster – more liveliness and sweet spice with the element of surprise – I’d recommend a younger Russell’s Reserve selection.

Rating: 4/5 🦃

Speaking of surprises, I thought I’d throw one into today’s review. Since I’m covering Camp Nelson D, I might as well compare it to Tyrone D, right? This Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel was pulled sometime in 2017 and selected by the Evansville Bourbon Society shortly afterward. (Thanks so much for the sample, Josh.) I’m not aware of this specific barrel’s age, but chances are it’s in line with other 2017-2018 rickhouse D selections at roughly nine years.

Let’s pour!

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #17-524, rickhouse D, floor 5) – selected by the Evansville Bourbon Society “Team Blue” – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged eleven years, two 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: (modern WT) caramel candy, nutty vanilla, orange peel, charred oak, nutmeg, cinnamon powder, hints of dry herbal spice

Taste: (syrupy mouthfeel) baked brown sugar & cinnamon, caramel chews, molasses, oak char, Coca-Cola Classic, clove, faint leather & pepper

Finish: medium-long & robust – vanilla spice, zesty dark citrus, maple-oak, sweet pepper, semisweet chocolate, diminishing tobacco

Overall: There’s so much to love about this barrel. As with many 2017-2018 selections from Tyrone’s rickhouse D, there’s a fair share of dark confectionery notes and enticing baking spice. Unfortunately, those traits fail to kick in until you taste it. In other words, the nose is essentially on-par for Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. Damn good, but nothing extraordinary. Thankfully, the taste and finish are fabulous and nothing short of everything one would desire in a single-barrel private selection – complexity, maturity, and balance exceeding the retail iteration of the same expression.

Rating: 4/5 🦃

In closing: While I appreciate variety in Wild Turkey single barrels, age isn’t everything. Hell, that applies to all whiskeys – especially bourbon. Just because a barrel touts noteworthy age, that doesn’t mean it will shine above and beyond younger barrels in a similar class. As for location, Camp Nelson and Tyrone rickhouses (as well as their relative floors) impart their own unique traits; however, one campus isn’t innately better than the other. Albeit Camp Nelson D barrels are far more uncommon, as I’ve experienced with The Bourbon Enthusiast’s #20-0420 and Maisano’s “OGB2,” they’re ultimately equivalent in quality to many of the Tyrone D barrels I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying (even a step below some).

This is all subjective, of course, and your opinion may very well differ from mine. There’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day I think we can all agree on one thing – a whiskey’s specs will always play second fiddle to its taste.

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