I have a curious fascination with Kentucky Spirit. While my experiences over the years range from “single-barrel 101” to uniquely incredible, today’s Kentucky Spirit is arguably a roll of the dice. I’m not saying it isn’t quality bourbon. It very much is. It’s just hard swallowing the price with Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon occupying the same general range (not to mention Wild Turkey 101 well below it at only $25). Yet I’m drawn to the allure of finding the exception – that amazing barrel that solidifies, or even redefines, what Kentucky Spirit is all about. Maisano’s “OGB2” is a recent example, though a private selection (a very uncommon selection at that).
Is it possible to find a standard, non-select bottle as noteworthy on a retail shelf? Sure. Why not? Single barrels innately harbor a degree of chance. You only need appropriate expectations and little luck.
When it comes to bourbon, it’s easy for one to enter a tasting with profile expectations. Some of that mindset can be attributed to one’s familiarity with bourbon’s core flavor traits. Whereas whiskies like Scotch range dramatically on the profile spectrum, bourbon stays grounded primarily in vanilla and caramel. It’s often the subtleties that make bourbons unique – especially when comparing bourbons of similar age and proof. With a grand majority of super-premium bourbons falling in the six- to nine-year range, frequently bottled at 90 to 100 proof, subtle variances mean everything. Zero in on a single brand and those details require greater attention.
Which brings me to the subject of today’s review. Those familiar with Kentucky Spirit, particularly post-2013 bottles, have learned to enter tastings conservatively. As stated previously, Kentucky Spirit can range significantly in terms of bang for the buck. As a fellow enthusiast once remarked, the expression has a low floor but a high ceiling. Hopefully, this 2020 Kentucky Spirit from rickhouse A will prove more the latter.
But then, is it Tyrone A or Camp Nelson A? Therein lies the essence of my “Rickhouse Blues” post two weeks ago. Thankfully, I no longer have to guess. It was in fact aged in Tyrone’s rickhouse A. Special thanks to South Carolina Campari representative Amy McClam for clarifying that with Eddie Russell.
What can be said of Tyrone’s rickhouse A that hasn’t been said already? It’s literally bourbon history, as thousands upon thousands of barrels have aged gracefully upon its racks since 1894. Regardless of which Wild Turkey rickhouse is your personal favorite, if there’s one “must-visit” location in Lawrenceburg, it’s surely rickhouse A. Hell, I can’t wait to go back myself. In the meantime, I’ll fill my glass, close my eyes, and let the whiskey take me away to Wild Turkey Hill. Let’s pour!
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit (2020) – 101-proof KSBW – no age stated (reportedly eight years) – bottled 2/19/2020 from barrel #1056, warehouse A, rick 18 – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (finessed modern WT) vanilla frosting, caramel, brown sugar glaze, nutmeg, honey-butter, sweet tea, orange peel, light oak
Taste: (creamy mouthfeel) caramel drizzle, butter toffee, vanilla creme, peppery oak, honey, baking spice, hints of sweet herbs & citrus
Finish: medium-long, balanced – vanilla spice, orange creamsicle, confectioners sugar, zesty oak, toasted caramel, nutmeg, diminishing lemon-pepper
Overall: I’ll make no bones about it – I love this Kentucky Spirit. I’m not concerned with its age or barrel proof. Curious, sure. Concerned? Not really. And while I’m pleased to know it’s from the storied Tyrone A, at the moment it’s second to how I feel about its profile. Frankly, it’s almost everything I’m looking for in a single-barrel bourbon at 101 proof. It’s not a sought-after private selection. It touts no sticker. But I really don’t care. I’m just happy I took the chance and purchased this bottle before someone else discovered the same. (Or, maybe they did and kindly left bottles behind for others.) That said, I’ll soon be going back for another. Perhaps luck will favor me a second time around.
Now, if all this gushing sounds like the perfect rationale for omitting additional barrel information, think again. Were I left to guess Tyrone A versus Camp Nelson A, I’d admittedly be frustrated. I fancy myself as somewhat of a rickhouse junkie after all. Nevertheless, good whiskey is good whiskey. Getting consumers to take the gamble is the challenge. And thus my curious fascination with Kentucky Spirit continues.
It’ll be interesting to see how this expression evolves in the years ahead. Will we ever see a revision of its label details? Or, maybe an NCF option or return to the classic “fantail” design? Only time will tell. One thing I can say for certain is that Kentucky Spirit deserves more attention – both from Campari and consumers. At least this bottle has seen its share.
Rating: 4/5 🦃
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