I’ve said it many times before, we’re living in a New Golden Age of Wild Turkey – right here, right now, make no mistake. Validating this claim are remarkable limited editions like Master’s Keep, affordable barrel-proof expressions like Rare Breed and Rare Breed Rye, and an enduring flagship bourbon that’s arguably the best American whiskey in its proof/price class, Wild Turkey 101. Yet the most intriguing and impressive aspect of Wild Turkey’s recent resurgence in popularity is undoubtedly its single barrel program.

The barrels that Jimmy and Eddie Russell approve each year are more than consistently excellent, they’re quite often exceptional. And perhaps no year has introduced more noteworthy variety into Wild Turkey’s single barrel program than 2020. There’s Tyrone A, B, E, G, K, and S, as well as Camp Nelson A, C, D, and F selections bottled (or in the process of being bottled) this year. That’s a hell of a lot of rickhouses in the mix! Of course, it’s not like consumers have the opportunity to purchase, or even taste, an example from each and every one. Some rickhouses yield more barrels than others, and as with most things in this industry, timing is everything.

Which brings me to Tyrone’s rickhouse S. It’s not a rickhouse you hear about every day. In fact, this year marks the first time I’ve seen an S on a single barrel label (that goes for Russell’s Reserve and Kentucky Spirit). As with rickhouse Q and T, it’s a newer construction containing barrels moved from other locations (primarily Camp Nelson and reportedly McBrayer as well). How long those barrels spent in one place or the other is a mystery not easily solved. But I’m not sweating it. We have enough information to go by for today’s tasting, a fifth-floor Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel from the curious S.

Significant thanks is owed to Jonathan, Barrels United, and the Atlanta Bourbon Society for making this review possible. “The S Files” has frequented my rotation for almost two months now, and a proper evaluation is rightfully overdue. Will it rank highly among the range of 2020 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections I’ve tasted thus far? As they say … The truth is out there.

(Side note: It took this whiskey’s release for me to finally realize that the X-Files slogan contains a dual meaning. I know, I know … I’m so damn slow.)

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Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “The S Files” – barrel #20-0816, rickhouse S, floor 5 – selected by The Atlanta Bourbon Society for Bankhead Beverage, Atlanta, GA – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged eight years, eight 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: (herbaceous, woody) herbal spice, salted caramel, vanilla potpourri, fragrant oak, Granny’s spice rack, maple syrup, honey-butter, tea leaves

Taste: (spiced sweets) herbal tea, apple spice, vanilla, cedar-esque charred oak, spiced gumdrops, leather, faint black pepper & ginger

Finish: medium-long w/ warm baking spice – dry sweet herbs, savory oak, buttery pie crust, nutmeg, faint zesty citrus & leather

Overall: There’s definitely a unique sweet and savory spice vibe here (mainly spice). In some ways I’m reminded of 2017’s fourth-floor rickhouse H selections, in other ways 2018’s fifth-floor Camp Nelson F barrels. Even so, the Atlanta Bourbon Society’s “The S Files” is neither, and ultimately, has its own thing going for it. You might even call it a spice bomb.

Outside of other 2020 rickhouse S barrels, you likely won’t find another Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon equivalent in profile to this ABS selection. There’s potpourri, heirloom cedar, and a delicately spicy herbaceous quality rarely found in Wild Turkey barrels of similar age. You can, however, find some of these attributes in mature releases like Master’s Keep 17-year (2015), though its oak presence is substantially greater.

All said and done, The S Files is a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection that should appeal to most Wild Turkey enthusiasts. It’s notably spice forward, and as such some may consider it more of a mood pour. I find it lovely myself. So much so, I’m proud to say I have a rickhouse S selection headed to the bottling line soon (special thanks to Justins’ House of Bourbon).

As for The S Files … well done, Atlanta Bourbon Society. It’s barrels like this that showcase profile diversity and the hallmarks of maturation at Wild Turkey’s fabled rickhouses. From a single bourbon recipe unchanged since Jimmy Russell signed on in 1954, sparks an infinite universe of flavor possibilities developed slowly over time.

As they say … The truth is out there.

Rating: 4/5 🦃


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