To say this year has been interesting is laughable – practically offensive. We’ve heard the cliches over and over again. Hell, I’m guilty myself. But “times of uncertainty,” “new normal,” “unprecedented times” … if these phrases disappeared forever, I wouldn’t blink an eye. Yet, here we are. And yes, these words actually translate into some sort of hard truth for each of us. We’ve learned to adjust, adapt, and survive in a year that reads like a trashed Twilight Zone script.
Here’s the part where bourbon comes in. Granted, bourbon isn’t near as important a topic as 99% of what we’ve endured this last eleven months or so. But it’s what I do. I write about bourbon (the best bourbon, Wild Turkey, of course). And 2020 has affected my writing. It’s affected my approach to bourbon – my plans and goals. Again, not nearly as important as what’s been going on in the world, but it’s affected life nonetheless.
I felt the impact most when it came to this year’s private barrel selections. Sure, in-person book signings would’ve been nice, but thanks to Zoom and YouTube the virtual accommodations have been surprisingly pleasant. Unfortunately, assessing whiskey is more complicated. Smell and taste don’t translate to 1s and 0s very well. On the brighter side, inebriation doesn’t either. But then, it’s 2020. That might be a negative.
When it came time to select Russell’s Renegades’ final two Wild Turkey barrels for 2020, this time in partnership with Justins’ House of Bourbon, I faced a significant obstacle. The selection was scheduled in short notice for early September, on-site at the distillery with Eddie and Bruce Russell. Due to personal circumstances, I was unable to attend physically. Instead, I participated via FaceTime, while two experienced friends, Ryan Alves and Justin Sloan, handled the tasting. I asked questions, took notes, and relied on their noses and palates, as well as the opinions of Eddie and Bruce, to arrive at two barrels unique in profile yet comparable in praise. Samples were then forwarded to me to confirm, which I did days later without hesitation.
Fast forward three months and these bourbons are now in hand. The first is a barrel that matured eight years on the fourth floor of Tyrone’s rickhouse G, a personal favorite of yours truly. In fact, 2016-2017 rickhouse G selections are Turkeys of legend in some whiskey circles. Might this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel compare to those memorable bottles of years past? We’ll soon find out.
As for the second barrel, it was pulled from Tyrone’s rickhouse S, a relatively new construction containing barrels moved from Camp Nelson (and possibly McBrayer). It should line up similarly to the Atlanta Bourbon Society’s “The S Files,” which I reviewed favorably back in October. “The truth is out there,” as they say, and I’m itching to do some investigating.
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #20-0689, a/k/a “PayDay,” rickhouse G, floor 4) – selected by Justins’ House of Bourbon & Rare Bird 101 – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged eight years, ten months – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: PayDay candy bar, butterscotch drizzle, salted caramel, honey-roasted nuts, baked brown sugar, nutmeg, faint molasses
Taste: (creamy mouthfeel) thick vanilla syrup, candied peanuts, “fancy caramel box chocolates,” sweet oak char, heady cream soda
Finish: medium-long & earthy sweet – nutty toffee, charred oak, chocolate orange, licorice, light tobacco, hints of herbal spice & pepper
Overall: Enticingly sweet, but far from cloying or artificial, barrel #20-0689 is about as close as you’ll get to a PayDay candy bar in liquid form. And while it’s loaded with salty nuttiness, it’s more of a candied nut vibe, not the oft-referenced “peanut funk” found in Jim Beam expressions like Booker’s. And that’s probably my favorite thing about this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection – it stands apart from Wild Turkey G barrels of the past. While I would’ve loved to capture that 2016-2017 fifth-floor “Coca-Cola magic,” I accept the beauty of a comparatively different profile. It’s exactly what a single barrel whiskey should represent – a quality variant rooted in the brand’s signature form.
“Granny’s Spice Rack”
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #20-0884, a/k/a “Granny’s Spice Rack,” rickhouse S, floor 5) – selected by Justins’ House of Bourbon & Rare Bird 101 – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged eight years, eleven months – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (fragrant, inviting) woody vanilla, dark citrus zest, maple/cedar-esque oak, brown sugar, dense herbal/baking spice (sweet basil, thyme, cinnamon, pepper, etc.)
Taste: spiced gumdrops, peppery caramel, burnt toffee, charred oak, nutmeg, clove, fizzy cola, leather, hints of Red Zinger herbal tea
Finish: medium-long w/ layered spice – sassafras, ginger, clove, toasted vanilla, potpourri-like oak, diminishing black licorice & fresh mint
Overall: Looking for fragrant spice? Look no more. “Granny’s Spice Rack” has you covered! Yet, as spice-laden as barrel #20-0884 may be, it remains balanced – offset by caramel, toffee, ripe zesty citrus, and toasted vanilla. It’s a unique bourbon in comparison to the vast majority of Wild Turkey single barrels out there. I’ve tasted similar traits in certain rickhouse T Russell’s Reserve selections, as well as a few from H and Q, but none quite like “Granny’s Spice Rack.” And speaking of that moniker, I just noticed I employed that very same descriptor for the Atlanta Bourbon Society’s “The S Files.” They are kindred spirits, of course. (whistles the X-files theme song)
All said and done, I’m wholeheartedly thrilled with these two bourbons. While I would’ve loved to have tasted them simultaneously alongside Ryan, Justin, Eddie, and Bruce, I understand that sacrifices had to be made. I’m just grateful for the opportunity, and as such owe significant appreciation to Dom Alcocer, Eddie Russell, Dan Lally, the fine folks at Justins’ House of Bourbon, and Russell’s Renegades. Without these individuals assistance and support, these barrel selections would’ve never happened (especially in such little time). My sincerest thanks to each and every one of you.
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