Last year saw a wide variety of flavor profiles from Wild Turkey’s single barrel program. Perhaps the most polarizing were barrels pulled from Tyrone’s rickhouse E. I’ll be the first to admit, E wasn’t my thing. At least, not initially. There was an odd, hard-to-place fruitiness – certainly not the typical Turkey.
As 2020 rolled by, I warmed up to E’s “offness” to the point of selecting a Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit from that very rickhouse. And then came Martin Wine Cellar’s Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection from E. Wow. I was prepared for an atypical bird, but what Martin’s selection brought to the table was next-level insanity. Dare I say, Dickel-esque? (Eddie Russell just threw his cell phone.)
A Case for Variance
In all seriousness, there’s a striking fruity twang and lively minerality to Martin Wine Cellar’s barrel #20-0021. One could easily peg it as reminiscent of George Dickel. Interestingly, I’ve had similar experiences before – 1979 and 1989 Wild Turkey 101 8-year bottlings come to mind. But idiosyncrasy can be a good thing.
You might disagree, but I believe profile variance – particularly when it comes to private barrel selections – is a desirable attribute. Frankly, I don’t think many distilleries do it well (if at all). Avoiding variance is likely intentional on their part, as consistency is more often than not what’s strived for. But, for producers like Wild Turkey, Four Roses, and Maker’s Mark, the inconsistency of each barrel’s profile are desirable hallmarks. Wild Turkey accomplishes it via traditional rickhouses, Four Roses via recipe, and Maker’s Mark via seasoned stave combinations. The goal is the same – to provide the vendor, and ultimately the consumer, with a whiskey unlike any other.
Which brings me to the subject of today’s post. But before moving forward, I’d like to say thank you to a fellow whiskey blogger, Mike at Bourbon Culture. Without his generosity, this review would not be possible. Cheers to you, sir!
In the summer of 2020, the Neat Drinkers Association of California had the opportunity to select a Wild Turkey barrel. And what do you know? They settled on one from rickhouse E. By the time it was bottled in October, they had a stunning custom sticker waiting. I’ve got a few words to say about stickers later in this post, but for now just accept this one is exceptional. I mean, just look at it! Regardless of how you feel about the practice of applying third-party stickers to private selection bottles, you have to admire the creativity and talent involved with the Neat Drinkers’ “California Drammin.”
I don’t have the sticker’s backstory, or if there is even one of note, but the artwork is credited to Ally Easter, a respected California tattoo artist. Ally did a fantastic job encapsulating a brand-appropriate flying turkey into a late-1960’s concert poster motif. It’s one of the most attractive stickers I’ve ever owned, much less seen. Needless to say, the bar has been raised. I hope other groups designing stickers follow suit.
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “California Drammin” (barrel # unknown, rickhouse E, floor 4) – selected by the Neat Drinkers Association, California – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – barreled September 19, 2011; bottled October 3, 2020 – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: fruity vanilla, sugar cookie dough, nutty caramel, candy-sweet oak, tangerine peel, bubblegum, funky mineral spice
Taste: tangy caramel drizzle, bright citrus, toffee, zesty oak char, apple-butter, nutmeg, hints of cream cheese frosting
Finish: medium long – waves of vanilla cake batter, saltwater taffy, sweet minerals, confectioners sugar, faint clove
Overall: Yet another fine example of a *Wild* Turkey barrel ride. Far from conventional, California Drammin is jammed packed with offbeat twists and turns. The sweet is tangy, the spice is zesty, and the core-bourbon notes are batter-sticky and funky. Come to think of it, the 1960s-inspired label makes perfect sense. Appropriate metaphor or not, it’s a groovy trip.
As for how this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel ranks in the Grand Funk Railroad scheme of things … high marks for uniqueness, satisfactory marks for impressiveness. Honestly, I appreciate Martin Wine Cellar’s 2020 E selection a pinch more. While similar, there’s an added richness to the Martin pick. But, for not being a huge fan of 2020 E barrels, the Neat Drinkers Association need not be dismayed for my preference. California Drammin is an excellent bourbon – surely a selection to be proud of.
Rating: 4/5 🦃
Sticker Common Sense
I’m not going to spend a lot of time discussing custom stickers; I just have a few points to share. For a more in-depth opinion, I recommend Taylor Cope’s thoughts on Malt Review. As for this post, I’ll keep my suggestions focused on Wild Turkey – specifically Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit selections. Here goes.
- Purpose: What’s the point of your sticker? It’s important that a custom sticker has purpose. If not, why have one at all? It can be as simple as setting your barrel apart from others in a meaningful way, or commemorating something personal or special. Regardless, it should have a purpose for you and your group or vendor. If you’re just printing a sticker for flip bait’s sake – let’s face it – that’s pretty damn lame.
- Design: There’s countless examples of poor sticker design, but I’ll refrain from naming names. The fact is, if your photoshop skills are subpar, hire a legitimate artist. You should also have a good idea of what you want to begin with (and make it something worth looking at). Bonus points for classy and creative Turkey-centered designs.
- Placement: Look, if you’re going to slap a sticker on top of a Russell’s Reserve reverse label, do it right. Don’t cover (or fail to re-disclose) important information consumers might want, like the barrel number or dump date (ahem, California Drammin). Vendors selling bottles with stickers applied pre-sale might also consider the legality of covering the Surgeon General’s Warning. Oh, and if you can’t place a sticker in an aesthetically pleasing way, don’t place it at all.
While stickers can be fun and add expressiveness to the hobby, they can also be annoying and distracting from what matters most – the whiskey in the bottle. A purposeful, well-designed, and well-placed sticker should complement a barrel selection, not dominate it. If the only thing you can recall or take from a private selection is its sticker (or awkwardly waxed top or other extraneous trapping) then the selection itself is flawed. The most memorable barrels start and end with taste. Period. Any other factor is straight moot.
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