Last week I discussed the value of private selection whiskey reviews. What began as an introduction to a planned set of actual reviews, turned into an article all its own. Today, I’ll share my thoughts on the two bourbons I intended on covering last week: High Quality Liquid Assets’ “Curve Flattener” and Justins’ House of Bourbon’s “Russell’s is Essential.” Both are Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon private selections from 2020, though aged at different rickhouses (Tyrone A and B, respectively). 

For the record, I’m not a fan of COVID-19 themed private selections. Regardless of who distilled, aged, or bottled the whiskey – Wild Turkey or not – the same applies. I understand the motivation behind such themes. Last year was a global punch to the gut. We all felt it, some far worse than others. Yet, there was a desire to find common ground and unity outside of the social/political shitstorm. What’s a topic we could all relate to? Coronavirus, of course. Unfortunately, the wound was fresh (still is).

I don’t fault anyone for giving their private barrel a Rona theme. It’s a personal call. It’s simply not a direction I choose to walk. Thankfully, the two bourbons I’m reviewing handled it tastefully (no pun intended).

Curve Flattener

First up is High Quality Assets’ 2020 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel from Tyrone rickhouse A. (Thank you, Brian.) I don’t think I have to remind anyone that Tyrone A is Wild Turkey’s oldest rickhouse – built in 1894 and faithfully aging Kentucky’s Finest ever since. As soon as life returns to normal and this damn virus is behind us, add a visit to Wild Turkey’s rickhouse A to your best-life list. If you love bourbon, its history and heritage, a step inside Wild Turkey’s rickhouse A can check those boxes in ways few sites can. 

I can understand why a group would settle on a barrel pulled from rickhouse A. I’ve had some notable ones in the last twelve months. Carmen and Jurko’s “Russell’s Reserve Pick No. 2” comes to mind. And who could forget Lincoln Road’s impressive barrel #20-1209? Not me! It ranked as my Best Single Barrel of 2020, and for good reason. It’ll be interesting to see if Curve Flattener can top it. It has several months of additional maturity in its favor, though age isn’t everything. Specs are specs, and bourbon is bourbon. Measuring up to the profile of Lincoln Road’s 2020 trailblazer is no easy task. Let’s give Curve Flattener a pour and put it through its paces.

Curve Flattener RRSiB

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “Curve Flattener” (barrel #20-1111, rickhouse A, floor 4) – selected by High Quality Liquid Assets – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – distilled 12/2/2011; bottled 10/28/2020 (sticker covers the dump date) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: copper

Nose: nutty toffee, caramel apple, vibrant oak, lemon icing, Juicy Fruit gum, orange peel, brown sugar, tea leaves

Taste: fruity vanilla spice, baked apples & cinnamon, cake frosting, orange-grape soda, slightly tart cherry candy

Finish: medium-long w/ burnt sugar, candy apple, zesty oak, fruit punch, sweet clove, hints of pepper & leather

Overall: I’ve spent a lot of time with Curve Flattener – tasting it alongside 2020 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections from rickhouse A and other locations. It always stands strong. My only issue is, it seldom stands out. Some of that is due to rickhouse A’s general profile as of late. Of all the 2020 barrels I’ve tasted, Tyrone A has the most “core Turkey” vibe. That doesn’t mean Curve Flattener isn’t tasty or worthy of praise. The fruity candy notes are well placed within familiar layers of caramel, vanilla, and baking spice that Wild Turkey is known for. On its own, it’s a powerhouse of flavor.

If you’re looking for a solid Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel that doesn’t stray too far from the signature Wild Turkey formula, go with a Tyrone A selection. And, if you luck upon High Quality Assets’ Curve Flattener, you’ll be rewarded handsomely. It’s an excellent selection, one I’ve enjoyed since the day it was first opened.

Rating: 4/5 🦃

Russell’s is Essential

Next up is “Russell’s is Essential,” a 2020 Tyrone rickhouse B Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selected by Justins’ House of Bourbon in Lexington, Kentucky. (Thank you, Ryan.) Tyrone’s rickhouse B may lack the storied history of rickhouse A, but it’s undoubtedly old. Seeing as a 1910 survey of Ripy Brothers Distillery shows rickhouse A as the only aging warehouse (American Spirit, page 24), I’d imagine B was built just prior to Prohibition or shortly afterward. Regardless, rickhouse B has aged some exemplary whiskey over the years – particularly barrels from 2017-2018. 

In the interest of full disclosure, Justins’ House of Bourbon is a sponsor for my Russell’s Renegades barrel selections. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t evaluate their barrel picks objectively. Truth be told, 2020 rickhouse B Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections have proven extremely consistent – each showcasing nutty confectionery notes at various degrees of creamy, buttery sweetness. I’m expecting no less from Russell’s is Essential.

Russell's is Essential RRSiB

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon “Russell’s is Essential” (barrel #20-0465, rickhouse B, floor 4) – selected by Justins’ House of Bourbon, Lexington, KY – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged eight years, six 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: honey-roasted nuts, confectionery spice, vanilla creme, brown sugar glaze, hints of molasses & orange zest

Taste: (creamy mouthfeel) buttery vanilla, caramel toffee, milk chocolate & nougat, cookie dough, honey buns, nutmeg

Finish: medium-long w/ Bit-O-Honey candy, caramel chews, sugary toasted oak, brown sugar, warm baking spice

Overall: Another excellent Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon and a solid representation of the 2020 Tyrone rickhouse B profile. Russell’s is Essential is crammed full of sticky dessert and bakery-esque flavor – vanilla creme, cookie dough, caramel nougat, honey buns, the list goes on. It’s literally a liquid treat. There’s also a fair degree of nuttiness, though more of the sweeter type (think Snickers candy bar), not the conventional Beam nuttiness. Speaking of which, this Russell’s Reserve could serve as a perfect transition from Knob Creek to Wild Turkey. It’s the best of both worlds!

Justins’ House of Bourbon has a reputation for top-quality private barrel selections, not to mention a genuine appreciation for Wild Turkey. Russell’s is Essential is a testament to their pursuit of superb barrels steeped in the distillery’s modern-day DNA. Should you ever find yourself in Kentucky, stop by one of their locations and pay the ladies and gents a visit. They might just have a pour or two to share. 

Rating: 4/5 🦃

Looking past the pandemic themes, both Curve Flattener and Russell’s is Essential are barrels deserving of attention. That said, they’re not unlike numerous Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections out there. One only needs to take a chance and pick up a bottle or two. If you’re curious which Wild Turkey rickhouses might line up with your personal profile preferences, check out my 2020 Tyrone Rickhouse Comparison. It’s by no means a definitive guide, but it’s a good place to start. And keep your eye out for future High Quality Assets and Justins’ House of Bourbon private barrels. These folks know what they’re doing.


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