My affection for Camp Nelson F barrel selections is well documented. Be it Russell’s Reserve or Kentucky Spirit, if it’s from Camp Nelson F, particularly those aged nine years or more, take my money. And though I’m aware of the oft-cited bourbon advice, “age is only a number,” from my experience you can’t go wrong with a well-aged CNF Turkey.

Or, can you?

Every aging whiskey reaches its apex at some point in time. There’s no precise formula as countless variables are at play – location, duration, temperature, airflow, moisture, among others. When it comes to Wild Turkey’s 2009 distillate (some of the last produced at the old Ripy Brothers distillery), barrels destined for the fifth and sixth floors of Camp Nelson’s rickhouse F would blossom as remarkable bourbon by their debut in late 2018.

The following year, Camp Nelson F barrels had hit their stride – so much and so often, there was inevitably “Camp Nelson fatigue.” As in love as I may have been with the CNF profile in 2019, I’ll admit I was longing for a Tyrone-aged contrast. That chance would arrive in 2020; however, with CNF barrels remaining in Wild Turkey’s single barrel program – ten years aged, no less – they swiftly garnered rejuvenated attention. I mean, who wouldn’t want ten-year NCF Wild Turkey at 110 proof? 

Which brings me to the subject of today’s review, a ten-year (nearly eleven-year) Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selected by the Minnesota Whiskey Elite. (Thank you, Andy.) On my “first pour tasting” via Patreon, I immediately realized this bourbon reached its peak maturation. The oak influence was obvious. Fortunately, I enjoy a mature bourbon profile – probably not as much as some, though arguably a fair deal more than others. The initial tasting left me wondering how I might perceive its profile in the weeks and months ahead. Today is that day.

Minnesota Whiskey Elite

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #19-0643, rickhouse CNF, floor 6) – selected by the Minnesota Whiskey Elite – 110-proof, non-chill filtered KSBW – aged ten years, ten months – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rich copper

Nose: (“heavy”) fresh-baked cherry pie, cinnamon-esque oak char, maple, brown sugar, cola, blood orange, molasses, blackberry jam

Taste: (oily mouthfeel) sweet peppery oak, burnt caramel, black cherry, spiced gumdrops, clove, leather, singed orange peel

Finish: medium-long (robust woodiness) – cherry cola, vanilla spice, dense oak char, black licorice, boozy citrus, hints of dark chocolate

Overall: I’ll start by saying this Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection isn’t for everyone. The charred oak presence is notably forward, asserting dominance over its sweeter notes like orange and blackberry. If robust oak and rich woody spice is your preference, you’ll love Minnesota Whiskey Elite’s 10-year CNF selection. If, however, you prefer subtleties – livelier complexity layered within an overall well-balanced profile – you might not be as appreciative of their selection. At least, you won’t be as impressed with it as is. Fortunately, this is one of those few whiskeys where water can make a difference for the better.

Using a refractometer (thanks James), I proceeded to gradually dilute this Russell’s Reserve down to 101 proof (a la Kentucky Spirit). The first test was at 107 proof: No significant change from its original 110 proof. The second test was at 104 proof: Precisely where this bourbon needed to be (I bypassed the 101 test altogether).

At 104 proof, Minnesota Whiskey Elite’s Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel showcases nearly everything I love about modern well-aged Wild Turkey – a solid sweet oak backbone offset by classic bourbon character and enticing fragrant spice. The char becomes more chocolatey, the cherry becomes more syrupy, and the dark citrus and candy-like notes more exotic. If Wild Turkey sold this whiskey as a standard expression, I’d buy it regularly. Hell, I’d buy it more than regularly.

Rating: 4/5 🦃 | At 104 proof: a rock solid 4.25/5 🦃

I’m sure there will be naysayers regarding this review. Some enthusiasts will never back away from a high-proof stance. While I’d love to see Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, or at least some official version of single-barrel Wild Turkey bottled at full barrel strength, that doesn’t mean every bourbon shines undiluted. Granted, I’m no distiller or trained whiskey blender or taster. I’m just a guy that aims to try as many Wild Turkey variations as I can. When I taste a difference – especially a positive difference – I take note. Such is the case with this slightly diluted Minnesota Whiskey Elite CNF behemoth.

At the end of the day, it’s your bourbon; do as you please. All the same, don’t hesitate to lower the proof of a whiskey that seems “extra.” The addition of water isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Truth be told, there are bourbons I prefer with a pinch of water – Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and William Larue Weller come to mind. Ultimately, the goal lies in finding your individual flavor sweet spot. Whether that’s accomplished by purchasing numerous bottles of various expressions, or finding ways to enhance or improve the ones you already own, the choice, as they say, is yours.


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