At this point, most of us are familiar with Wild Turkey single-barrel offerings from the Tyrone and Camp Nelson campuses; they’ve been the primary source of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon since its inception in 2013. But, how many of you reading are familiar with McBrayer? Have you ever tasted bourbon aged there? Ever heard of it before today?

If you’ve been around Wild Turkey long enough, chances are you’ve sipped whiskey that was aged at McBrayer – most likely in batched expressions or possibly a Kentucky Spirit bottling. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know it, as campuses have largely been omitted from single barrel labels. Occasionally, you’ll find a “TY” or “CN” preceding a rickhouse letter, but more frequently it’s nowhere to be found. This is where third-party labels – “stickers,” as they’re more commonly called – are a benefit (provided they’re accurate, of course).

I’ve written about Wild Turkey labeling deficiencies ad nauseam, so I’ll refrain from derailing today’s review. I will, however, recommend my post, “Rickhouse Blues,” for those left questioning the origin of their favorite Kentucky Spirit or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bottle. And if you work for Campari, please give it a read. I beg you (please and thank you).

Location, Location, Fascination

So, what is McBrayer? Where is it? What makes it worth writing about? All good questions. 

If you’ve ever visited Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, KY, you may have noticed some old buildings across the street, including several weathered rickhouses. That’s Wild Turkey’s McBrayer. From what I can gather, McBrayer is a local designation adopted from a nearby railroad crossing. According to author Chuck Cowdery, the facility was once the Old Joe Distillery (DSP-KY-27), a brand also associated with Four Roses, and produced whiskey up until the early 1970s. At some point post-Prohibition Seagram’s acquired the location, though it would be sold to Austin, Nichols & Co. in 1976. Now operating under DSP-KY-71, McBrayer has been aging Wild Turkey bourbon for the last forty-five years.

Back in March, I had the opportunity to select several Wild Turkey barrels. One of the samples in the selection pool immediately stood out – a fourth-floor barrel from McBrayer’s rickhouse B. I was fascinated. I hadn’t tasted a Wild Turkey profile like it in some time. Most notable was a grape presence – almost brandy-esque, particularly on the finish. Along with that note was a slightly damp woodiness. I once labeled this type of note as “musty oak,” but seeing as that can often impart a negative impression, I’m now more selective with its use. Call it what you will, it was definitely a throwback to classic Turkey funkiness and I had to have it.

Fast forward to June and 2021 Wild Turkey selections finally made their way to retail shelves. Some of the first went to Ohio. I was fortunate to have two friends secure a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon from McBrayer B. (Thank you Steven and Jason.) But, as we all know, just because two barrels age in the same rickhouse – even on the same floor or rack – doesn’t mean they’ll share the same flavor profile. We are talking about Wild Turkey. Variance among Russell’s Reserve private barrel selections is not only common, it’s damn near expected.

I suppose the best path forward is one involving a glass and some whiskey. With that, let’s dive into this eight-year bourbon aged at the curiously storied McBrayer. Truth be told, this bottle has received a great deal of personal attention and affection, and as a result, ample sharing. In other words, my review marks the end of this bottle. (Spoiler: It’s ridiculously delicious.)

Russell's Reserve McBrayer B OHLQ

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (barrel #21-018, rickhouse McBrayer B, floor 4) – selected by Ohio Liquor ABC – 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 (slightly rosy)

Nose: sweet herbal tea, pomegranate, caramel apple, blood orange, brown sugar glaze, medicinal grape, faint petrichor

Taste: (velvety mouthfeel) fruit punch, grape-orange soda, sweet oak, vanilla syrup, strawberry bon bons, light baking spice

Finish: medium in length – herbal spice, maraschino cherry, damp oak, brandy, caramel, peppery citrus, hints of cinnamon & nutmeg

Overall: Before fully disclosing my opinion, I should clarify this bourbon isn’t for everyone. There’s a distinctive fruitiness that some may find uncharacteristically dominant for Wild Turkey. Enthusiasts seeking a profile anchored in core-bourbon notes or rich confectionery profiles more commonly associated with the brand are likely better off acquiring 2021 Tyrone F or Camp Nelson A selections. That shouldn’t deter anyone from trying McBrayer B selections, however. I just feel my excitement warrants a pinch of objectivity. With that said …

I love this bourbon. I don’t mean that in the overly casual sense. I really love this bourbon. Is it as robust or complex as other noteworthy Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections? No. But that’s not where this Ohio Liquor’s McBrayer B shines. This is pure drinkability – gushing with fruity flavor and remarkably (don’t say smooth, don’t say smooth) delightful for 110 proof. The aforementioned grape note is undoubtedly here – possibly more so than with my own selection – but generally speaking it’s a fruit-punch bomb. Incidentally, Lincoln Road’s “Misty’s 2nd” comes to mind. Both share a strong red fruit profile, though in my admittedly fallible mental comparison Ohio Liquor’s McBrayer B seems less tart.

Ah, rating time. Look, I realize this is an unassuming Ohio ABC pick. There’s no bourbon celebrity roll call or legendary whiskey group behind it – no sticker, no wax, no glitter. And yes, I’ve had better Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections; but frankly, none of that matters. This is a thoroughly enjoyable – hell, effortlessly crushable – winner. Pour this into my glass and I guarantee you an unabashed Jimmy Russell level smile. Cheers! dj

Rating: 4.25/5 🦃

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