Sometimes the truth lands hard. After pouring my daughter a bowl of Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal Tuesday morning, she hit me with a shocker – every Froot Loop, regardless of color, has the same flavor. What in the Nine Hells was this madness? Surely she was mistaken. She wasn’t. (Kids these days.) Froot Loops is in fact composed of a single fruity flavor. I’d been consuming (literally consuming) a lie for well over forty years.
You probably see where this is going.
Similar to American foods, American whiskey is a tricky landscape carefully constructed by producers. More often than desired, substance is second to sales, marketing trumps quality, and transparency is seldom valued beyond the clarity of a glass bottle. Some producers are more consumer-mindful than others, but none are oblivious to this model.
In an industry mired in NDAs and strong motivations to profit, consumer deception is par for course. This is especially common among NDPs, or non-distiller producers, who purchase whiskey from wholesale brokers or via contract with an established distillery (sometimes both). In other words, NDPs may age, finish, blend, and bottle whiskey, they simply don’t distill it. Some eventually venture into distilling, employing the NDP approach as an early way to generate revenue and bolster attention. Some do quite well as is.
Enter the independent bottler.
While a shared space undoubtedly exists between independent bottlers and conventional NDPs, I’d posit that all American independent bottlers are NDPs but very few NDPs are independent bottlers, at least in the traditional sense. And then there’s Single Cask Nation, the predominant banner of J&J Spirits (formerly the Jewish Whisky Company).
The Pride of the Neighborhood
Founded by Joshua Hatton and Jason Johnstone-Yellin, Single Cask Nation is less of a brand and more of an aesthetic – the Steely Dan of whiskey, if you will. Whereas Walter Becker and Donald Fagen enlisted a roster of world-class musicians to craft each project (Pretzel Logic is a favorite, though Aja is tough to beat), Joshua and Jason enlist the talents of distillers – showcasing their finest whiskeys through limited-run bottlings. The vision exists solely in the minds of J&J, but the beauty – the realized art – resides in the whiskey alone.
What makes Single Cask Nation so special? Why are their bottlings so coveted (particularly when it comes to American whiskey)? Easy. They provide an experience many NDPs – hell, even some heritage distilleries – cannot: substance over sales, quality over marketing, and an ethos maintained by transparency and a greater sense of community. It’s Joshua and Jason’s mission to find barrels (or “casks” in the non-American vernacular) of unique character – not necessarily “off-profile,” but rather spirits that align with their vision. Barrels selected are then bottled uncut and non-chill filtered, offering whiskey enthusiasts an almost literal “straight from the barrel” experience.
In the case of Wild Turkey, which hasn’t bottled a single-barrel expression at full barrel proof since 1998’s duty-free Kentucky Legend (a/k/a “Donut”), Single Cask Nation provides Turkey fans a rare opportunity to taste what Jimmy and Eddie Russell taste. Additionally, bottles are priced fairly (about $100 each) with virtually every specification and detail clearly labeled. There is a downside, of course – availability. Single Cask Nation Wild Turkey bottle counts typically hover around the 150 mark – a supply nowhere close to demand. Such is the reality of single-barrel whiskey.
I’m extremely fortunate to have the latest Single Cask Nation Wild Turkey bottlings – two nine-year bourbons, one from Tyrone’s rickhouse G, the other from Tyrone E. These barrels were selected by Joshua and Jason in 2020, a year I’ve discussed exhaustively. Fortunately, a few good things happened last year; these are two of the best.
Single Cask Nation (2021) – barrel #20-0676, Tyrone rickhouse G, floor 4 – non-chill filtered Wild Turkey KSBW at 57.70% ABV – aged nine years – distilled at the Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY – bottled by J&J Spirits, Bardstown, KY (one of 150 bottles)
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: dense copper
Nose: peanut brittle, salted caramel-nut, cookie dough, maple frosting, Mary Jane candy, Nutty Buddy, faint apple butter & spice cake
Taste: boozy candy bar, caramel squares, English toffee, sweet oak, honey-glazed apple, hints of butterscotch & baking spice
Finish: long & sticky – brown sugar, molasses, toasted graham cracker, Charleston Chew, nutmeg, charred oak
Overall: Barrel #20-0676 is everything I expect from a nine-year Wild Turkey bourbon at barrel strength – loads of core-bourbon vanilla/caramel richness but with an added kick. Perhaps my favorite thing about its profile is its distinctive “Nutty Buddy” note. For those unfamiliar, Nutty Buddy ice cream treats (pre-packed cones a la “Drumstick”) were a favorite of mine growing up. When you’re eight years old, nothing beats a summertime pool break with an ice-cold Nutty Buddy and an FM radio playing your favorite tunes. No static at all!
Rating: 4/5 🦃
Single Cask Nation (2021) – barrel #20-0202, Tyrone rickhouse E, floor 4 – non-chill filtered Wild Turkey KSBW at 57.85% ABV – aged nine years – distilled at the Wild Turkey Distillery, Lawrenceburg, KY – bottled by J&J Spirits, Bardstown, KY (one of 150 bottles)
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: dense copper
Nose: Fruity Pebbles, Juicy Fruit gum, Red Zinger herbal tea, vanilla-orange, candied pear, marshmallow candy Easter eggs, hints of petrichor
Taste: Tang, red berries, Skittles, caramel drizzle, tart sugar icing, citrus fruit punch, zesty oak char, faint polished leather
Finish: long & vibrant – vanilla Tootsie Roll, tangerine peel, lemon candy, sweet herbal spice, “cinnamint,” white pepper
Overall: Well, hello there! This is different, and precisely why I appreciate Joshua and Jason’s selection process. They can throw a wacky curveball at times; barrel #20-0202 is a prime example. If you’ve ever wondered what Fruity Pebbles might taste like as a whiskey, give this bourbon a try. The hard-to-place fruitiness is intense. It’s not the everyday orange, cherry, or apple you find in Wild Turkey at this age. Instead, something funky, herbal, even tropical is revealed. This is the type of barrel that stands out – one that’s desired and remembered fondly when it’s gone. A funky-fruity jam of a bourbon with a Purdie Shuffle groove.
Rating: 4.25/5 🦃
It Will Come Back to You
If you missed out on these two Single Cask Nation bottlings, don’t sweat it. I’m confident we’ll see more Wild Turkey releases from Joshua and Jason. Besides, there are nine-year Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon private selections from both rickhouse G and rickhouse E to be found. They may not be bottled at barrel strength, but they’re non-chill filtered and pretty damn close at 110 proof. Any major dude with half a palate will tell you the same. It all comes down to a barrel that meets your individual preferences. Who knows? You may find a bourbon even more impressive or unique. It’s all about getting out there and giving those bottles a try. Any major dude will tell you.
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