Of the six years I’ve covered Wild Turkey, I can’t think of a more eventful year than 2022. From barrel picks at the distillery, to press trips and a day spent as a camp instructor, I had the fortune of experiencing the brand from the inside out. I accomplished several goals as well, thanks to the help of my Patreon and Kickstarter supporters. With the new year upon us, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share a recap of 2022 and express my gratitude to those who made it special.
My March stops at Maker’s Mark, Rare Character, and Wild Turkey composed the experience of a lifetime. If you haven’t read my post, “Spirit of Collaboration,” I encourage you to give it a go. From Bruce Russell assisting with our Maker’s Mark private selection, to Jane Bowie, Denny Potter, and Pablo Moix selecting barrels with us at Wild Turkey, it was a dream come true. And none of that would’ve been possible without Maker’s own Trevor Bowles. Trevor set the hospitality bar so high, I’m not sure it can ever be matched. Thanks as well to Keg N Bottle for sponsoring the Maker’s Mark selection, and Justins’ House of Bourbon for sponsoring the Turkey barrels.
Since I’m on the topic of trips, did I mention I’m a sucker for springtime in Kentucky? It was an absolute joy tasting whiskey in rickhouse A and chatting with Jimmy Russell at the Station Master’s House in June. The weather was perfect, as was my company of friends. We also fit in two Rare Character selections (thanks again to Keg N Bottle and Justsins’ House of Bourbon) and a New Riff pick, which I unfortunately missed due to a delayed flight. Oh, and one helluva late night (early morning) in downtown Louisville. But hey – when in Rome …
August and September saw a triple play of Turkey awesomeness. I had the privilege of instructing bartenders at Camp Runamok, followed shortly after by a press trip for the inaugural release of Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse. Two weeks later, I was back at the distillery selecting barrels. I’ve written at length about my time at Camp Runamok and the Single Rickhouse press trip, but I’ve yet to discuss that last visit to Wild Turkey. I suppose there’s no better time than now.
Without the support of my Patreon community, Russell’s Renegades, I wouldn’t be typing this blog post. September 29th and 30th was my chance to give back and spend quality time with my patrons – my friends. It started with a day at Starlight Distillery in Borden, Indiana, which you can read about in my December 21st blog entry. The following day, we spent time with Jimmy, Bruce, and brand builder extraordinaire, Bo Garrett, at Wild Turkey.
In Tyrone’s rickhouse A, we tasted barrel after barrel of incredible whiskey – bourbon and rye – and made some not-so-tough decisions on which barrels to claim. It was incredible sharing that unique experience with those who’ve supported me – in particular, the knowledgeable and generous David James, who is without question the world’s biggest Turkey fan. Blake Huber and Andrew Jerdonek of Starlight joined in as well, adding a collaborative vibe to our day. It was damn near perfect, but the best was yet to come.
After our selections at Wild Turkey, we gathered at Neat in Louisville for an epic meetup. Two years had gone by since our last in-person Patreon get-together. As one might imagine, the energy was high and the smiles were wide. I can hardly begin to accurately list the bottles on hand that evening (there were a lot), but I’ll name a few: 1980’s Beyond Duplication, 1990’s “Pewter Top” Kentucky Spirit, 1855 Reserve, Wild Turkey 101/8 and 101/12, Master’s Keep Unforgotten, and a KBA Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye private selection. But the fellowship of friends and guests was by far the highlight. We had the pleasure of hanging out with Bruce Russell, Andy Shapira, Bernie Lubbers, Michael Lazar, and other noteworthy names and faces in the bourbon community. It was a night to remember, and a very special thanks to Alex Stroud and the staff at Neat for making that so.
This past year saw the completion of my second book, Wild Turkey Musings: A Whiskey Writer’s Retrospective. While the official release won’t arrive until February 2023, I opted for a 2022 release for those who pre-ordered the book from my publisher, not to mention my Kickstarter backers who helped make the book a reality. Musings turned out better than I envisioned, thanks to the talents of Ricky Frame, Victor Sizemore, Connor Query, and the team at Mascot/Amplify Publishing. What’s next as an author? It’s hard to say for sure, but I’ve got some ideas. Stay tuned!
Whiskey! What a year for Wild Turkey releases! 2022 welcomed the re-introduction of fan-favorite rickhouses M and T, as well as the debut of Camp Nelson B into the single barrel program. Russell’s Reserve 13-Year returned, this time in two waves with bottles filled in both December 2021 and May 2022. After a near ten-year hiatus, Wild Turkey 101 12-Year returned to the export market. The bourbon had big shoes to fill, but boy did it fill ‘em. And last but certainly not least, Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse sought to provide a snapshot of Camp Nelson C’s maturation magic. While some folks grumbled about the hefty price and limited availability, those fortunate enough to try it were nothing short of impressed.
Which brings me to my Turkeys of the year. Most of you reading are familiar with my annual “best of” posts. This year I’m doing things a little differently. Admittedly, I’ve grown tired of articles and videos spoonfeeding audiences on what’s best. These lists are everywhere. And they’re not just reserved for year-end. If you watch YouTube or read online magazines frequently – even semi-frequently – you’re bombarded with “best of” features weekly. In light of the deluge, I’ll keep mine short and sweet.
Favorite bourbon of 2022? Wild Turkey 101 12-Year. Favorite rye? Rare Breed Rye. Favorite single barrel? Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel “Starhill Shorty” (a 12.5-year, 6th-floor Camp Nelson F barrel selected by Ryan Alves for Justins’ House of Bourbon). Favorite whiskey? Master’s Keep Unforgotten. And I’d be remiss not to share 2022’s Patron’s Choice, Russell’s Reserve 13-Year, which was determined via a Patreon poll. Each of these expressions are deserving of high praise, but if you can’t track them down, grab a bottle of Rare Breed. It’s always a winner.
So, what lies in store for Turkey fans in 2023? Quite a lot. With regard to limited editions, there’s Masters Keep Voyage, a collaboration with Appleton Estate Rum, and the second installment of Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse (Camp Nelson F). Rumor has it the single barrel program is being revamped. To what degree it might change is unknown, but at the very least I’m guessing we’ll see overall improvement and a new variety of rickhouses in the selection pool. With McConaughey out, all eyes are on Longbranch. Will it continue? Will it be reduced to key markets? Only time will tell. But with so much invested in the brand, I’m doubtful it will vanish. Besides, the real stars have always been the Russells. And with Bruce named Associate Blender back in October, things are undoubtedly moving in the right direction.
I have nothing but fond memories of 2022 – memories I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. I’m hopeful 2023 will prove just as memorable. Knowing what’s ahead, I’m inclined to believe it will. Let’s just call it bourbon faith. In the meantime, I’m setting a resolution to slow down a bit. Not necessarily with the content I produce, but by taking more time to appreciate life’s moments. Even something as simple as a glass of whiskey … Instead of approaching it analytically, maybe just sip it casually and not think about it at all.
I’m reminded of that sunset pour of Single Rickhouse with Jimmy back in September. When asked about the whiskey in his glass, Jimmy uttered nary a word about rarity or luxury, complexity or uniqueness. He simply expressed his affection for it. Good whiskey at the close of a good day. You can’t beat that.
Cheers and have the very best New Year!
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