If you’re active on social media, chances are you’ve seen the latest big Turkey news. No, I’m not talking about 2023 bottlings of Russell’s Reserve 13-Year, though that has happened (both March and May bottling dates). I’m talking about last Saturday’s TTB COLA filing for Wild Turkey Single Barrel Rye. After years of waiting, private barrel selections are finally returning to Wild Turkey’s rye whiskey catalog. At least, a label has been approved by the regulators. But I’ve been assured by Campari representatives that this expression is indeed happening and scheduled to roll out next year.
While exciting news, I’ll have to admit that my initial reaction was one of bewilderment. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye selections (2015-2017) remain so insanely popular that bottles fetch hundreds of dollars on whiskey secondary markets. Why not simply reboot Russell’s Reserve rye selections? Based on specs alone, the former, a non-chill-filtered whiskey bottled at 104 proof, appears superior to the latter, which lacks the NCF designation and will be bottled at 101 proof. (This was confirmed by Campari, as proof can be a placeholder on filings.) Popularity aside, isn’t this a step down?
While a return of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye would be welcome news, I’m not certain it would generate the same wave of attention that Wild Turkey Single Barrel Rye received this week. There’s just something about a brand new offering – especially one with a Turkey on it. And if the liquid is excellent, which I’m sure it will be, even better.
Take, for example, Wild Turkey 101 12-Year compared to Russell’s Reserve 13-Year. Wild Turkey 101/12 is technically younger, lacks the NCF designation, and is bottled at a lower proof (101 versus Russell’s 13’s 114.8). Yet, no one complains. If anything, there’s been just as much, if not more excitement and praise for Wild Turkey 101/12 than Russell’s Reserve 13. It’s the ultimate combination of nostalgic 101 branding with an exemplary flavor profile.
Will we see a similar reaction following Wild Turkey Single Barrel Rye’s release? I believe so. Sure, it might be bottled at a lower proof than Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye, but we’re only talking a 1.5% ABV difference. As for the lack of an NCF designation, that doesn’t mean it can’t be NCF. Campari could opt to bypass chill filtration, or at the very least provide that option to those participating in the selection. But even if the whiskey is chill filtered, I highly doubt it will matter to most consumers. Let’s face it – these bottles are essentially sold out before they’re even filled. As desirable and limited as the rye barrel program will be, I don’t expect to see any selections sitting on retail shelves.
I also see this expression as the perfect transition or stepping stone to a restructuring of the entire private barrel program. Whether that happens or not isn’t my say. But, with both Kentucky Spirit and Single Barrel Rye sharing similar designs and the same exact proof, now would be the perfect time to make Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – bourbon and rye – barrel strength. You’d then have completely distinctive single-barrel bourbon and rye expressions existing in perfect symmetry. And at that point, you could make barrel-proof private selections an option at a reasonable premium. Depending on a vendor’s product and price preference, they might opt for a 101-proof Turkey selection or a barrel-proof Russell’s selection. The choice would be theirs.
In the meantime, we have plenty to enjoy as is – especially on the rye front. In fact, I’d argue that Wild Turkey’s rye portfolio is sorely underappreciated. That is changing, however, and this new single-barrel rye expression will only encourage more enthusiasm. But for now, if you haven’t tried what’s out there – particularly Rare Breed Rye and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye – I highly recommend hitting the store and purchasing a bottle or two. Besides, the more familiar you are with Wild Turkey’s core rye whiskey lineup in 2023, the better you’ll gauge standout private selections in 2024.
Exciting times, folks. Cheers!
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