Out of the many Wild Turkey blends I’ve ventured over the years, “W. B. Hackell” is probably my favorite. Its base originates from a 50/50 combination of Rare Breed and Russell’s Reserve 10-Year, which I first heard of in early 2019 as “Poor Man’s Saffell,” and later, “Russell’s Breed,” “Rare Reserve,” and other brand-centric nicknames. In order to achieve a profile more closely representative of W. B. Hackell, I merely tweaked the 50/50 base by adding equal parts of two Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections – one from Camp Nelson A and the other from Camp Nelson F. I enjoyed it so much I ended up making a handle-worth in 2020.
Since that time, Hackell has become much more difficult to fashion. First, the 2009-distilled Camp Nelson A and F barrels have all but dried up. What’s left (when found) are selections of significant maturity (some as old as 13 years). There are, however, more recent Camp Nelson A Russell’s Reserve selections to employ, though the profile has shifted somewhat. The same can be said for Russell’s Reserve 10-Year. While there’s more than one reason a whiskey’s profile can change over time, it’s widely accepted that Wild Turkey’s new still, which was installed in 2010 and formally launched in 2011, is the primary culprit.
I’ve made numerous attempts to recreate the W. B. Saffell profile using newer private selections and more recent bottlings of Rare Breed and Russell’s 10. Unfortunately, none have captured the magic of the original W. B. Hackell. Just like the discontinued Saffell itself, I’ve let it go. Besides, why continue to work within a box? Sure, Saffell (and Hackell) have profiles I thoroughly enjoy. Hell, W. B. Saffell should’ve had a Turkey on it. But that was then, and this is now.
Starting Over (Kind of)
Part of the dilemma in crafting a home whiskey blend – be it Wild Turkey or some other offering – is, why? Why blend whiskeys that stand well enough on their own? Besides, more often than not the parts are better than the sum. Take, for example, “Poor Man’s Pappy.” While many enthusiasts believe the combination of Weller 12 and Weller Antique 107 impart a “Pappy-like” experience, I much prefer the two bourbons on their own. But just because I feel that way about it doesn’t mean you should share my preference. Whiskey is a subjective and individual experience after all.
Then there’s the fun factor. Spending hours or days finding harmony between various expressions of bourbon and/or rye whiskey can be challenging in the best way. If you enjoy discovering new profiles or chasing forgotten ones, home blends can be extremely rewarding. Just remember to keep an open mind and don’t get stuck in a rut. If what you’re trying isn’t working, sometimes all you need is a reset and re-approach. Which leads me to my latest blend, the Gobble Trinity.
In my quest and subsequent failures to recreate W. B. Hackell from recently bottled Wild Turkey expressions, I’ve come to the realization that Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve 10-Year, and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel simply play well together. Yes, their DNA is similar, as Wild Turkey has only one bourbon recipe. But for these expressions, the “Holy Trinity” of Turkey if you will, the magic arrives via three unique maturation and ABV differences. Rare Breed is reportedly a blend of 6-, 8-, and 12-year bourbon bottled at barrel strength, Russell’s Reserve 10-Year is aged at least 10 years and bottled at 90 proof, and finally, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is typically aged 8-10 years and always bottled at 110 proof (NCF). Substitute a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection in place of the standard retail offering and your flavor possibilities multiply.
The Gobble Trinity
I suppose it’s no surprise that my latest blend involves these three expressions. But what sets this particular version apart is the savory qualities of a 2022 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection from Camp Nelson B. It’s the savory tones that make the difference, as all of the CNB selections I’ve tasted to date showcase various levels of this quality. Some barrels are more woody, others more fruity, but each CNB has a distinctive robustness that balances out the sweeter notes of Rare Breed and the fragrant oak and leather notes of Russell’s 10. Here’s my favorite combination so far:
- 1 part 2022 Rare Breed
- 1 part 2023 Russell’s Reserve 10-Year
- 1 part 2022 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel (CNB, 5th-floor, 9 years)
Net proof: 105.6
Tasting notes: savory vanilla, toasted caramel, fragrant oak, cream soda; brown sugar, cola, dark citrus, woody spice; long finish w/ singed cherry, cinnamon, charred oak, clove, faint leather
Looking back, I’ve long had an appreciation for bourbons with proofs in the range of 100-110. While there’s something to be said for barrel-proof whiskey – particularly barrel-proof Wild Turkey – it’s not exactly something many can enjoy frequently. Aside from the increased probability of intoxication, higher-proof whiskeys have a tendency to mask profile subtleties and, given enough time, numb one’s palate. Bourbons in the 100-110 range can often provide a near-barrel-proof experience without nuking your tongue. And don’t get me started on “hazmat” whiskey. If that’s your jam, go for it. But if the most noteworthy attribute of a whiskey is its unusually high ABV, you might want to reconsider what you’re sipping and why you’re sipping it.
As for the Gobble Trinity, I’m perfectly content – in love, even – with its full flavor and ideal intensity. This is a blend I’ll be keeping in regular rotation, at least as long as the individual expressions maintain their current flavor profiles. If and when they change, as they surely will, I’ll simply find another combination of Turkeys to satisfy my curiosity and wonder.
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