The most recent addition to the ever-growing list of single barrel whiskey selections made by our store arrived a few weeks back. This latest member of the barrel selection portfolio is a new version of one of our previous favorite store picks: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon that was personally selected by us at Caputi’s Northtown Wine & Liquor.
This is our second Russell’s single barrel selection in the past few years. The last selection was a home-run of a bourbon that was unanimously praised by our staff and customers alike. With high hopes for repeat success, we made another pick after the first one sold out and patiently awaited its arrival. Well, the wait is over and we’ve wasted little time in undertaking the arduous task of tasting it and writing a review.
Before we get to the review, let’s provide a little backstory and information. First and foremost, Russell’s Reserve is a Wild Turkey product. Located outside Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, the Wild Turkey distillery has been making world renowned bourbon for over 75 years. For 60 of them, Jimmy Russell has been their master distiller. He was the longest-tenured master distiller in the world, and the creator of other well known Wild Turkey products such as Kentucky Spirit and Rare Breed.
Jimmy Russell is a throwback to a previous generation of whiskey distillers, men whose names ring out in the bourbon world with reverence. Men such as Elmer T. Lee, Booker Noe, and Parker Beam. Using techniques and recipes that date to the pre-prohibition era, he is an old school whiskey maker and a true craftsman of the spirit. In the Bourbon Community, the man has achieved legendary status, and is respected and celebrated by peers and competitors alike.
Above all, he’s a loyal and enthusiastic brand ambassador that only last year, at age 82, decided to cede the “Master Distiller” title and responsibilities to his son Eddie, the other half of the Russell’s Reserve brand namesake and a veteran with 35 years experience of his own. This father-son team accounts for over 90 years on the job combined. They are among the best in the business, and both are long time members of the Whiskey Hall of fame. These guys know bourbon, plain and simple. And Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel was a brand they introduced in 2013 as the culmination of their extensive knowledge and know-how. The Russell’s like to say that “Our experience guarantees yours.”
So, usually the process of a barrel selection goes something like this: The distillery sends three or four samples of uncut whiskey straight from their barrels to the retailers to taste, confer on, and select a favorite. Once picked, the barrel of choice is bottled and eventually sent to the store for sale, often times the empty barrel accompanies the order as a displayable show-piece. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get the opportunity to do the selections on site at the distillery (As detailed in a previous post, Four Roses Barrel Selection)
For our previous Russell’s Reserve selection, Jimmy decided to forego our pick and instead bestow upon us a personal selection of his own choosing. A hand-picked barrel from one of his favorite spots in one of his favorite rickhouses. When they do the job long enough, master distillers often find their prized “honey-hole” barrel aging locations hidden among the multitude of aging warehouses that yield the best results. Often due to a combination of factors that determine the outcome of the whiskey (such as temperate, altitude, and moisture). And, as I mentioned, the result was one of our all time favorite single barrel bourbons. Needless to say, we had big shoes to fill this time around if we wanted this selection to live up to the last. After spending some time with this one, I think we did pretty darn good.
Our current selection is from Barrel #97, aged in Rickhouse G, on the 5th floor. All Russell’s single barrels are bottled at 110 proof. The sample we chose was originally 113 proof, so it has only been cut down slightly. It is non-chill filtered (a method of removing residue in the whiskey) to guarantee maximum flavor.
There is no age statement given on the bottle, but the Russell’s Reserve single barrels typically spend somewhere around 8-9 years aging in new American oak. For this whiskey, they use the deepest No. 4 “Alligator” char on the inside of their barrels prior to aging. (For a comprehensive article on barrel charring and the results, check out this article) This is the concise explanation for the nickname:
The No.4 Char is also known as the “alligator char,” since after that duration of charring, the interior of the oak wood staves has the rough, shiny texture of alligator skin. Pretty bad ass nickname.
The result is a beautiful expression of traditional bourbon. In the glass, the whiskey is a deep-copper, almost bronze color. The legs are long and cling to the sides of the glass for an extended period. The nose is big and boozy. Powerful aromas of toffee, cinnamon, and burnt sugar fill your nostrils. There is a real spiciness and woody vanilla essence.
For this tasting, I first tried the bourbon neat, and then added a few drops of water to my glencairn glass. On the palate, you get an unrelenting amount of the notes associated with heavy oak influence. Caramel, toffee, and vanilla assault your palate from the onset. The whisky is dense and full bodied, coating your mouth. Hints of fruit and baking spices are subtle, but present. The finish more than lingers with honey and wood notes sticking around for ages. It’s hot and high in alcohol, but in a good way. This is a complex and intense whiskey that reveals more about itself with every sip. I look forward to re-visiting this a few more times going forward to see what else it reveals.
As they remarked in their introductory press release, this is a “take no prisoners” style bourbon. This whiskey is not necessarily meant for beginners or newcomers to the category, but the flavor profile is quintessential bourbon. If someone asked me “What does bourbon taste like?”, I would show them this (Perhaps a bit watered down). Russell’s Reserve single barrels embody everything great about regular Wild Turkey bourbon, but amplified. The deep char imparts a ton of the oak-centric flavors that the higher proof Wild Turkey offerings are known for and cranks it up a notch.
This is a real winner. One that will be recommended confidently and often to customers going forward. But, don’t forget. Only 175 bottles came out of this barrel. Almost 50 are already gone. That’s the only chance you’ll ever have to taste this unique expression. Each barrel has its own personality, and once its gone its gone for good. Don’t wait too long or you might miss your chance. Cheers!
Here’s a few related pictures, including the barrel, paperwork, and the tasting sample.