Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

I’m four-fifths of the way through the week and before the night is over I will have booked twice the billable hours of a typical week. Needless to say, this has been a hellish week for me on the work front. I’m getting to work on lots of fun projects, but free-time is in short supply. So since blogging doesn’t pay the bills nearly as well as working does, I’ll need to keep this short was well.

I tend to like whiskey put out by Wild Turkey. This is no secret. I tend to like Rye whiskey. This is also no secret. So when I saw a rye whiskey on the shelf produced by Wild Turkey, that I hadn’t yet had, I felt the need to buy it on the spot. And buy it I did. 

This is Russell’s Reserve Rye Single Barrel. It is a non-chill filtered rye whiskey bottled at 52% ABV. And it is delicious.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

Purchase Info: $59.99 for a 750ml bottle at South Lyndale Liquors, Minneapolis, MN

Details: 52% ABV. 

Nose: Tobacco, mint, Bazooka Joe bubble gum and oak

Mouth: Nice and spicy. Bubble gum, mint, baking spices, vanilla, black pepper and oak

Finish: Long and warm with lingering vanilla, baking spices and just the faintest hint of pickle.

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Thoughts: This is an extremely tasty rye. It’s spicy and has enough sweetness to balance that. It has a wonderful mouthfeel. It pairs fantastically with a well aged cheddar. I can find no faults with the whiskey and look forward to buying another bottle. 

I can however find faults with the packaging. This is a single barrel whiskey. And a single barrel whiskey could allow the consumer the opportunity to learn a little something about the whiskey that they are buying. Is it older than the typical release? Was is aged in a specific place that seems to help create notes they like? What barrel did it come from in case they like it and want another of the same one? The packaging tells you none of that. It tells you how long Eddie and Jimmy have been working at the distillery, but not how long the whiskey was aged. It tells you it’s a single barrel, but not which barrel it came from. One bottle looks just like the next even though the whiskey inside might taste different. It’s a small thing, but for $60, the small things are sort of what you are paying for.

That said, I’ll buy another. It’s too tasty not to. 


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Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel

This week I found myself on a different side of the bourbon zeitgeist than usual. What I thought was good and interesting was viewed by many as controversial and in poor taste. I had people I respect tell me they disagreed with me. I had people I don't respect (or even know) call me out and to tell me how wrong I was to donate to a cause I believe in. But here's the thing, I really don't let what others think inform what I think is good. And if I feel like doing something with my money, I'll do so.

See, I put my money where my mouth is. I'm not just some guy sucking at the teat of big whiskey pretending to be a critic. Well, ok, maybe I am some of that. You see I am just some guy. And you could say that by doing reviews I do pretend to be a critic. I'm not a critic. I'm an enthusiast. I'm a fan. I love the flavors, the aromas, the liquid, the personalities and the history. I even love some of the companies. When I tell you what I think about things, sometimes I gush where others would be measured and professional. This happens because I seriously love bourbon. There are two people in the world that I have gone out of my way to get autographs from. Both make bourbon. One I wrote about earlier this week and the other is Jimmy Russell. 

Jimmy Russell is a Master Distiller at Wild Turkey. He is one of the most amazingly fun people I've ever talked with. I'm a fan of his and of Wild Turkey. But even though I'm a fan, that doesn't mean I've tried everything they've put out. Somewhere along the way I missed picking up the single barrel product they put out, Kentucky Spirit. 

Single barrel products are hit or miss. They are what many enthusiasts turn to when they've gotten bored of the regular releases. And sometimes they are really, really good. Other times they are less than perfect and show why most companies mix together many barrels when they put out their product.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel

Purchase Info: $38.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.

Details: Bottled on December 8, 2015. Barrel# 2727, Warehouse O, Rick 2. 50.5% ABV

Nose: Fruit notes of pear and cherry, the stick of gum from an old baseball card pack (kind of paper and gum mixed...yes, I'm old, shut up) and freshly tilled earth.

Mouth: Hot with a sharp alcohol bite on the initial sip. After that I get typical bourbon notes of caramel, vanilla and oak.

Finish: The finish brings back the fruit and bubble gum notes from the nose. There is a nice heat that lasts a while.

A smile because I like this.

Thoughts: This is tasty and I do like it but for the price I would probably buy either my beloved 101 or if I wanted something a bit higher up the flavor scale, Rare Breed.


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A Tale of Two (Wild) Turkeys

A few weeks ago I ran across something a little too good to pass up. I was out antiquing and found a seller who had a bunch of miniature liquor bottles for sale. Full, sealed bottles. They were only available as a set so I took the entire lot. Out of that lot I got three bourbons of varying antiquity. A early 1970s IW Harper, a Blanton’s (can’t be older than the early-mid 1980s when the brand debuted) and the one I was most excited about a Wild Turkey from 1979. 

Since I am a lover of most things Wild Turkey, and constantly have a bottle of 101 on my shelf, I thought it might be fun to taste this along side of the current release. The 1979 version is eight years old and both are the 50.5% ABV that Wild Turkey built their reputation on. I was initially going to do the comparison blind. Unfortunately for the plan (but fortunately for me) the 1979 juice was so much darker that I had no trouble picking out which was which. So I decided to just taste them side-by-side and compare them that way. 

The 1979 pour needed a lot of time to breathe before we got down to business. Upon pouring it was very strong with the scent of nail polish remover. After about a half hour or so that dissipated and instead there were thick notes of maple, brown sugar and oak with a lovely fruitiness underneath. By way of comparison, I found the 2016 pour presenting an anise note that I had never picked up in it before. 

Back to the 1979. The mouth had a nice thick mouthfeel with herbal hints of mint, spice, brown sugar and oak. It reminded me very much of a barrel proof Four Roses Q yeast bourbon. The finish was warm and long. 

Moving over to the 2016, the mouthfeel was thinner but retains a nice velvety texture. There were fewer sweet candy flavors from the oak and the rye flavors were more pronounced. The finish was warm and while shorter than the 1979, was still of decent length. 

I found this to be a fascinating process. While I would have said that the 1979 pour was tasty if tasting it by itself, I don’t know that I would have had quite as much fun if I hadn’t had the current release to contrast it off of. And as for the current release, I might not have found the interesting anise notes in the nose or realized how pronounced the rye notes were on the palate if I hadn’t had the older one to contrast it with. Overall this was just fun. And honestly, isn’t that why we do this?


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2016, Round 1: Evan Williams 1783 vs. Wild Turkey

Round 1c of the 2016 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Number 2 seed Evan Williams 1783 versus Number 3 seed Wild Turkey. 

Evan Williams 1783 is a product of Heaven Hill Brands. Heaven Hill tells us that it is a small batch version of Evan Williams made from only 80 barrels in a batch and that it is “extra aged.” Of course there is no hint as to what that actually means, but we can assume they are claiming a woodier profile with a few more of the complexities of flavor that get smoothed out by blending a larger batch of barrels together into Evan Williams Black. It is bottled at 86 proof. 

Wild Turkey until recently was known as Wild Turkey 81 proof. It might be a fairly smart rebrand since it before the rebrand they were essentially saying “Wild Turkey Weaker Edition.” Not a sentiment that most companies would like for their products. Of course it also positions Wild Turkey 101 as the line extension…meaning it may not be the main priority moving forward? Speculation on my part, of course. I’d never had Wild Turkey 81 and I tend to be a Wild Turkey fanboy so I’m thankful for the “Total Wine Effect” for bringing this into the price range.

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Evan Williams 1873 

Purchase Info: $19.99 for a 1 L bottle at MGM Wine and Spirits, Burnsville, MN

Details: 43% ABV, No age statement

Produced by: Heaven Hill Brands

Nose: Alcohol hits you initially. After it dissipates I get grain, mint, vanilla, oak and a hint of ripe fruit.

Mouth: Hot, spicy and sweet on entry. Sweet grains, caramel and cloves.

Finish: Gentle burn that last a nice while. Lingering fruit, cloves and sweetness.

Thoughts: “Good solid bourbon that hits all the “bourbon” notes I want it to.”

Wild Turkey

Purchase Info: $12.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN*

Details: 40.5% ABV, No Age Statement

Produced by: Wild Turkey

Nose: Dusty oak like the inside of a rick house. Cotton candy sweetness. A hint of fruit.

Mouth: Gentle and drying. Sweet apple, citrus, white sugar and a hint of mint.

Finish: Short, gentle finish. Lingering citrus, apple and baking spices.

Thoughts: “While there is nothing wrong with this, it’s just a bit too gentle for what I’m looking for in a bourbon.”

Who wins?

Like all of them so far, this is a close one. The Evan Williams 1783 gives you a better overall experience. The flavors of the Wild Turkey would be better if there was a little more heat. Honestly I’m shocked. I wouldn’t have expected anything with the Wild Turkey name on it to be so gentle. That said, I’m kinda glad I now know I can pick up a bottle of the Evan Williams 1783 for less than $20. Thanks again Total Wine Effect!


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2016: The Brackets

Its that time of year again. The time of year when in the spirit of the season, America pretends to enjoy college basketball. The time when intraoffice gambling on the backs of unpaid athletes is not only condoned, but practically expected. The time when paper or online brackets are filled, mostly with guesses because what normal person really knows what the hell a Gonzaga is anyway. 

I’m not immune to the lure. But instead of trying to figure out whether a Holy Cross can beat a Southern University, I’d rather spend my time figuring out if I like Evan Williams 1783 or Wild Turkey 81 proof better. Because honestly I really don’t like basketball. Plus I work out of my home so I have no coworkers with whom to pretend that I care whether an FGCU wins or not.

Because I am a frugal person, this annual competition started out as a way to find new inexpensive bourbons with which to drown my sorrows as I waited for winter to end. But with both winters and inexpensive bourbons that I haven’t tried are becoming increasingly rare, I actually was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find enough bourbons to qualify this year. 

But there is good news frugal fans of bourbon! Minnesota is smack dab in the middle of the Total Wine effect. Items that didn’t qualify in years past are now priced within reach due to the increased price competition and items that were intended to be store exclusives are now being stocked on store shelves across the Metro. Prices are dropping and selection is rising. And this makes this year’s brackets a little more interesting than normal.

As it has been a year since we did this last, let’s go over the guidelines for selection: 

  1. I'm defining Bottom-Shelf as under $20 per liter or $15 per 750 mL bottle.
  2. It must be Straight Bourbon
  3. It must be available in Minnesota
  4. I am hoping to try new things so when possible, I looked for things I hadn’t reviewed before.

After the bottles were purchased here are the guidelines I used to seed them. 

  1. Previous Winners. JW Dant Bottled in Bond won two years ago and Fighting Cock won last year year so they get an automatic #1 seed.
  2. Stated (or assumed age). Straight bourbon has to be at least two years old. But unless it is under four years old you don’t have to put an age on it. So if someone does it’s either a good thing or a bad thing. I like to reward good things and punish bad things.
  3. Proof. Higher proof often equals better flavor. Not always, but it can be a good rule of thumb.
  4. Minimize corporate cousins. I figured I could introduce a little more difference into each initial pairing if they didn’t come off the same still, or at the very least wasn’t sold by the same company. Since four of these are from Heaven Hill and two are originally from Sazerac, it's a guideline, not a hard rule, and is overridden by the above guidelines.

So who are the contestants? Well, as mentioned above, Fighting Cock and JW Dant are our return winners so they get the number one seeds in each division. There were no age stated bottles this year so that one has been set aside, though I did knock Very Old Barton down a notch for their misleading “6.” So the next two highest proof bottles are Evan Williams 1783 and Very Old Barton 6 are both 86 proof and they become the number 2 seeds. After that the newly renamed Wild Turkey bourbon is 81 proof so it becomes our first 3 seed. The last three were dropped in what I thought might be an order to provide the most interesting match ups with Jim Beam White becoming the last 3 three seed going against Barton while Buckhorn (a Total Wine “exclusive” from Buffalo Trace) and Heaven Hill’s Blue State picking up the slack as 4 seeds.

Due to the Total Wine effect, this was an interesting year. Stay tuned.


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