Cigar Aficionado

First Taste—Russell's Reserve Single Barrel

Even while the Bourbon-lover world is reeling at the news that Maker’s Mark has dropped its alcohol level, the latest Russell’s Reserve is hitting the market at a supercharged 110 proof.

The new single-barrel whiskey, made by Wild Turkey, has also not been chill-filtered. This is the second foray by Wild Turkey into the single-barrel arena. The company has long made Kentucky Spirit at the 101-proof level, which longtime master distiller Jimmy Russell has said represents an optimal alcohol percentage (50.5 percent by volume). However, the Russell’s Reserve line that he has developed with his son and heir apparent Eddie has come in at different proofs. The initial release, a 10-year-old Bourbon, and the six-year-old rye are both set at 90 proof. None of the Russell’s Reserve products mention Wild Turkey on the label, although the company has been transparent about its origin: the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

While an interview with the creators could not yet be arranged, the company, Austin Nichols, a subsidiary of Campari, has released some information about the whiskey. It is described as a collaboration of the father-and-son Russell team, who chose barrels for their quality from the center floors of the aging warehouses. Those locations are often thought to provide the best climate conditions for Bourbon maturation. Temperatures can differ quite a bit from floor to floor during the summer in the multistory maturation facilities called “rickhouses.” Booker’s Bourbon, a Jim Beam product, is also sourced from similar locations. Other superpremiums, such as Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, come from higher floors, however.

This is Wild Turkey’s first unfiltered Bourbon. The chill-filtering process is used to remove fat compounds from whiskey that form in the cold. It is done for cosmetic reasons. The liquid is chilled and strained, so that it does not fog up during shipping or when ice is added. In recent years, a trend to forgoing that process has developed as enthusiasts believe it can rob whiskey of flavor.

Single-barrel Bourbons are, as the name suggests, the products of a solitary cask. Most whiskeys are blended from many casks with the aim to reproducing the exact same flavor batch after batch. While single barrels are chosen with an aim toward consistency, the product is almost guaranteed to vary slightly from batch to batch. The Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel does not provide a barrel number—as is sometimes done in that genre—nor any information regarding age. It does, however, contain the words “small batch,” which seem almost redundant as a single barrel is as about as small as a batch can be.

But we’ll not quibble over semantics. The Bourbon is fantastic.

(Cigar pairings notes on next page)

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (110 proof, or 55 percent alcohol by volume, $49.99 for a 750-ml bottle)

APPEARANCE: Deep, lush amber color in keeping with the thick No. 4 “alligator” char, which is a Wild Turkey hallmark, and the high proof, which indicates less to almost no dilution with water. Legs are firm, slow and fat.

NOSE: The caramel, toffee and vanilla you’d expect from a big, bold Bourbon like this are all there, but also a candied aroma that’s honeyed, floral and fruity.

PALATE: Explosive in the mouth. A big burst of sweetness, hard candy, orange and pear is countered by a transition to savory flavors, caramel, nougat and toffee. Then comes a woody, smoky phase. This whiskey offers a virtual panorama of flavors with paramount complexity and the sense that it is shifting gears, one after the other.

FINISH: A very long pleasant end. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact finish as most of the tasting notes of the palate come back for an encore, but as you let the experience fade you’ll be feed constant reminders. Risk the clouds that adding a chunk of ice will bring to this non-chill-filtered Bourbon and you’ll be rewarded further.

CIGAR PAIRING: Fuente Fuente OpusX Forbidden X (5 inches by 50 ring gauge, unrated) A cigar that warms up to quite savory, meaty flavors with a hint of leather, it transforms with the whiskey, which searches out sweet and fruity qualities in the tobacco. The Forbidden X also enhances and hastens that second wave of toastiness in the Russell’s Reserve.

Padrón Family Reserve No. 45 Maduro (6 inches by 52 ring gauge, $25, 95 points, Cigar of the Year 2009) A lot of tobacco is packed into this dark, pressed, solid cigar, yet it draws perfectly, delivering a rich smoke full of hearty, resonant coffee, cocoa and spice flavors that saturate the palate. The nutty notes of this cigar mesh almost perfectly with the floral and fruity effects of the whiskey, creating the sense of a chocolate confection of great complexity. The rich woodiness of the Russell’s is greatly enhanced with the sense of walnuts and sweetness of the Padrón is teased out. As with many great pairing, it is sometimes hard to tell which component, the cigar or the spirit, is chipping into the overall experience.

"Sounds like I need to get a bottle of this. Great review" —February 16, 2013 20:00 PM