For over 60 years in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Wild Turkey and the Russell family have been providing their take of what straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense whiskey should be. I personally tend to agree with most things the state of Kentucky produces (The Wildcats, KFC, The Derby….KFC), but more on that in our upcoming #WAWhiskyTrail NYC… Now, sure I could just tell you about how great the Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Rye, Single Barrel and Single Barrel Rye are, or all about the flavors and notes etc., but this is W+A and we tend to do things a little differently.
This go round I was lucky enough (I say “lucky” because I still feel like the new kid who keeps getting invited to the cool people parties) to attend an invite only tasting held at Rye Restaurant, in their unassuming, speakeasy-styled, underground space in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. As the first drinks were handed out and the conversations got going, it was easy to realize that the more important story to tell here was about the family behind the brand. That way you get an understanding of what makes this bourbon worth trying over some others.
Serving as our whiskey aficionado and narrator of all things Russell’s Reserve, was Bruce Russell. Bruce is the third generation of the Russell family, which has over 80 collective years of knowledge steeped in tradition, craftsmanship and the production of quality bourbon. His father, Eddie Russell, was recently named master distiller in his own right, after more than 35 years of continuously working on improving the craft of whiskey making. But the true patriarch of the family is Jimmy Russell, who’s been at the helm of the Wild Turkey Distillery since 1954. This makes him the longest-tenured active master distiller. The result? He and his son are the only active father-and-son duo of bourbon master distillers in the world. With this wealth of knowledge (and alcohol) at hand, one can only imagine the amount of history that comes with each bottle they produce. Those of us present were lucky to try a few.
While I was purely entertained by stories of a young “Grandpa” roaming through the distillery after conducting hours of “research” on every barrel, or about how a fire and a few surviving barrels would later hold the key to making a Master’s Keep, I was even more intrigued with the actual making of the whiskey.
The Single Barrel Bourbon, for example, has been said to be very temperamental, and changes its mood depending on the weather… literally. Annually made, its age can vary from anywhere between 8.5 to 12 years depending on the temperature level where the barrels are stored. As the first produced non-chilled filtered whiskey for Russell’s Reserve, it tends to retain more of the out-of-the-barrel flavor and chewy texture.
If Bourbon is considered the king of Kentucky, historically, Rye would be seen as the court jester. But for those who are still stuck in prohibition, the jokes on you. For the past 5 to 10 years there has been a strong uprising in the popularity of Rye whiskey, and Russell’s Reserve has played a strong role in championing it. Their soon to be released Single Barrel Rye is one of the reasons why. Their Rye goes through a similar non-chilled filtered process as the Single Barrel bourbon, but the proof is reduced from 110 to 104 because “it just taste good there”. The taste, although very smooth throughout, still carries with it a sharp finality and bitterness. How bitter? Kind of like how you would feel if the girl you dumped in high school grew up to be Gisele… and now you’re not a Patriots fan.
So in the end, there is much to try and to discover when it comes to Russell’s Reserve, beyond what’s in the bottle. Although I must admit, I never heard of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky before, I now consider it to be home of The White House of Bourbon. Plan your visits accordingly.