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Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel “Swan Song” Review

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel “Swan Song”  Review

The bourbon world can be a cruel mistress sometimes.  Just when you think you’ve found a bottle that has an age statement, high proof and is somewhat easy to find, your best kept secret gets out and your bottles disappear.  We’ve seen this happen with Buffalo Trace products like Weller 12 year, sourced MGP bourbon and rye from various merchant bottlers and most recently, Four Roses Private Selections.  In the blink of an eye, these bottles have either vanished off the shelf or radically increased in price.  God help us when Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels get (even more) found out.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels are one of the few remaining best values in bourbon.  More and more people are finding out about them and stores no longer have them setting on a shelf for months at a time. This could be attributed to the superfan David Jennings, AKA rarebird101 and his online presence that shines a light on the brand that three generations of Russell’s have built.

Rarebird101’s vast knowledge and finely tuned palate for all things Turkey has captured bourbon enthusiasts all over.  And this is not just fluffing up his ego either, because yours truly did not initially find the curb appeal in Wild Turkey product when I started getting into bourbon.  Over the past year, I began to familiarize myself with Wild Turkey products more and more, first with the lower end Wild Turkey 101 and Longbranch, then Rare Breed and finally Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels.  Every step of the way I read David’s thoughts on them and it continued to pique my curiosity enough to buy the next one. 

So when I obtained a bottle of his “Swan Song” pick, I was excited and intrigued as to what I should expect.  Coming from Camp Nelson’s Warehouse A, this barrel was aged just shy of 10 years.  And as always, I sampled this neat and in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The scent of fresh sliced ripe apples fills my nose at first, slowly transitioning to more of a baked apple aroma as I continue to drink this more.  There is some musty wood scents that really speaks to me that this is Wild Turkey in my glass.  It’s just such a classic trait that I’ve found in all of the Wild Turkey products I’ve tasted.  The scent of apples isn’t the only fruit scent on the nose however, because I’m getting some toasted orange peel as well.  For being non-chill filtered and 110 proof, I’m somewhat intrigued by how light the scents come across compared to other RRSiB’s I’ve had.  Notably, I get a small amount of floral notes and some soft baking spices.  Speaking of baking, I do find sweetness in the light caramel sauce and vanilla buttercream frosting scents that abound.

Palate:  When I think of Wild Turkey sweetness, I usually think of a thick caramel.  This pick is different because I am tasting something a lot closer to wildflower honey.  There is also the taste of roasted, oily nuts.  The peppery heat perfectly balances out the sweetness while the apple scents from the nose transfer onto the palate like cinnamon applesauce.  I’m surprised with the amount of oak I can taste for this product.  It’s not so much like a drying oak though, it just has found a way to imprint every other flavor with its effect.  Finally, the rye character in this bourbon becomes more noticeable as I sip with notes of cherry lozenges, ginger jelly candies and a touch of spearmint.

Finish: For as much layers that the palate had, the finish turns down the volume on every profile trait and then cranks the tannins up to 11.  Although nothing is drying or overbearing, the assault of dark chocolate shavings, rich pipe tobacco, oiled leather and weathered oak all collide and make this probably my favorite part about this whole drink.  Ripe apple peelings give the finish a bit of sweetness and fruitiness that make sure that the tannins aren’t the only ones having fun.

Score: 8/10

In David’s review on his website, he describes his reluctance to choose a Warehouse A barrel because it’s never been a favorite of his.  I know which Turkey warehouses I prefer (D and K come to mind) but I have never had a Camp Nelson A before this. 

But with the complexity this barrel showed across the board, I may have to seek another one out just to see if this was an uncommon gem or if I can always find the orchard fruits, dark tannins and rye spices that lurk around the each corner like this bottle had.  If anything, this barrel showcases the mystery and magic that each warehouse on the Wild Turkey grounds imparts on their barrels and why you should explore all of them, even if you think you know your favorites.
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Ratings Breakdown

1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)

2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it

3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)

4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)

5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)

6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)

7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)

8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)

9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)

10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)

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