I think that one of the coolest bourbon trends in recent years are all of the efforts by enthusiasts to understand how different warehouse construction and location impact maturation. We’ve seen this with Heaven Hill enthusiasts (and Parker Beam) preferring the aging warehouses at Deatsville, Four Roses enthusiasts idolizing Warehouse M and even yours truly doing a deep dive of all the Brown-Forman warehouses in Kentucky. But none may be more scrutinized than the warehouses (err, rickhouses) at Wild Turkey.
Nobody has educated us more on these differences than the head turkey himself, David Jennings. It is because of his relentless pursuit that we have access to the names and locations of them. He even goes on to explain in detail what he thinks the differences in construction each one will impart into the liquid. I have no reason to believe those aren’t true.
Thankfully, somebody high up at Wild Turkey recognized the consumer fascination with their warehouses and decided to create a new label that celebrates the differences between them – one rickhouse at a time. So in 2022 Wild Turkey launched the first of what I can only assume are going to be dozens of releases of “Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse.” And they picked the perfect one to start with: Camp Nelson Rickhouse C. That’s because Rickhouse C was decommissioned (but not torn down) shortly before the release, instantly drawing attention to the fact that some of these releases have the very real possibility of never being duplicated again.
The History of Camp Nelson
It might be surprising to some, but Wild Turkey did not build the warehouses at Camp Nelson. They leased (and later purchased) the campus in the 1990’s from the Canada Dry company who was aging their own bourbon there (and perhaps some Stitzel-Weller too). But it wasn’t Canada Dry who had them built either. It was the company that they purchased them from in 1959: Kentucky River Distillery, Inc.
Not familiar with Kentucky River Distillery? Maybe you have heard of the other name they were associated with: E.J. Curley. The old distillery for E.J. Curley was situated down the road from them on the banks of the Kentucky River. The rickhouses were slightly up the road on higher ground. They were framed with wood and clad in tin (even though they’re referred to as “ironclad”) and remain that way today.
These warehouses were seven stories tall and display some interesting characteristics. David Jennings noted that Camp Nelson’s E and F rickhouses are lower in elevation than the other four. They’re also closer to a bend in the Kentucky River. This allows them to have access to increased amounts of air circulation due to that dynamic environment. That air circulation also impacts the barrels inside of the rickhouses too. It is widely accepted that barrels need proper air circulation to age better which is why a lot of palletized warehouses have Big Ass Fans installed on the ceilings.
What makes Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse Camp Nelson F unique?
Just like the Rickhouse C release last year, the barrels used here were chosen by Eddie Russell. However, unlike the Rickhouse C release – which had barrels plucked from the third and fourth floors – Rickhouse F barrels were picked from the fourth and fifth floors. This might explain the 5 proof point difference between the two.
The Camp Nelson F and Camp Nelson C release share a similarity in the age of the barrels which is said to be over 10 years old. I’ve read rumors that they top out at 15 – making them almost as mature as Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old releases (which are usually a combination of 13 and 18 year old barrels). However, Camp Nelson F has fallen victim to the wild price increases mandated by Campari and now carries an MSRP of $300 instead of $250. Yowzers!
As a special twist for this review, I’m going to give you my tasting notes that I recorded while drinking this blind. I’ve had other occasions to drink this with the full knowledge of what it was, but I thought this would be more interesting. I’m also going to include a brief summary of some of the members of the Neat Drinker’s Association (NDA for short) because this was one of the bottles graciously donated by a member for our 2023 Advent Calendar (thanks Jake!). So without further ado, let’s get down to tasting! Remember, this bottle was tasted blind, neat and in a glencairn.
Nose (Blind): This smells great right away. It is rich and “desserty” with loads of caramel and vanilla. There are candied citrus zest pieces and pecan praline scents throughout. Baking spices are strong with cinnamon and clove shining throughout. While I think that everything is generally right where it should be, I did make a note that the nose – as a whole – is somewhat simple. That’s only because I was expecting something unusual to jump out.
Palate (Blind): My first impressions are of a much spicier whiskey than I was expecting based off of the nose. I immediately begin to wonder if I’m drinking a rye whiskey. There is a lot of cinnamon on the tongue and the herbal flavors stick out to me. But the more I drink it, the more I’m finding familiar bourbon notes too like caramel sauce, vanilla, cherry and citrus peel. I found the oak and tobacco notes to be aged enough to guess this was a bourbon somewhere between 9 and 14 years old (you’ll see why I narrowed it down to those ages in a minute)
Finish (Blind): I found that after the sip was complete, a lot of the heavy rye notes begin to disappear and the whole experience turns sweeter. Baking spices and fruit remain more or less the same level of impact that they had on the palate. This is a very long finish and the tannins really make a show of the age.
First, a quick opinion about this Single Rickhouse release of Camp Nelson F: it rocked! It had everything I wanted in a Turkey product and was even extra-rye forward (which I am a fan of). There was a lot of similarities between it and my favorite Turkey product from the past few years: Master’s Keep Unforgotten. You’ll see why in a few moments. But suffice to say, this release seems well worth the money if you’re a Wild Turkey fan. I can’t believe so many people are selling theirs on the secondary market.
What did the Neat Drinker’s Association think?
In the end, we had to list our final guesses to the group. Some members chose to elaborate on how they arrived at their conclusion and some would just come right out and guess without saying why they thought that.
My own notes included being torn between whether or not this was a rye whiskey or a bourbon. There was enough spice characteristics that made me question myself over and over. So I decided to take a middle-of-the-road approach and guess that it was a Bourye. A lot of signs were pointing to it being a Wild Turkey product, so I guessed it was Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Unforgotten – the 9 to 14 year old blend of bourbon and rye barrels bottled at 105 proof. Upon reveal, I was tied for closest guess with Nish who had guessed this was Russell’s Reserve 13.
Here is a wrap up of the final guesses. Remember that there were 15 of us who all sampled this blind.
5 members thought this was a Heaven Hill product. 3 members guessed Wild Turkey. 3 members guessed Buffalo Trace. Then there was one guess each for Jim Beam, Willett, MGP (rye) and a random wheated bourbon. I have always said that Beam, Turkey and Heaven Hill have a nuttiness that kind of ties them all together. I’m not saying they’re all the same, but once I find it, I usually narrow down my blinds to one of those three.
Here are some of the primary tasting notes that were picked out. Remember, this out of 15 members notes. 10 members described finding some sort of sweetness. It was a three way tie between honey, butterscotch or brown sugar. 9 members found oak/woody notes. 8 members found nutty notes. 7 members found spice notes. 6 members picked out a fruit note. So what we can deduce from this is that the bourbon leaned towards a sweet, oaky, nutty and spicy profile. Does that sound like Turkey to you?
No review would be complete without a look at the scores. In this case, out of 15 American Whiskies that were submitted (all with a minimum retail or secondary price of $250), Jake’s Camp Nelson F submission placed first with an average score of 9.01 out of 10! The top score awarded was a 9.8/10 and the lowest was a 7.7/10. Even with the top and bottom score removed, the average score was still an incredible 8.95/10 which proves that this was a well-loved product.
And just because I figured you’d ask, here’s the breakdown of the 15 bottles that were submitted in order from best ranked to worst ranked
- Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse Camp Nelson F
- Wild Turkey Master Distiller Selection 14 year export (2006)
- THH 2014
- Old Grand Dad BiB from 1960-65
- Old Fitzgerald Decanter 13yr BiB
- Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Voyage
- Smoke Wagon 9yr “Hot N’ Spicy” 123.54 proof
- Orphan Barrel Barterhouse 20 Year
- OFBB 2020
- Stagg Jr SiB Pick Baron Pick 125.4 proof
- That Boutiquey Whiskey Company 24 Year Pre-Fire Heaven Hill
- Old Forester 150th Anniversary Batch 3
- Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 20 Year Corn Whiskey
- Willett Family Estate Single Barrel 7 Year Bourbon
- Lock Stock and Barrel 21 Year Rye Whiskey
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