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Whiskey Barons “Old Ripy” Batch #1 Review

Whiskey Barons “Old Ripy” Batch #1 Review

This is the first of three “Whisky Barons Collection” reviews. Read the rest of the story by clicking on the links for Bond & Lillard and W.B. Saffell when you’re done!

In December 2023, cases of Old Ripy, Bond & Lillard and W.B. Saffell began to appear on shelves again around Indianapolis. After talking to multiple groups in different states, I realized this phenomenon wasn’t centered solely in the Hoosier State, they were popping up all over the place. I realized I had only reviewed one of the three bottles from this misunderstood series, so I decided to buy the rest to complete reviews on the trio.

Campari dedicates their new line of bourbon to Wild Turkey’s past

This review kicks off the first bottle of the series: Old Ripy. It was released in early 2017. That was almost a full year after the series was first hinted by Eddie Russell. The first thing that shocked most enthusiasts was the fact that the bottles were half the size of standard bottles – 375ml – yet the price was basically that of a full sized bottle at $49.99.

But Campari did something strange with the press release surrounding this bottle (and Bond and Lillard); they continually pointed out that Jimmy and Eddie Russell had no part in the creation of this bottle. This odd language opened up a whole world of conspiracies among the enthusiast community. Was it a different mash bill? Was it made at a different distillery? Was it even Wild Turkey bourbon?

Setting the record straight on Old Ripy and the Whiskey Barons Series

Even in 2024, there isn’t much information or reviews that expand on these wild theories. But I’ve managed to compile a few answers during my searches to set the record straight. I’ve decided to lay them out in a Question & Answer format:

Q: If the Russell’s didn’t have any hand in creating Old Ripy, then who did?

A: First off, based on the link I provided above, it does sound like Eddie was involved. He was tasting some “old brands” (presumably the brands that the distillery made before it was Wild Turkey) and wanted to do some limited runs to get close to the taste of them. However, this link quotes a Campari rep that claims that Campari conferred with T.B. Ripy IV and Tom Ripy on the history of the family and any other historical facts they could pass down about the history of the original T.B. Ripy.

But with the Russell’s seemingly out of the picture, who put the blend together? Apparently two Campari employees named Norm Matella (Ph. D) and Robin Coupar. They were fascinated by the history of distilleries in Anderson County (where the WT campus is located) before Prohibition and wanted to make a product that celebrated this heritage. The duo consulted historical archives and documents and then experimented with different blends to create a product that was as close as possible to the original Old Ripy whiskey.

Q: Is this Wild Turkey bourbon?

A: Yes, everything points to it being bourbon distilled and aged at the Wild Turkey Distillery. I think a big reason skeptics want to believe it’s not is because the labels don’t use the words “Wild Turkey” on it. Also, the press release reads like it’s a product that is trying to distance itself from the Russell’s. Campari might have not wanted to put the Wild Turkey name on it and risk potential buyers passing it up with the excuse “it’s just another Wild Turkey product.”

Q: Is Old Ripy made with a different mash bill?

A: As far as I can tell, there’s no evidence that Wild Turkey and the Russell’s have ever distilled a bourbon recipe that’s anything other than the famous 75/13/12 mash bill. That likely hasn’t changed for Old Ripy. Interestingly, one piece of literature that came with the Whiskey Barons series was that the barrels were “aged in warehouses made of timber.” This points to the barrels in this release likely coming from some of the original warehouses at Tyrone (main campus). Camp Nelson and McBrayer campuses both have warehouses clad in metal.

What is the makeup of Old Ripy bourbon?

Initial press release information stated that Old Ripy was a bourbon made from 8 and 12 year old bourbons. That is usually a recipe for success when it comes to Wild Turkey. And based on the timeline of when this was created, that would mean all of the bourbon for this release was distilled on the old column still which – ironically – was sometimes referred to as the Old Ripy still.

Additionally, the 12 year old component would was more than likely from barrels that were distilled in that weird period of time between 2004 and 2006 when Wild Turkey’s barrel entry proof was 110 proof. This was bumped up to 115 proof (where it is today) after 2006.

I did find one reviewer who makes the claim that while Old Ripy contains a majority of 8 and 12 year old barrels, it was also blended with a small amount of 6-year-old barrels. Nobody else has said anything like that, so either he has an inside track to information that nobody else has or he’s mistaking it for the W.B. Saffell release.

The best news about Old Ripy is that it’s non-chill filtered and bottled at a respectable 104 proof. The former is a big deal among Wild Turkey enthusiasts who pine over the old days when almost all bottles from their favorite brand were non-chill filtered. In modern times, it is believed to be that unless a WT carries the designation of “non-chill filtered,” then it definitely has been.

Now that you know everything there is to know about this bottle, how does it taste? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: This smells nothing like a Wild Turkey product. The opening scents center around orchard and citrus fruit. After that, there’s a burst of cinnamon, molasses cookies and rye spice (that’s also a little bit herbal). Actually, the hefty rye spice character is a trait I’ve found in older Wild Turkey products, so maybe it’s not totally foreign here. Only later do I find bolder, more tannic notes like pipe tobacco and Pledge wood cleaner. Still, it’s not the sweet, nutty nose packed with bold spices that I’d typically find.

Palate: Strangely, it is the age of those 12 year old barrels that make the first impression once I taste the bourbon. But it’s somewhat ruined by a thin viscosity and astringent taste. After that, it’s notes that I wouldn’t ever associate with Wild Turkey bourbon like blanched almonds, iced cookies and ginger root. The ginger root note plays with the licorice and cinnamon to give the palate a distinctively rye-forward flavor. There’s even lemon and grapefruit – two fruits that definitely give off rye vibes – to complete the cast. Oddly, as the session goes on, any oak sensations I was finding have begun to morph into a taste I can only associate with having just smoked a cigarette. Strange.

Finish: A disappointingly short finish. The citrus flavors are first to go and then I’m left with bitter oak and ash. There are more molasses cookies with vanilla and cinnamon, but they’re not as impactful as I’d want them to be. Ginger root adds a little bit of zing to an otherwise flat finish. I just wish there was more to see here.

Score: 5.9/10

If I didn’t know this was a bourbon made with Wild Turkey bourbon, I would have never guessed it. It’s very far away from tasting anything like one of their standard offerings. And maybe that’s what Campari was aiming for here – why make a bourbon that tastes like everything else? But maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t slap a Wild Turkey name to this bottle because – in short – it’s pretty lackluster.

I can taste a lot of classic bourbon flavors that sound really good if you were to find them in your glass, but they aren’t properly supported by a full body and oak. Instead, the whole experience can be summed up as thin with unbalanced flavors. This is all strange to me because it seemed like a non-chill filtered bourbon like this wouldn’t have those problems; especially one that was made from decently aged barrels.

Final Thoughts

This is 2024, so it’s not like I didn’t know that this bourbon was widely panned before I bought it. Still, I guess my curiosity got the best of me. I was a sucker for the cool packaging and for wanting to complete the collection. I assume most people who bought this bottle well after 2017 were in the same boat. But if you are like me and you’re thinking “what could it hurt if I buy this?” then let me just say that there are better ways to spend $50+. It’s just too bad it took me a couple sips to figure that out.

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