Thus far, I’d accompanied New Hampshire Liquor Commission Spirits Buyer Mark Roy on the state’s barrel buying trip to Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve. We’d sampled whiskeys in tasting rooms with their master distillers and made 23 total selections, setting records for most simultaneous buys at both. On the third day, we drove out to Lawrenceburg, KY.
Master Distiller Eddie Russell met our group at the Wild Turkey Visitor Center. After introductions, he said, “You want a tour, or you wanna drink some whiskey?”
Reader, we did not take a tour.
We drove up to Bonded Warehouse A where we were greeted by some barrels that had been pulled for us. We drank bourbon from the barrels via the whiskey thief poured by Eddie Russell himself. We poured our unfinished samples on the floor or out the window.
We discussed aromas and flavors. How a great whiskey takes you on a journey from first taste through the finish. How the finish itself can be a little journey that takes you unexpected places. On the southwest side of the warehouse, we sampled barrels selected to be Russell’s Reserve. On the northeast side, we tasted what would become Kentucky Spirit. Eddie pulled a couple of random barrels off the ricks that even he hadn’t tried. We tried one barrel that was the darkest bourbon any of us had ever seen.
Two tours came through while we sampled. We smiled and raised our glasses to the confused and jealous faces.
When I inquired about a barrel of rye, Eddie told us that they didn’t have the stocks available currently to offer barrels for sale. As a consolation, he let us try what he referred to as his son “Bruce’s favorite rye barrel.” (Bruce Russell, a big rye advocate, and Austin-based brand ambassador, is right about that barrel.) We discussed the return of rye’s popularity. Eddie gives credit to a group of bartenders led by Erick Castro for the return of Wild Turkey 101 Rye. I think the 101 Rye is one of the two best values in straight rye whiskey and it makes regular appearances in my home cocktails.
Eddie told us stories about how both he and Jim Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe weren’t supposed to be distillers, how either they or their parents didn’t want them to have that life. Luckily for us, those plans didn’t pan out.
This was it. This was the experience I had been craving. This was my ideal intersection of bourbon and banter. I didn’t take written notes. I just lived in the whiskey moment. Was this the best whiskey I’d ever had? Maybe. Will it taste the same if I were to try them all again at home? Probably not, but that’s okay. It’s still great bourbon. But it was the experience of being in that warehouse with those people that made it everything.
Barrels purchased: 4 Russell’s Reserve bourbon, 3 Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
Stay tuned for Part III where we visit our final two distilleries in one day. Will I survive to tell the tale? Find out!