The Bourbon Elevator
Hand selecting all the bourbons featured at the Rare Bourbon Bar is a year-round effort. This process involves a collaboration between the Bacon and Bourbon founders (Becca and Denise) and the Mash Bros. (A close-knit group of bourbon enthusiasts who travel, taste and collect bourbons). They spend the year traveling to distilleries, hunting the backroads for small liquor stores, and meeting with private collectors. The phrase, “I know a guy”, slips into most conversations during the hunt.
The Mash Bros were excited about the bourbons coming out of Wild Turkey under the direction of Eddie Russell. So the 2019 spring buying trip to Kentucky centered around a barrel buy with Eddie.
The drive up was full of “research” as the crew stopped at numerous liquor stores along the way from Charleston to Kentucky, noting how the bourbon and whiskey offerings changed from state to state. The first night in Louisville on Bourbon Row was exactly what one might expect; it's a street lined with bars, distilleries, and restaurants centered around the bourbon culture. Those hitting the bourbon trail should definitely include a night in Louisville to soak up the food and the people. The locals have great pride and passion for whiskey and are eager to welcome you to their table.
The following day, the Mash Bros traversed over to the Blue Ridge Mountains to join Becca and Denise in Versaillers, a small community in horse country just outside of Lexington. Nestled in the mountains along a winding road with century-old barns and surrounded by many of the best distilleries, they spent a relaxing evening sitting around a fire while sipping on a warm Kentucky whiskey in preparation for their trip planned to the Wild Turkey Distillery. The big surprise of the night – fireflies. Millions of them dancing over the pastures.
In the morning, the crew rolled up to the distillery bright and early and like all visitors, they were met with the very aromatic and sweet smell of fermenting mash, aging whiskey in barrels and more specifically the “angels share” from those barrels. For a bourbon lover this smell is heaven on earth. Kain remarks on his first visit to the distillery in 2013 when it was just a small house with Jimmy Russell hanging out on the front porch in his rocking chair. Now the distillery has added a new and improved visitors center which is a testament to the changes in demand for bourbon globally. You can also hear the sound of the loud machinery powering the distillation equipment with trucks coming and going with loads of ingredients for the mash bill. However, once in the warehouse where the barreled bourbons rest, the scene becomes quite serene.
During the tour of the Wild Turkey Distillery, the crew notes their favorite part was being able touch, taste, and see every ingredient that goes into making each whiskey and bourbon. Wild Turkey's mash bill has remained a very simple, organic and tasteful recipe, used to produce all their spirits. The feeling derived from the visit feels very warm and homegrown. Even though Wild Turkey is a large corporation, they have been able to maintain the small town vibe. Everyone knowing everyone. They are truly tied to the town of Lawrenceburg, KY.
After the general distillery tour, owner Eddie Russell led the team through their barrel tasting. He begins by giving you a history of the rack house and answering questions. As you step across the threshold of the rack house, the climate and smells change. Your eyes adjust to the light streaming in from the spaces between the slatted walls, filtered by dust and the shadows of the barrels overhead. Eddie grabs a dented copper whiskey thief that belonged to his grandfather and a viscous claw hammer recently purchased from Lowes and the show begins. “Raise your right hand”, he says “and swear you won’t sue me if you are injured or killed during the tour”. Hands are raised and words are mumbled. Becca said, “Then you look down at the giant gaps in the floor beams and understand this won’t be your ordinary barrel pick.” Dodging the gaps, the team grabs glasses as Eddie proceeds to beat the hell out of the first barrel, and the bung goes flying across the room causing a few people to duck. The ancient whisky thief goes in and glasses are held out for the first taste. Eddie takes a taste, makes notes in a well- thumbed spiral notebook and talks about the location, the proof and aging for the barrel. Then everyone follows him on to the next one, mindful of the floor gaps. Again the hammer swings like a crazed road rage moment and everyone studies his face during the tasting. Will his expression give away the one he likes best? It’s at this point that the floor gaps and the smell make sense. You just can’t drink that much high proof bourbon and swallow. Even Eddie has his limits. So by the 4th or 5th barrel the crew is spitting bourbon through the floor boards. “Now we feel like experts”, says Becca. Eddie concludes the first round of tasting with 12 barrels that come from different parts of the rack house and range in age from 6 years to 12 years. After narrowing it down to 5 bourbons the team conducts a blind tasting among their top 5 barrels. Remarkable they all select the same barrel in the final round.
Becca on left and Denise is on the right signing off on Russell's Reserve Single Barrel!
This is Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon.
Barrel #: 1336
Warehouse E Floor 6
108 bottles total from barrel
120.4 proof at selection
110 proof in the bottle
Nice amber in color, medium body, good legs not much sediment from the pour
Warm, pipe tobacco, honey, hint of orange peel and cinnamon
Good semi oily mouthfeel, definite WT profile, baking spices and creme brulee, toasted oak, nice punch from the rye in the mash
Nice medium hug, semi sweet caramel. Like a nice deep breathe in and out of a rickhouse in the fall
As the tasting wraps up, the crew hits Eddie with a few final questions. The rack house includes an elevator just for the bourbon barrels so they can move barrels to age on different floors. Adam Haselkorn (Mash Bros Member) who always asks the best questions, asked Eddie, “Do you ever ride the bourbon elevator.” and Eddies responses “Are you with DHEC? You’re not allowed to ride the bourbon elevator!" to which Adam shot back, “You didn't answer my question!” Eddie just smiled, making everyone laugh.
I asked Kain, who provided me with all of the details of this trip, what his biggest takeaway from this particular tasting was. "The Wild Turkey brand has consistently made great bourbon through the years. Bourbon has gone through different eras of popularity and demand. Through those hills and valleys Wild Turkey, more specifically the Russell’s (Jimmy and Eddie) have not wavered and continued to make whiskey the way they think it tastes best. There's something rock 'n' roll about that approach. It surprises me that some consumers will seek certain bourbons by name rather than grab a bottle of Russell’s Single barrel (or for that matter a bottle of Rare Breed, Kentucky Spirit or many of the other WT offerings) which is usually on par, if not better than some of the best whiskeys on earth. Taking a trip to this distillery is one for the books and something all bourbon lovers should add to their bucket list "
Stay tuned for next week's journey!