There’s no shortage of reasons why dyed-in-the-wool American whiskey geeks—especially people who got into the bourbon world before the hype cycle came to entirely revolve around Buffalo Trace—tend to have a great fondness for Wild Turkey. They make great bourbon and rye whiskey, for one, with a house style that arguably makes Wild Turkey (and Russell’s Reserve by extension) the most unique of the major, old school Kentucky bourbon distilleries at a glance. They also have a reputation for offering some of the best pure value on the whiskey shelf, from stalwarts like Wild Turkey 101, to accessible cask strength bottles such as Rare Breed. By and large, WT tends to keep itself clear of many of the nitpicks that bother whiskey geeks, and they’re understandably beloved for it.
This newest limited release, however, is a whole new beast in a few key ways. The first in a new series of “Single Rickhouse” selections, Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse (Camp Nelson C) contains some of the last bourbon from a decommissioned rickhouse that is no more, allowing a rare look at Turkey history. But it also feels like a bit of a sobering warning from the Campari-owned company, with an eye-popping $250 price tag that suggests Wild Turkey has perhaps had enough of producing critically acclaimed products that resell for 10 times their MSRP on the secondary market. This bottle is unique in several ways, yes. But could anything be unique enough to justify this kind of unprecedented MSRP? We’ll have to taste and see.
Looking at other recent Turkey releases of great acclaim, though, it’s hard to work out the logic here. Russell’s Reserve 13 Year debuted last year to huge acclaim, and it proved to be one of my favorite overall whiskeys of 2021. But even that 13-year-old, age-stated brand was initially released at an MSRP of just $70, eventually bumped up to $100 on a second batch. Likewise, even the Master’s Keep releases of the last few years have only gone as high as $175, and there were no shortage of folks complaining about that. How does one get another $75 higher? It’s a quantum leap in terms of pricing, and if there’s something that specifically justifies it—other than the rarity of the liquid, which has no age statement—the marketing simply hasn’t done a good enough job of explaining or highlighting it.
Say that the MSRP is only a function of rarity, though—does that mean that future Single Rickhouse releases from rickhouses that haven’t been decommissioned would be dramatically more affordable? It certainly seems like that should logically be the case, but does it seem like how Campari would launch a new product series? Does it seem likely they have a $250 first release, and then transition to $100 bottles on the second? If all of these bottles still sell out, and consumers are still successful in flipping them for twice MSRP or more, then won’t Campari and co. have every reason in the world to come up with reasons to keep selling at the $250 price point?
This isn’t really the topic I’d like to be discussing when it comes to this release, so I’ll leave it at that. Regardless, any Turkey fan will no doubt be excited to taste something from a specific Camp Nelson rickhouse, considering that the barrels aged at the Camp Nelson site have a reputation for being among the most unique and individualistic of WT’s lineup. This particular batch, as previously stated, has no age statement, and is bottled at a cask strength of 56.2% ABV (112.4 proof).
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, this one is exotic and earthy, with a musty, slightly funky oak character that is also redolent in barrel char and bright tones of orange citrus. I’m getting vanilla, along with very dark fruit tones (bramble fruit), molasses and dark chocolate, perhaps with a mocha edge to it. A little earthy rye grain also shows through, but the impressions are quite dark and oak inflected overall.
On the palate, this one heads in a similar direction—first sweet, then spicy, earthy and oaky. The front end has some nice sweetness, and significant vanilla cream and caramel, followed by pipe tobacco savoriness and more powerful smoky char. Old oak impressions are slightly funky, and significantly tannic, certainly evoking the spirit of the rickhouse as was no doubt intended. The roastiness comes through in a big way, bringing some charred (almost burnt) astringency, before a finish that highlights more baking spice with an almost root beer-like quality. For the proof, it’s certainly punchy and full of flavor, though I suspect this profile might be too dominated by char and roast for some.
All in all, you can’t argue that the first of these Single Rickhouse releases (Camp Nelson C) is lacking in terms of individuality or unique characteristics. That’s something Wild Turkey almost always seems to do well. But I’m not even sure how superlative and delicious this release would need to be to genuinely justify its price tag. Suffice to say, although I like this, I still like the Russell’s Reserve 13 release more, and its initial release was 28% the price tag. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge paying more than that for a bottle like Russell’s Reserve 13, but I’m not sure any kind of bourbon could sustain a $250 MSRP for long. It will be interesting to see how Campari/WT approaches this Single Rickhouse series in the future.
Distillery: Wild Turkey/Russell’s Reserve
City: Lawrenceburg, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 56.2% (112.4 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $250 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.