This second release of Single Rickhouse Series, Camp Nelson F, is a stunner.

Master distiller Eddie Russell treated a handful of lucky spirits journalists in New York City recently to a taste of Russell’s Reserve Camp Nelson F, the second release in Russell’s Reserve’s hyper-limited Single Rickhouse Series. RRSRS is a small batch of extra mature bourbon barrels selected from a single aging facility. Wild Turkey has three barrel aging locations: Tyrone (on site at the distillery), Camp Nelson (sits on a hill about an hour from Tyrone), and McBrayer (sits opposite the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky). Camp Nelson F marks the second consecutive batch chosen from Camp Nelson, a decision that surprised Eddie, who was looking forward to showcasing bourbon from Tyrone where they have the most stock to from which to choose.

Before we dove into the Rickhouse Series, we tasted through some of the the whiskey that showcases the evolution of the brand and how it came to develop these Single Rickhouse bottlings. This included Russell’s Reserve 10-Year and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, along with Single Rickhouse Series Camp Nelson C, and the guest of honor: Camp Nelson F.

Russell’s Reserve was never designed to become a major brand at Wild Turkey. At first, master distiller Jimmy Russell was dead set against the idea. Eddie Russell grew up in the shadow of his father, Jimmy, who has been the Wild Turkey brand’s face, heart, and soul for almost 70 years. Turning 89 in November, Jimmy is a living bourbon legend who spends his time these days greeting fans in the Wild Turkey gift shop. The distillation and other responsibilities that accompany managing a massive distillery fall on Eddie and his son Bruce, who was recently bestowed the master distiller title. At age 63, Eddie himself has been with Wild Turkey 42 years and has, at one time or another, held about every position there is to have at the distillery.

“I started out bottom man, rolling and dumping barrels. I made $6.58 per hour. I got lucky when a relief operator quit on us, and I scored the post. A relief operator needs to know five different jobs, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I learned the chain from testing the grains to bringing the whiskey off the still, and every step in between.”

— Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey Master Distiller

In the late 1990s, Eddie managed the maturation program at Wild Turkey while his father Jimmy, who began working at the distillery at 19 years old, was turning 65. The execs at former parent company Pernod Ricard assumed Jimmy would retire after 45 years and wanted to create a tribute whiskey with his name attached to send him off. They came to Eddie for help.

“Jimmy always loved that 7-8 year-old whiskey” says Russell. “We had a 12-year-old expression for a long time, and Dad never drank any of it. He thought it was too old. But I love it. I looked at some 10-year whiskey, which is more my profile. Guys like Jimmy and Booker Noe (Jim Beam’s late former distiller) liked bold whiskey that smacked you in the face. I like to bring it to a place that’s a little creamier, sweeter, and smoother.”

Finding a bourbon that satisfied both Eddie and Jimmy seemed challenging, but after tasting only about a dozen batches, Eddie found what he believed was a sweet spot, and Jimmy concurred. Russell’s Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 101 Proof was born in 1999, a 10-year-old age stated Kentucky straight bourbon.

“We really didn’t think we were going to produce it very long,” Eddie explains about creating Russell’s Reserve. “It was one little run at the beginning. People liked it, so we did a little more. Eventually, we dropped the proof to from 101 to 90 and took it national. But it all started with Jimmy’s 45th Anniversary.”

Today, the Russell’s Reserve 10-Years-Old Bourbon remains the flagship whiskey in the portfolio, and serves as a perfect bourbon to begin this flight, with Eddie Russell at the helm. And as tasty as the flight was, when the crowd of hardcore spirits journalists finally had a sip of the bourbon of honor, Camp Nelson F, audible gasps of delight filled the room. That is a good sign you are drinking something special.

Tasting: Russell’s Reserve 10-Years-Old

Eddie Russell: I want to lead you through how we wound up with Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse releases. I’ve always talked about the journey, and I think about enjoying bourbon in terms of food. When it smells good, you already want to taste it. The same applies for bourbon. At the beginning of my career at Wild Turkey, I noticed that when you nosed Wild Turkey 101, you smelled vanilla, caramels, and a slight spiciness. Maybe a touch of oak. When you nose many 80-proof bourbons, all you smell is generic alcohol. So you really want that nose to be good. Color is also important. We are the only whiskey in the world that can’t add color; it has to be completely natural. And a bourbon must have good legs on it, indicating a pleasant mouthfeel. But really, when I approach a bourbon. All I really want to do is taste it.

The taste of Russell’s Reserve 10-Year will not be as big and bold as what we do at Wild Turkey. This whiskey is going to be a little softer and creamier. I still look for that spicy Wild Turkey DNA, but here is one big difference. Jimmy loves a super long finish. If you drink 101, you will notice it is long and lingering. Russell’s Reserve comes through, leaves a pleasant aftertaste, and it’s out. It doesn’t hang around too long.

Tasting: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel became my baby. With Jimmy on the road all the time, I finally had a chance to do some things without him telling me no. This was in 2011, two years after Campari became our owner in 2009. I always preached about wanting people to taste the whiskey we drank, meaning straight from the barrel, uncut and non-chill-filtered. Genuine bourbon whiskey. I did a single barrel program under the Russell’s brand because Jimmy had Kentucky Spirit. When we started the program, I wanted it to be super personal. I did all the barrel picks myself until about a year ago. Now Bruce (Russell, Eddie’s son and master blender) is doing them because I wanted them to talk to the person who was actually making it. Today, we are doing about 1400 barrels a year. Let’s give it a taste.

To me, this is fantastic whiskey. A little bigger, a little bolder than you see, and a little more of what Jimmy loves. It still has a creaminess with toffee and caramel I look for, plus the aromas on the nose even at 110 proof. That’s 55% alcohol, so after 5-6 of these, you’ll want to take a drink of water.

Camp Nelson C

We began to talk about putting out barrels from a single warehouse. If we do a dump of Wild Turkey 101, it might come from 5 or 6 different warehouses from a few locations. During this process, I brought in barrels from Camp Nelson, about an hour from the distillery in Tyrone. I was skeptical because I loved the idea of our first release coming from Tyrone, but when I started tasting a few of the Camp Nelson barrels, one of the first I popped open tasted like cherry cola. The one next to it in the same row tasted like Werther’s Candy. I thought the Camp Nelson C bourbon was the perfect way to start the Rickhouse Series. Let’s Taste.

Looking at this whiskey, you can see we have a nice, beautiful color with gorgeous legs on it. We do this at barrel-proof, uncut, and not chill-filtered. Campo Nelson C was bottled at 112. You will taste toffee, but there is also some cherry in there, something I think you get a lot of in our whiskey. That fruit comes from our yeast esters.

Sadly, Camp Nelson C is no longer with us; we actually had to tear that down. This was not only the first Rickhouse Series but a tribute to this rickhouse, which was built in the 1940s. The structure was sitting on a sinkhole so we needed to get the whiskey out of there and tear it down. And while that’s unfortunate, the good news is that there are five more rickhouses filled with great stuff.

Camp Nelson F

This is Camp Nelson F, and it’s being released right now. You are probably the first people to taste this besides us. If you don’t like it, Bruce made it. If you do like it, I made it.

Here’s my deal. I didn’t want to do a single Rickhouse Series where everything tastes the same. That’s not what I’m looking for. With the Camp Nelson C, it was that creaminess, caramel, and cherry note. Camp Nelson F is going to be a more classic bourbon. It’s big and bold but has caramel, vanilla, and a little smoke and oak. A little honey or what I call molasses. Camp Nelson C was bottled at 112, this is a bit stronger at 117. I always thought orange peel was one of the most significant differences between Kentucky Spirit and Wild Turkey 101. I am getting that here. Not everybody is going to, but I’m not here to tell y’all what to taste. This is what I get out of it.

As Camp Nelson F is coming out, we are working on the next one. We will taste all of our warehouses, and we are looking for stuff in the 15 year old range. That’s what I love. So I don’t know which warehouse the next Rickhouse Series will be. Camp Nelson, Tyrone…could be McBrayer. But don’t hold your breath on McBrayer.

John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman and Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries & Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey. McCarthy is also editor of Barleycorn Drinks and Director of Judging of the John Barleycorn Awards.