2 Books + 2 Bourbons: American Spirit with Russell’s Reserve SiB / Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon? with Knob Creek 25th

AMERICAN SPIRIT
Wild Turkey Bourbon From Ripy to Russell

BY – David Jennings

PUBLISHER – Mascot Books

YEAR – 2020

WHICH FORK DO I USE WITH MY BOURBON?
Setting the Table for Tastings, Food Pairings, Dinners, and Cocktail Parties

BY – Peggy Nose Stevens and Susan Reigler

PUBLISHER – South Limestone Books

YEAR – 2020

When I first heard that each of these books were coming out, I was very excited. As a longtime Wild Turkey fan, and regular reader of David Jenning’s excellent rarebird101 blog, the prospect of a book by him dedicated to all things Wild Turkey was a no brainer: buy the book, sip Wild Turkey while reading it.

Peggy Noe Stevens first came to my attention in 2018 (which makes me late!) when she appeared as a guest on the It’s Bourbon Night YouTube channel, pairing food and whiskey together in an episode broadcast live from Honeywood restaurant in Lexington, KY. Until then I hadn’t thought seriously about whiskey and food pairings. But suddenly I was obsessed! Through Stevens I then came to know Susan Reigler, herself a formidable food critic and bourbon world guide.

Here are some brief notes on each book—paired with the appropriate whiskeys, of course.

American Spirit

Paired with Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, #17-376, Rickhouse D, Floor 3 70 1, selected by K&L in 2017.

Next to the father and son master distiller duo, Jimmy and Eddie Russell, it’s possible nobody knows more about Wild Turkey than David Jennings. In the Fall of 2016 he fired up a website dedicated to his passionate exploration of the brand. Since then it has become the go to online reference for anyone looking for details about Wild Turkey whiskeys. Jennings appears regularly on fellow social media maven’s podcasts and YouTube channels, whenever special insight into Wild Turkey is needed.

All that went into the website’s many posts, ranging from reviews of specific bottles to commentary on the state of the bourbon industry, has ended up serving as research toward American Spirit. The book is an entertaining, detailed chronicle of the Wild Turkey brand. It conveys the brand’s history in a welcoming, natural, conversational tone that belies any bland associations one might have of history books.

Following the historic overview, there are detailed descriptions of the core whiskey expressions. Jennings doesn’t only describe or review them. He locates each bottling in the Wild Turkey oeuvre, offering associations and reflections that demonstrate what a personal drink whiskey can be. It’s no accident whiskey has been dubbed a “spirit.” More so than wine or beer, certainly more than vodka, whiskey really does seem to capture in its elemental swirl of earth, wood, water, grain, yeast, and time, something of history and of people. The very fact of this book, and Jennings’ personal approach to it, exemplify this.

The book concludes with an eclectic appendix featuring insights linking Wild Turkey to other major bourbon brands, suggestions for cocktails, extensive technical specs about the Wild Turkey distillery, and a historic timeline.

All of this is augmented by a slew of gorgeous photographs by Victor Sizemore, and a keen attention to layout and design, giving the book a feeling of life and spontaneity alongside Jennings’ inviting colloquial tone. It’s fun to read, and then remains a handy reference for one’s own future Wild Turkey explorations.

Given my avid interest in the social and political aspects of history—American whiskey history included—I wouldn’t have minded a more in-depth, analytical approach. But that would be another book, and faulting a writer for not doing what they never set out to do isn’t something I put much stock in. Critical debate is clearly not Jennings’ intent so much as paying homage. Taken as the loving tribute it is intended to be, American Spirit succeeds mightily and is an excellent achievement. As a Wild Turkey fan I’m grateful to now have it on hand.

NOTES ON THE RUSSELL’S RESERVE SINGLE BARREL
three weeks and halfway into the bottle

COLOR – a golden honey orange

NOSE – dusty oak, caramel, Christmas cinnamons (are those a thing?), apricots and plump dried cherries

TASTE – caramel rolled in the cinnamons, brown sugar, sweet dark cherries, chocolate

FINISH – cherries, chocolate, a nice peppery tingle
, lingering and lingering…

OVERALL – comfort food!

Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon?

Paired with Knob Creek 25th Anniversary Single Barrel, barreled on 2/25/2004, bottled in April 2017 at 121.3 proof.

There is something at once anachronistic and utterly fresh about what Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler have assembled here. They are experts in so many areas of the bourbon industry, from its history to the tasting experience of individual brands to bourbon’s many uses as a social gathering tool. Their book shares this knowledge concisely and with immaculate clarity. Its eight chapters offer tried and true practices alongside prompts for imaginative invention in the art of throwing a party. Detailed statistics and practical information about bourbon and food are listed alongside anecdotal advice and inspiring invitations to create.

But the book achieves something else as well. It is a kind of call to civility. It assumes its readers are generous people who value the gift-giving impulse. Each chapter embodies the belief that hospitality is not some extracurricular skill in life, but an act of kindness in an increasingly unkind world. By throwing a bourbon tasting with the staggering breadth of care and attention to detail that Stevens and Reigler guide the reader to do, one is reminded how fulfilling it can be to honor one’s friends, family, and other fellow human beings in this way. The event itself becomes the gift, and every guest the guest of honor.

Stevens and Reigler think of everything for you, without ever being prescriptive. Their suggestions and practices have an openness that allows anyone to bring their own personality and culture to the act of throwing a whiskey tasting or other social event. There are recipes for specific meals and cocktails, step-by-step suggestions for the preparation and execution of an event, all highly adaptable to one’s personal sensibility and means.

The book is lavished with photographs of mouthwatering food spreads and simple but impressive presentations of the main event: the bourbon. These visuals are as informative as the text, itself organized, clear, and easy to follow—like a good conversation at a well done party.

How many gatherings or events have you gone to that were thrown together, generic, missing something that would make someone feel more comfortable and welcome, awkward in their disorganization, stiff in their habitual structure…? The art of hospitality has virtually been lost in contemporary life, so much so that Stevens and Reigler’s book comes across as both quaintly old fashioned and utterly radical.

NOTES ON THE KNOB CREEK 25TH ANNIVERSARY
freshly uncorked

COLOR – a nice, soft, rich burnt orange

NOSE – nicely balanced cinnamon, oak, and sweet caramel, i.e. the classic Knob Creek aroma only a notch richer than average

TASTE – caramel spiked with peppery cinnamons erupting front to back, then coffee and that thick smooth oak

FINISH – a nice lingering peppery tingle at the back of the throat, with some black pepper, now a bit of orchard fruit like apricot and maybe fresh plumbs, eventually the heat cooling like a mint but lingering on and on…


OVERALL – a solid Knob Creek, offering above-average richness and refinement

In short, I recommend both these books. I thoroughly enjoyed each of them. They are the kind of books that won’t gather dust on my shelf for long. They’re packed with information to reference, handy tips, and those compelling photographs that themselves spark ideas. I suspect I’ll be reaching for them often.

And I’ll be reaching for these two bourbons as well! Both are excellent. You will not likely be able to find these exact bottles. But any Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel or well-aged Knob Creek Single Barrel is going to give you something worth savoring.

Cheers!

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