Revisiting: W.B. Saffell Batch 1 alongside a standard release RR SiB

W.B. SAFFELL
Batch 1 (2019)

MASH BILL – Wild Turkey (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley)

PROOF – 107

AGE – NAS (blend of 6, 8, 10, and 12 year bourbons)

DISTILLERY – The American Medicinal Spirits Co. (i.e. Wild Turkey!)

PRICE – $54

RUSSELL’S RESERVE SINGLE BARREL
Standard Release bottled May 19, 2017

MASH BILL – Wild Turkey (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley)

PROOF – 110

AGE – NAS

DISTILLERY – Wild Turkey

PRICE – $62

The bottle I’m revisiting is the W.B. Saffell, Wild Turkey’s uncredited master stroke that many fans count among the distillery’s best releases despite its name being nowhere on it.

The Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is a 2017 standard release. Not a store pick of any renown, just one among many standard releases from that year. Though from the bottle’s laser code I could determine the exact date of bottling…

…the specific day and year is not particularly meaningful. Arguably, there is no Russell’s Reserve SiB “golden era.” Despite variances, every Russell’s Reserve SiB release is at least Good. David Jennings, the Wild Turkey enthusiast behind the great Rare Bird 101 blog, has often argued that the Russell’s Reserve SiB line rivals Wild Turkey’s various annual limited releases—even the highly prized 2021 Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Barrel Proof:

As incredible as Russell’s Reserve Thirteen-Year may be, it’s not worth the asinine premiums people are asking (and unfortunately paying). It’s not. In fact, in a blind tasting against a handful of top-quality Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon private selections, I’d wager it would do quite well, but fail to win each and every time. 

So it seemed to me even a rando release of the Rusell’s Reserve SiB would make a worthy comparison with the extraordinary W.B. Saffell.

Why the Wild Turkey stamp isn’t on the W.B. Saffell bottle is a matter of marketing. Campari, the parent company that owns Wild Turkey, wanted to start an independent boutique line of 375ml bourbon releases, called The Whiskey Barons Collection. Why? A well-presented whim of some marketing think-tank meeting, likely, and not the inspiration of Wild Turkey master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell.

The first two Whiskey Barons releases hit shelves in 2017—same year as the Russell’s Reserve SiB featured in this post. Neither Old Ripy nor Bond & Lillard were particularly well received. Their diminutive old-timey bottles sat on shelves alongside their eyebrow-raising $50 price tags and gathered dust…

Two years later, in 2019, W.B. Saffell was released. An initial sigh of skepticism quickly gave way to deep intakes of enthusiasm. This Whiskey Barons release was different!

The exact details of the full lineup are not made satisfyingly clear by Campari press releases. But it got about that Eddie Russell, the expert palate behind the Russell’s Reserve line, had been tapped to create W.B. Saffell following the disappointing reception of its predecessors. When I first tried W.B. Saffell, I thought Russell had achieved an utterly exceptional rendition of Wild Turkey 101. I even thought it could have held its own among the annual Master’s Keep releases. David Jennings likened it to the best of the Russell’s Reserves he’d had:

Even at 107 proof, it’s unmistakably better than every 110-proof Camp Nelson Russell’s Reserve private barrel I’ve tasted to date.

High praise indeed.

So here we are. The W.B. Saffell has been open for about eleven weeks and I’m four pours into the bottle. The Russell’s Reserve SiB has been open five weeks and I’m also four pours into it. Tasted in traditional Glencairns, here are some notes in brief:

COLOR

SAFFELL – a rusty medium-orange

RUSSELL’S – the same, tinting slightly darker in certain lights and angles

NOSE

SAFFELL – Oh that Wild Turkey aroma… thick caramel, cinnamon-laden baking spices, baked fruit pie crust, thick refined oak, a light cola note

RUSSELL’S – all of the above, but a notch brighter, with more baked cherry and a dash of a funky herbaceous note in the mix

TASTE

SAFFELL – very like the nose in its mix of oak, thick caramel, and baking spices, only a touch drier and darker

RUSSELL’S – the oak and baking spices burst and sparkle up front around a surprising old fashioned black licorice rope note, then some of that syrupy baked cherry and a layer of the caramel

FINISH

SAFFELL – oak, thick caramel, a lingering peppery prickle from the proof

RUSSELL’S – oak, thick and flakey fruit pie crust, that thick caramel, a lingering peppery prickle from the proof

OVERALL

SAFFELL – very much the feeling of being inside a cozy and warm antique parlor when the weather outside is chilly but sunny

RUSSELL’S – very much the feeling of an old fashioned candy store

WORTH BUYING?

SAFFELL – Yes

RUSSELL’S – And yes

I dare say, I might actually prefer this Russell’s Reserve SiB to the W.B. Saffell. Both are excellent, especially for oak fans. Both lean drier than sweeter. But the Russell’s Reserve has additional sweet notes—the cherry and licorice and more prevalent presence of the fruit pie notes—while the Saffell sticks to its highly refined oak, baking spices and thick-cut caramel. The Russell’s also has a whiff of that funky thing I picked up with Forgiven Batch 302. There the funk was initially very unappealing, like raw chicken left out too long—luckily that note abated in time. Here the effect is more like some savory bundle of unusually earthy herbs.

That’s today. On another day I might feel differently. They are remarkably similar. To give them a nudge, I poured what was left in my Glencairns into some standard brandy glasses.

Here the Saffell nosed dustier and more chocolatey than before, while the Russell’s Reserve showed stronger black licorice amongst its baking spices and the cherry took on a slightly medicinal cough drop aspect. On the taste, the Saffell was a bit richer overall than in the Glencairn, with a creamier quality I hadn’t noticed before. The Russell’s Reserve followed the lead of the nose, emphasizing the black licorice and that cherry cough drop thing. Both finished in line with their taste.

So, subtle differences in a different glass. But consistent overall, as one comes to expect from Wild Turkey.

There’s no need to choose between these, of course. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels abound, in both standard and store pick releases. They are a very safe bet—never boring, always tasty. W.B. Saffell is harder to come by, and more expensive. For a Wild Turkey fan, I think Saffell is at least a must-try, and, depending on your budget, also a good candidate for having around as a home shelf regular. But for the average drinker, sticking to Wild Turkey 101 and Russell’s Reserve 10 Year will be more than satisfactory.

Cheers!

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