Russells Reserve bourbon Sydney launch Four Seasons Grain Bar

Bourbon boom | Kentucky kick | Russell’s Reserve uprising

Charisma and character - and just a little bit game-changing. Action!

Premium quality bourbons are giving single malt Scotch a run for its money, reports Alan Deans

Entering the non-descript liquor shop on Madison and 40th in Manhattan’s Midtown was an Aladdin’s Cave. Standing in glittering rows behind the counter were many bottles of fine, single malt Scotch whisky. The owner, 80 if he was a day, rigged a library-style ladder to easily slide along the shelves and reach any Highlands rarity sitting beyond reach on an upper level. If none of the hundreds of labels on display appealed, there was a heavily thumbed folder detailing a further 500 or so hidden in the cellar. My choice? A little-known one called Deanston, sourced from the hills north-west of Edinburgh, as a birthday present for my father, Ed Deans.

Fast forward 15 years, and liquor stores and bars are bursting with top-shelf bourbon, rum, gin and vodka that compete ferociously with the best Scotch. Drinkers love the surprising smoothness, variety of flavours and explosion of new labels and are showing their joy by spending freely.

Let’s focus on Bourbon. It’s difficult to image that Jack Daniels or Wild Turkey could captivate hearts in the same way as a single-barrel Islay Scotch, but premium labels of both brands are doing just that. Sales of high-end, premium bourbon is up 45% in the past five years, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the US. Better quality super premium brands are hotter still, sales soaring by 137%. Combined, these two whiskey grades are moving faster than their arch rival, single malt Scotch. Aside from the big names, some 450 micro distillers have opened in the US since 2004. Bourbon is so popular that producers are struggling to make enough barrels to age it in.

The great thing now is that Aladdin’s Caves everywhere are overflowing with liquid treasures.

Two leaders of this uprising – Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie –frequently hit the road selling the eponymous premium bourbons they make for Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. At a recent Sydney launch, the bar chosen was Four Season Hotel’s dimly-lit and moody Grain Bar where glamorous wait staff served straight shots or cocktails with fancy snacks. No rough edges anywhere. And there was plenty of Russell’s whiskey – 10-Year Old Reserve Bourbon, Single Barrel Bourbon and 6-Year Old Rye. The 10-Year is lauded as being deep in amber, rich in vanilla, oak, toffee and a touch of old leather along with hints of cool mint freshness. As the basis of an Old Fashioned, it retains its richness and full flavours.

Indeed, bourbon’s appeal as a mixer gives it a huge plus over its rival single malts.

Russells Reserve bourbon Sydney launch Four Seasons Grain Bar Old Fashioned

An Old Fashioned, showing just how social a bourbon can be. Photo Susan Skelly

Your turn: How do you like your whisky?


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.