In 2017, Campari debuted its Whiskey Barons Collection as a “Nod to the Bourbon Barons of Yore.” This endeavor was aimed at breathing new life into certain long-forgotten, pre-prohibition brands that helped Kentucky become a hub for bourbon production in the 1800s. The first two expressions in this collection were Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard, followed by the March 2019 release of W.B. Saffell.
All of these bourbons are made from Wild Turkey’s bourbon mashbill (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley) and were distilled at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg. Importantly, neither Jimmy nor Eddy Russell were involved in the creation of Old Ripy or Bond & Lillard. However, the long-anticipated release of W.B. Saffell marked the beginning of Eddie Russell’s involvement in Campari’s tribute to the whiskey barons of Kentucky.
Each of these expressions comes in a 375 ml bottle, reminiscent of pre-prohibition standardized sizing, and each bottle is adorned with intricate artwork paying tribute to the men who built their bourbon empires in the heart of the Bluegrass State.
All of the Whiskey Baron bottles retail for $50, but don’t be surprised to see prices for W.B. Saffell already at or near $100. Again, keep in mind that these are 375 ml bottles instead of the more typical 750 ml bottles, so these are not the most wallet-friendly purchases.
The Old Ripy brand was first created by an Irish immigrant named James Ripy in 1868 just outside of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. This product was made at this location, a site not far from where the Wild Turkey Distillery currently sits, up until 1950.
This Kentucky straight bourbon is a combination of 8 and 12 year old bourbons, as well as younger whiskies for added complexity and oak. It is non-chill filtered which, according to Campari, allows the bourbon to retain congeners, fusil oils, lipid fats and proteins that are believed to have existed in the original”, resulting in more natural and complex flavor characteristics, fuller body, and a smooth but “chewier” mouthfeel. This bottle come in at 104-proof (52% abv).
Appearance – caramel.
Nose – this is a fairly light nose with some oak char, light caramel sweetness, rye spice, crisp green apple, and some faint floral notes.
Palate – there is a peppery rye spice up front with some burn from the higher proof. In addition to the rye spice I found toasted corn, leather, and some sweetness of golden raisins. A few drops of water brought out more of the sweetness and really softened the rye spice.
Finish – there is a medium-long and fairly dry, tannic finish. Toasted grain and rye spice dominate, but there is also honey, vanilla, and some dried fruit rounding out the pour.
Overall – 87/100
Bond & Lillard
The Bond & Lillard brand was born in 1869, although the Bond family had been distilling in Kentucky since the early 1800s. The original Bond & Lillard bourbon took the Grand Prize at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 and was applauded as a “real delicacy of flavor, beauty in the sparkle and superiority in strength – it bears no equal.” Campari allegedly obtained the original judges’ tasting notes from the 1904 event to recreate this fabled bourbon.
This bottle comes in at 100 proof (50% abv) and is charcoal filtered. According to Campari, “this process simulates the aeration process that happens in the barrel, converting more aggressive congeners to esters that end in more elegant top notes. The result is a lighter colored and flavored Bourbon with more floral notes.”
Appearance – light honey.
Nose – the nose on this bourbon is also very light with some salted caramel, rye spice, oak char, and toasted coconut. A few drops of water brought out more notes of sweet vanilla cream.
Palate – there is heavy rye spice that is accentuated by a mild alcohol burn. I also found some toasted grain, cinnamon baked applies, and some very mild nutty notes.
Finish – there is a medium finish that is somewhat dry and tannic. There is rye spice, heavier baking spices (nutmeg/cinnamon), vanilla, and the sweetness of a herbal infused honey.
Overall – 85/100
This bottle is the namesake of William Butler Saffell, a prominent distiller in Lawrenceburg in the mid-to-late 1800s. Saffell was the lead at the McBrayer Distillery up until 1889 when he founded his own distillery and became famous for his sour mash Kentucky whiskey. Even after his death in 1910, W.B. Saffell’s whiskey experienced tremendous success. Unfortunately, prohibition followed shortly thereafter, forcing the distillery to halt production and like all of the brands in the Whiskey Baron collection, the W.B. Saffell legacy was eventually lost.
W.B. Saffell is a blend of 6, 8, 10, and 12 year bourbons aged in No. 4 (“alligator”) char barrels. This bourbon is non-chill filtered and bottled at 107 proof (53.5% abv).
Tasting Notes – W.B. Saffell
Appearance – medium amber.
Nose – the nose is rich and flavorful. I found sweet vanilla, dark brown sugar, rye spice, clove, and some dark dried fruit.
Palate – this bourbon initially presents with a rich caramel sweetness, but then a complex bouquet of rye and baking spice takes over. I found some light pepper, cinnamon, allspice, more clove, and some fresh ginger.
Finish – this bourbon leaves a buttery mouthfeel with a medium-long finish. I found more of the baking and rye spice along with notes of rich maple syrup developing. There was also some fresh mint that made an appearance toward the end.
Overall – 91/100
While each each of these expressions provide a fairly complex and unique flavor profile, in addition to some great historical talking points, the W.B. Saffell Bourbon is the clear winner here.
The Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard are pleasant sipping bourbons, but in my humble opinion they do not have the depth of flavor that you will find in the W.B. Saffell. The flavors in this bourbon are pleasant and well-defined, and they blend together seamlessly. Eddie Russell’s influence in this bourbon is obvious and I can understand why there is already such a high demand for this bottle.
The Whiskey Baron Collection was no easy undertaking and it was a product of science as much as it was art. Campari went through the painstaking process of tracing the historical roots of these once famous whiskies and ultimately produced some very flavorful and unique expressions. Batch #2 of Bond & Lillard is forthcoming and I can only hope we see more expressions in this collection in the near future.