Earl’s
WS owns a lot of firsts in Winston-Salem. It’s the first restaurant in the
newly proclaimed North End. It heralds the first partnership between Herbie
Gimmel, Joel Ornstein and Wade Robinson. Earl’s also has the distinction of being
the only whiskey bar in the Triad to have its own single barrel of Russell’s
Reserve Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey, the high-end blend from Wild Turkey.

Located
outside Lawrenceburg, Ky., the Wild Turkey distillery has been making bourbon
for over 75 years. Jimmy Russell has been master distiller for 60 of them. At
his retirement in 2018, he was the longest-tenured master distiller in the
world.

This
blend was his favorite.

Earl’s
121 W. Ninth St. W-S
Earlsws.com

To
procure their own barrel, Earl’s staff sampled tastes from six different
barrels, sent uncut from the distillery. Each barrel has its own personality, depending
on the day it’s contained, its place in the warehouse, the unique nature of the
wood.

The
selection was ultimately up to bar manager, Justin “Smoothie” Bennett with a
little help from Gimmel and Ornstein.

“I
chose purely on taste,” said Bennett. “It wasn’t overly powerful, just enough
rye spice.”

The
barrel of choice was bottled on-site in Kentucky. The bottles were then sent to
the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Commission for taxation, and finally made
it to the bar. The empty barrel accompanied the order as a displayable
show-piece. You can see it hoisted high on the wall behind the bar. A steampunk-looking
copper pipeline, reminiscent of a moonshine still coils down from the ceiling
to end at a spigot from which each order is poured.

Robinson
owns Wade Co. Design, the construction and design company that was responsible
for the interior design of Earl’s and the barrel display.

The
idea was brought forth by Melanie Holt, retail hospitality account manager for
Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits.


knew that the owners would appreciate it,” she said “It’s a brand-new place in
town. Look at it!” She gestured to the bar, “Why not? Look at this place. It’s
a bourbon bar. This fits here.”

According
to Holt, 128 bottles came out of this barrel. Almost 50 are on display above
the bar. Staff is periodically opening each bottle and pouring it directly into
the original barrel.

A
combination of factors determine the outcome of whiskey: temperature, altitude,
moisture. There is no age statement given on the bottle, but the Russell’s
Reserve single barrels typically spend somewhere around 8-9 years aging in
American White Oak. The current selection is from Barrel No./ 19-094, aged
in Rickhouse F, on the 5th floor. All Russell’s single barrels
are bottled at 110 proof. The purchase price is hush-hush but typically
barrels can run between $8,000 and $12,000 each.

First try the bourbon neat,
and then add a cube or two of ice to open it up. On the palate you get the
presence of  heavy oak. Cherry, pine and
dark cola notes are detectable as well. Dense and full bodied, the finish
lingers with honey and woody tones. It’s hot and high in alcohol, but this
is a complex and intense whiskey that reveals more about itself with every sip.

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