Wild Turkey, long-time champion of the bottom bourbon shelf, has been steadily expanding their range with ryes, reserves, small batches and single barrels, plus whatever Forgiven is. The line of Russell’s Reserve bourbons and ryes are crafted by (and named after) legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie Russell. Aged a full 10 years (hear, hear for age statements!) and bottled in small batches (a meaningless term, these days, basically an excuse for batch variability), Russell’s Reserve is reportedly made from a mashbill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley. The barrels used in each batch are chosen by Jimmy and Eddie, and are from the center of the Wild Turkey rickhouses.
Nose: Nutty. Furniture polish, marzipan, butter toffee. Mostly, though, it’s furniture polish. A rest in the glass sweetens up the aroma a bit, with some buttercream frosting and better balance.
Palate: Thin bodied. Moderate tongue burn. The first impression is of honey-roasted peanuts, or candied almonds. Then, the woodsy notes arrive with more furniture polish and oak sawdust.
Finish: Medium-long. Nutty, and mostly without bitterness. A reprise of the butter toffee and finishes nicely with a very pleasant frosted cinnamon-bun flavor.
With Water: Several drops of water wake up the nose a bit, but fail to change the component aromas or overall balance. The palate seems a little thicker, but more muddled. The finish is tarter, and there’s more rye-delivered cinnamon and clove notes, which also come across when this is used to make cocktails. Water (or ice) totally optional when sipping.
Overall: I can’t find much to recommend this over any other bourbon in a +/- $20 range. It’s better than your bottom-shelfers, but it suffers from a lack of robustness and an unfortunate leaning towards the “furniture polish” side of oakiness, rather than the “buttery sweet” side. The rest of my bottle made a series of totally acceptable Old Fashioneds, but then that’s pretty much true of any bourbon over $20 a bottle (and a few under that). If you’re a huge fan of Wild Turkey’s focus on cereal notes, you might consider this a worthwhile upgrade.