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 (Update: now I know!). 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.