It’s funny how your palate changes over time. Expressions you loved in the past sometimes become less desirable; conversely, expressions you disliked early on can become genuine favorites later. Such is the case with Russell’s Reserve 10-year Bourbon.
I’ll be the first to admit – for many years, modern Russell’s Reserve 10-year failed to impress me. It seemed rather simple (at least in comparison to Wild Turkey 101). Truthfully, 90 proof points doesn’t scream “Wild Turkey.” And despite its commendable 10-year age statement, similarly priced expressions like Rare Breed offered considerably more bang for the buck. I didn’t hate Russell’s 10, I just didn’t reach for it very often.
Time rolled by …
Now I find myself reaching for Russell’s Reserve 10-year more than ever before. Why is that? It’s hard to pinpoint an exact reason, as there’s several, but one that tops my list is palate fatigue.
If you sip enough barrel-strength/high-proof bourbon week after week, year after year, you’ll eventually find yourself in occasional burnout. It happens to us all (so don’t feel alone if you experience it yourself). Surely there’s a way to combat this, right? Absolutely. There’s likely numerous ways, but one that I stand behind and employ semi-frequently is committing yourself to lower-proof whiskeys for a short duration. While there’s several Wild Turkey options that fit the bill, such as Wild Turkey Bourbon (81 proof) and Longbranch (86 proof), they fail to exhibit the unique delicate oak presence of Russell’s Reserve 10-year.
Russell’s Reserve 10-year is also an ideal whiskey for home blending and its signature oak-laced profile makes that possible. How so? Let’s say you’re working on a blend of straight whiskeys and need to lower proof without sacrificing complexity, Russell’s 10 is an excellent solution. A recent example is my hack of W. B. Saffell (I call it “W. B. Hackell” 🙂 ), which I revealed on Patreon about two weeks ago. Here’s the recipe (note that Russell’s 10 is an equivalent component in its flavor).
W. B. Hackell
- 1 part Wild Turkey Rare Breed 116.8 (preferably 2018-2019)
- 1 part Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, CNA 4th floor (9+ years of age)
- 1 part Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, CNF 6th floor (9+ years of age)
- 1 part Russell’s Reserve 10-year
Net proof = 106.7
It may not taste exactly like W. B. Saffell, but I think W. B. Hackell comes pretty damn close. While a blend of 6-12-year Wild Turkey bourbon, it’s anchored around a 10-year base. This is exactly as Eddie Russell described it to me this past May. He couldn’t disclose percentages, but he confirmed that Saffell is composed primarily of 10-year whiskey. So give Hackell a shot. Compare it side by side to Saffell and let me know what you think.
Finally, Russell’s Reserve 10-year’s characteristic oak adds depth and structure to cocktails, such as the Boulevardier, without adding considerable ABV. While many whiskey enthusiasts, particularly Wild Turkey fans, appreciate a hefty ABV, most casual drinkers do not. Russell’s 10 is therefore an ideal substitution for Wild Turkey 101 (or any other 100+ proof bourbon) when crafting libations.
But blends and cocktails aside, how does 2019’s Russell’s Reserve 10-year measure up to iterations of the past? Certainly Wild Turkey 101 and Rare Breed 116.8 seemed to have improved a degree or two, does Russell’s 10 follow suit? Based on Eddie’s interview with Bourbon Pursuit last year it’s logical to assume so. In the interview, Eddie stated that 13-year whiskey could be found in modern-day batches of Russell’s Reserve 10-year. While it’s not uncommon for age-stated bourbons to include whiskey older than labeled, the interview provided confirmation and insight into Eddie’s batching process. Like any skilled master distiller, he’s looking for a specific profile – not a specific age. If it takes 13-year whiskey to get there, so be it.
Well, time to find out if 2019’s Russell’s Reserve 10-year maintains the easily approachable profile and delicate oak character of the past. Considering this expression’s noteworthy consistency over the last decade, I’ll wager it shall. Let’s pour!
Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon (2019) – 90-proof Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey – aged at least 10 years – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (sweet, laced w/ spice) vanilla, apple butter, fragrant oak, toffee, caramel drizzle, nutmeg, citrus, herbal/floral spice
Taste: caramel, vanilla candy, toasted oak, leather, brown sugar, baking spice, lemon zest, hints of clove
Finish: medium w/ notable oak – black pepper, antique leather, oak char, vanilla extract, dry herbal spice, nutmeg, faint licorice
Overall: Just as expected – right as rain. 2019’s Russell’s Reserve 10-year nails core bourbon notes like vanilla, caramel, and subtle baking spice, yet the oak remains the star of the show. As expected for the proof, there’s diminished complexity, save for waves of leather, citrus, and light herbal/floral notes, and virtually no intense or diverse profile elements as you’d find in Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. But that’s okay. Not every bourbon will be like that; not every bourbon should be like that. Sometimes an easy-sipping, solid core-bourbon profile with adequate maturity is all one needs.
Closing thoughts: There’s a place for simplicity in this hobby. Not every whiskey has to be barrel proof or showcase off-the-charts complexity to be “good.” Sure, some whiskeys are better than others, but never forget the significance of diversity, time, and experience. What you appreciate, others may not; what you appreciate now, you may not in time. Opinions (and palates) can change.
About a week ago I was browsing r/Bourbon when I caught a remark from a tenured redditor stating Russell’s Reserve 10-year is “swill.” Everyone’s entitled to his/her opinion, but calling Russell’s 10 “swill” is a stretch. Swill, it is not. Perhaps the poke was in jest (hell, I poke at Woodford Reserve all the time), though the supporting statements surrounding the comment made it seem otherwise.
Look, if you honestly feel like Russell’s Reserve 10-year is “swill,” or just plain bad, I have a challenge for you. Find comparable bourbons and taste them alongside Russell’s 10 blind. Here’s a few suggestions: Eagle Rare, Knob Creek, Elijah Craig Small Batch, Maker’s 46, 1792, or Woodford Reserve. For an extra fun time, include an NDP craft label in the blind comparison. Now, is Russell’s 10 “swill?” Maybe you’ll find that it is, but I’d like to believe that you’ll discover a new appreciation for what Russell’s 10 has to offer. It’s not mind blowing or game changing, but it’s without doubt a solid, enjoyable bourbon – one you’ll find in my cabinet any day of the week.
Coaster by Thompson Woodworks.