I’ve discussed my appreciation for Russell’s Reserve 10-year before. In the last twelve months that appreciation has only grown. In fact, I find myself purchasing Russell’s 10 more than ever. Why is that?

Outside of personal preference there’s no slam-dunk answer – no significant changes in the expression’s specs or marketing. On the surface, it is what it has been since 2005 – a ten-year, 90-proof Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey bearing the name of the most experienced father-son distilling team in the world. Yet, its “no-frills” design and approachable $35 price often means it sits on retail shelves longer than it should. (There’s certainly no buzz about it.) But dig a little deeper – throw out your preconceived notions and you might just be surprised.

Recently, I participated in a Wild Turkey blind tasting with Jason C. of The Mash & Drum. In the program we compared 2020’s Russell’s Reserve 2003 (which I plan on reviewing formally soon), Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond, Master’s Keep 17-year, and Russell’s Reserve 10-year. Admittedly, comparing a $35 core-lineup bourbon against three limited editions priced $150 to $250 sounds a bit lopsided. But there’s nothing wrong with throwing a wildcard into a blind tasting. In fact, I highly recommend it. And even though Russell’s Reserve 2003 and the two Master’s Keep releases stood out, Russell’s 10 held its own. As Jason and I each remarked, it’s a rock solid pour with more complexity than one might expect for its proof, price, and availability.

Which brings me to a conversation I had with Bruce Russell concerning Russell’s Reserve 10-year. We agreed – it’s not as popular as it should be. Whereas a bourbon like Eagle Rare, which shares similar specs and pricing, is often allocated (it sells quickly in my area), Russell’s 10 is not. Hell, I can find Russell’s 10 bottles with date codes stretching years back with little to no effort. As for composition, Russell’s Reserve 10-year is barreled at a lower entry proof (115 vs. Eagle Rare’s 125) and is batched with ten-year bourbon as its least mature whiskey. Reportedly, Eagle Rare is a single-barrel bourbon, though not labeled as such due to trace amounts of whiskey shared between barrels at bottling. For general purposes let’s just consider it a small batch. And, while it’s always possible Buffalo Trace empties older barrels into standard Eagle Rare bottles, Eddie Russell is on the record stating Russell’s 10 occasionally contains much older whiskey.

But there’s another factor that gives Eagle Rare an edge over Russell’s Reserve 10-year. No, it’s not the “Pappy/BTAC halo.” That’s arguably a valid point of discussion, but outside of bourbon enthusiast circles Eagle Rare isn’t exactly the talk of the town. It’s the packaging. As much as I like Russell’s 10’s rustic design, it doesn’t shout “fancy” or “high-end.” Whether it should or shouldn’t is a debate I’ll save for another day. If I’m honest with myself, I like that Russell’s 10 receives no hype. I like that I can go to my local and find as many bottles as I need and pay no premium (I sometimes get a discount). Yet I must admit, if Russell’s 10 were sold in a classic Wild Turkey bottle with the words “Wild Turkey Ten Year,” it would probably sell faster. I could be wrong, but with the prices I see folks paying for the thirteen-year, 91-proof Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve (export), it only makes sense that a $35 bottle of similar appearance might fly off the shelves.

Regardless, there’s plenty of Russell’s Reserve 10-year to be found. I suppose that’s one thing to be thankful for in 2020. Let’s pour!

Russell’s Reserve 10-Year-Old Bourbon (2020) – 90-proof Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey – aged at least ten years – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: copper

Nose: (woody & slightly herbal) toasted cherry-vanilla, creme brulee, fragrant oak, leather, orange peel, hints of sweet cedar & herbal spice

Taste: (silky, somewhat delicate) vanilla spice, salted caramel, leather, charred oak, brown sugar, nutmeg, honey, lemon-pepper, faint clove & cinnamon

Finish: medium; alternating waves of sweet & spice – peppered caramel, vanilla bean, cedar-esque oak, leather, cherry wood, holiday citrus

Overall: Look, there’s nothing here that screams exclusive or rare. I realize Russell’s Reserve 10-year bears bottle/design similarities to the stalwart enthusiast favorite, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, but that’s about it. Anyone hellbent on a “winner take all” flavor comparison between the two expressions is missing the forest for the trees. They’re altogether different bourbons by nature and design – in many instances servicing entirely different audiences. Nevertheless, the bourbon geek in me finds new things to love with Russell’s 10 year after year.

Perhaps I’m growing older and finding more of an appreciation for moderately proofed spirits. Or, maybe I’m just burned out sipping barrel-proof bruisers every other night. With Russell’s Reserve 10-year, I can have the complexity of a mature whiskey at an easily sippable 90 proof. Few affordable bourbons offer a comparable experience – the aforementioned Eagle Rare (if you can find it) and Bulleit 10-year (a bit more expensive) are two that instantly come to mind.

As for 2020’s Russell’s Reserve 10-year, it’s unquestionably rock solid. Worth every damn penny and then some. Sure, one can always buy a handle of Wild Turkey 101 for the same price. But this isn’t Wild Turkey 101. Russell’s 10 is a subtly contemplative pour. You quickly decipher and admire the beauty of a Kentucky decade spent in oak – the cherry, leather, and woody spice. It’s all there, in short but tasteful form, and you won’t spend a fortune or hours of wasted time acquiring it.

Rating: 3.5/5 🦃

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