Of all the modern Wild Turkey expressions I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, Russell’s Reserve Six Year Old Rye is one of the least covered. I have my reasons. Well, I suppose just one: I rarely drink it. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Russell’s Six-Year – respectable age, respectable proof, respectable price, not to mention it’s found damn near anywhere. It tastes great too. It won’t blow your mind or stump your palate, but you’ll likely find yourself satisfied at the end of an evening pour. In fact, of the various Wild Turkey rye offerings, it’s the one I suggest most to whiskey novices.
When it comes to rye whiskey, most enthusiasts – particularly American whiskey enthusiasts – enter from a bourbon background. As such, their profile preferences typically hover around sweeter, rounder notes. They’re used to the flavors and textures grains like corn and wheat provide under the influence of oak and time. Rye occupies a territory of its own. Depending on the recipe, yeast, and maturation, tasting notes can range from fragrant herbs and mint, to zesty citrus and peppery spice.
Arguably, the most bourbon-like of rye whiskey recipes are “barely legal” mash bills, in which the rye content is minimal (just over 50%). While officially unconfirmed, Wild Turkey’s reported rye whiskey mash bill is 52% rye, 36% corn, and 12% malted barley. And, it tastes that way; moreover, in terms of Kentucky rye whiskeys, Wild Turkey’s rye may be the most bourbon-esque of them all. We can thank Master Distiller Jimmy Russell for that, as it’s commonly said that Jimmy isn’t a fan of rye whiskey. He can damn sure make it, he’s just not keen on sipping it.
Which brings me back to Russell’s Reserve Six-Year … as expressed in my opening, it might just be the perfect introductory rye whiskey for bourbon enthusiasts. You get a rye mash bill that’s heavy on corn, using the same grains and yeast Wild Turkey uses for their bourbon, aged in the same cooperage and rickhouses, and bottled with an age statement similar to the reported minimum age of Wild Turkey 101. It’s only 90 proof, but the additional water arguably makes for a sweeter profile accented by well-tempered spice.
Background covered, it’s time to dive into a recent bottling of this expression – one that stretches back to 2007. The last time I reviewed Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye it was a 2014 release, and prior to that a 2007 and a 2016. A lot can happen in a handful of years, especially considering the new distillery’s launch in 2011. I assume I’ll find the profile familiar, though one never knows.
Russell’s Reserve Six Year Old Rye (2020) – 90-proof Kentucky straight rye whiskey – aged at least six years – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: vanilla candy, lemon tea, citrus zest, Golden Delicious apple, melted butter, baking spice
Taste: (silky mouthfeel) frosted sugar cookie, almond butter, sweet lemon oil, hints of spearmint
Finish: medium in length – honey, caramel drizzle, light oak, confectioners sugar, faint pepper
Overall: Not much to say that hasn’t been said already. If there’s one department where Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye shines, it’s consistency. Here we have a quintessential Kentucky rye whiskey – sweet and pleasantly zesty with moderate baking spice. There’s also plenty of bourbon-relative notes like vanilla and caramel, though they’re more of the lighter, syrupy type. Overall, a notably easy sipper that’s well-suited for those in search of an approachable rye whiskey.
Rating: 3.25/5 🦃
Before wrapping up, it would be amiss to ignore Russell’s Reserve Six-Year’s effectiveness as a cocktail whiskey. Yes, there’s Wild Turkey 101 Rye and Rare Breed Rye. Those certainly have their place and are likely the preferred spirit base in consideration of Wild Turkey’s rye portfolio. That being said, both Wild Turkey 101 Rye and Rare Breed Rye aren’t available in every market, leaving Wild Turkey Rye (81 proof) and Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye as the sole Wild Turkey rye options. Of those two, Russell’s Six-Year carries the higher maturity and proof, making it the ideal whiskey for a full-bodied cocktail such as the Manhattan.
In the days before Don Draper dashingly called for Old Fashioneds, the Manhattan reigned as the States’ rye whiskey cocktail of choice. A simple combination of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and aromatic bitters, the Manhattan is ripe for variation and reinterpretation. Here’s my humble take on the classic using Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye with black walnut and orange bitters in place of the more commonly employed Angostura. Enjoy!
Russell’s Rye Manhattan
- 2 ounces Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye
- 1 ounce sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes black walnut bitters
- 1 dash orange bitters
In a mixing glass, add two ounces Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye, one ounce sweet vermouth, two dashes black walnut bitters, and one dash orange bitters; add ice and stir generously; strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a cocktail cherry.
And there you have it – a sweet, velvety libation that pairs well with a full belly and a slow-setting sun (I’ve been told it’s fantastic with a cigar too).
Whether you prefer your whiskey neat or in cocktails, Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye fills both duties well. Granted, there are more adventurous pours to be explored, such as Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye; they’re just not for everyone. As always, I recommend tasting all that you can. Find a profile that speaks to you and branch out from that point. If you’re well-versed in bourbon and comfortable with spicy, higher-proof offerings, you should consider Rare Breed Rye. But, if you’re just getting started in the hobby or simply fancy a sweeter, softer-ABV whiskey, Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye won’t let you down.
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