It’s been well over two years since I last reviewed Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye. If you’re finding that hard to believe, I’m right there with you. There was no conscious decision; I haven’t intentionally avoided it. I suppose the introduction of Rare Breed Rye in 2020 plays a role, as I’ve since purchased Rare Breed Rye three or four times over the single-barrel Russell’s expression. It’s not that Rare Breed Rye is a better whiskey, as past reviews and ratings will attest, but it’s arguably more versatile by design. There’s a lot you can do with a four-year barrel-proof rye, especially when it comes to cocktails and home blends. But for me, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye, while perfectly acceptable for those tasks, shines best as a neat sipper.
To date, I’ve never had an unimpressive Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye. In fact, I feel comfortable – hell, confident – saying it’s Wild Turkey’s most consistent single-barrel offering. Some are better than others, but all hover around a similar, well-aged Kentucky rye profile. I believe one reason is its signature 104 proof. Were it bottled at barrel proof, or even 110 proof like Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, it’s possible one might find greater flavor variance. But I’m not complaining. I think the proof point is perfect. I didn’t always feel this way, but times change, and palates and preferences along with it. In past interviews, Eddie Russell has remarked that when it comes to bottling Wild Turkey’s rye, 104 is typically sweeter than 110 (or even barrel proof). Comparing Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye to the 112.2-proof Rare Breed Rye, I’d have to agree.
In preparation for this post, I spent time collecting notes on various occasions over the last week. Now that my whiskey writing hobby has grown (there’s a lot in the works), my writing room (a/k/a my once dining room) is littered with random bottles, samples, books, notes, and glasses. (I consider myself a tidy person, but my workplace says otherwise.) As a result, I sometimes lose track of what I’m sampling. It’s not uncommon to find five or six capped Glencairn glasses resting on shelves at one time. Of course, the grand majority of their contents, while tasted, aren’t actually consumed. With daily work and family obligations, consumption is strictly reserved for times of relaxation. Needless to say, I can only blame my forgetfulness on my own lack of disorganization. But I digress.
On one tasting for this review, I found myself pacing the floor, deep in thought about something important at the time (certainly not the whiskey I was nosing). I don’t recall what I was pondering, but it was deep. Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. What is this whiskey? It was remarkable – full of complex, yet artfully vibrant sweetness. I was fairly certain it was a rye, but which rye? I had several rye whiskeys poured (along with a few younger bourbons). I walked back to where I originally retrieved the glass and there it was, right on the note card: 2019 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye. It all made sense. Sometimes it takes a blind tasting, or in this case, an absentminded tasting, to remind you how stellar a whiskey actually is.
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye (2019) – 104-proof, non-chill-filtered Kentucky straight rye whiskey – no age stated – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: rich amber
Nose: toasted vanilla, apple pie, sweet clove, ginger snaps, herbal & floral spice, singed lemon peel, honey
Taste: confectioners sugar, Bit-O-Honey candy, lemon pepper, sassafras, brown sugar glaze, sweet herbal tea
Finish: medium-long finish w/ caramel drizzle, charred oak, tangerine zest, lemon-licorice lozenge, applewood, mint
Overall: Yet another example of consistent excellence, this 2019 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye is everything a Kentucky rye whiskey should be – a well-balanced combination of herbal spice and zesty citrus, seamlessly laced with a sweet, bourbon-esque charm. It’s also showing off a touch more oak than commonly found with this expression. I wouldn’t consider it enough to warrant an “off profile” claim, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
So much to love here, and very little (if anything) to be desired. If you’re looking for a high-quality rye whiskey that’s practically guaranteed to satisfy, look no further than Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye. It may not tout the same level of profile variance as its bourbon cousin, but what it lacks in surprise, it makes up for in surety.
Rating: 4/5 🦃
I’ll close with a question that, without fail, comes up each time I review Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye – When will Wild Turkey allow for rye private selections again? The short answer is, I honestly don’t know. The more optimistic answer – at least, my own optimistic answer – probably isn’t what you’d expect.
While I’d love to hear that Wild Turkey rye selections are once again happening (and would jump at the chance to select one myself), look at it this way. All of the barrels that would’ve existed in a rye single barrel program (were it a reality), are the very same barrels that exist now on retail shelves. In other words, if you want a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye private selection, simply pick up an everyday Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye bottle. Consider the standard iteration an “Eddie pick” and be on your merry way. Besides, bottles with private selection labels and hang tags don’t sit on shelves for long anyway. That’s just whiskey these days.
So here’s to one of the finest Kentucky rye whiskeys on the market. If you see Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye and haven’t tried it, I highly recommend picking it up. It’s not cheap, but the way things are going, the list of inexpensive single-barrel offerings from heritage brands is growing shorter by the day. And if you have tried it … well, you already know. Cheers!
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