Believe it or not, Russell’s Reserve has occupied liquor store shelves for over twenty years. In that time, the esteemed brand has experienced a great deal of change in expressions, appearances, and production. Yet, there’s one thing that’s remained constant throughout – the influence and oversight of the two longest-tenured father and son distilling team, Jimmy and Eddie Russell.
Looking back on my whiskey journey, the second Wild Turkey product I tried (the first being 101) was Russell’s Reserve 10-Year. In those days, it was bottled in what many enthusiasts now call the “strip” or “tear” label. Truthfully, I wasn’t all that impressed with the bourbon then – at least not in comparison to Wild Turkey 101. My opinion on Russell’s 10 has changed significantly over the years. In fact, what was once an infrequent purchase is now a staple in the Rare Bird household. (It’s probably the bottle my city’s recycling facility sees most.) What can I say? I love Russell’s 10.
Last week, a curious filing hit the TTB COLA Registry – Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse. According to the label approval, it’s a non-age-stated, barrel-proof bourbon (bottled NCF) composed from whiskey aged exclusively on the third and fourth floors of Camp Nelson’s rickhouse C. The apparent idea being, to provide consumers with a profile that captures the essence of that maturation location. If that sounds like the start of a new series, you’re correct. In a conversation with Campari earlier this week, I confirmed that Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse will be an annual release, with each entry in the series showcasing a different Wild Turkey rickhouse.
In other news, I’ve learned from trusted sources that the wheels are in motion for a second batch of Russell’s Reserve 13-Year. Should things go as planned, this is undoubtedly great news. While I’m confident there will be significant FOMO and secondary-driven woes, the chances of Wild Turkey fans securing a bottle of this highly sought-after expression will only increase. That’s a win in my book. Will it prove as exemplary as 2021’s release? It’s anyone’s guess, but I’m excited to give it a try.
So here we are. It’s 2022 and Russell’s Reserve has come a long way from a single ten-year, 101-proof offering (more on that later). The brand is growing, as is its praise and a wealth of accolades. And depending on who you talk to, its private barrel program is the hottest ticket in Kentucky, surpassing popular stalwarts like Buffalo Trace and Four Roses.
Inspired by this recent swell of admiration, I assembled the following chart and timeline. Consider it a Russell’s Reserve Primer (similar in format to my 2019 Wild Turkey Rye Primer). With numerous whiskey brands on the scene – both old and new – it can be difficult keeping track of the changes. Hopefully, this information will make things a little easier, at least in regard to Russell’s Reserve. Please feel free to bookmark, share, or download for future reference.
Russell’s Reserve Timeline
2001 – Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, a 10-year bourbon at 101 proof, is introduced.
2004 – Barrel-entry proof changes from 107 to 110 for both mash bills (bourbon and rye).
2005 – Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon is reintroduced at 90 proof in a squat bottle (unembossed) with a brown label.
2006 – Barrel-entry proof changes from 110 to 115 for both mash bills (bourbon and rye); bottling moves from Lawrenceburg, Indiana to Fort Smith, Arkansas; Russell’s Reserve bottles are embossed with “Jimmy Russell.”
2007 – Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye is introduced.
2011 – The new Wild Turkey Distillery begins operations in Lawrenceburg, KY and replaces the old Austin-Nichols Distillery (formerly Boulevard, Anderson County, and Ripy Bros.); Russell’s Reserve labels are changed to a “tear/strip” design.
2013 – Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (non-age-stated at 110 proof) is introduced; bottling returns to Lawrenceburg, KY.
2014 – Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection program begins.
2015 – Eddie Russell named Master Distiller; Russell’s Reserve labels are changed to a larger rustic design with “Russell’s Family Reserve” as the embossment; Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye introduced; Russell’s Reserve 1998 is released as a limited edition (2,070 bottles total).
2018 – Russell’s Reserve 2002 is released as a limited edition (3,640 bottles total).
2019 – Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon private selection bottles receive a new set of labels (back/front) stating barrel maturation location, dates of distillation and bottling.
2020 – Russell’s Reserve 2003 is released as a limited edition (approx. 3,600 bottles total).
2021 – Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old Bourbon makes its debut at 114.8 proof (NCF); Russell’s Reserve joins Campari’s RARE division.
2022 – Russell’s Reserve Single Rickhouse label approved by the TTB (with a revised logo).
Did I miss anything? After all, a lot can happen in twenty years. If I did, please comment and let me know.
I’ll conclude this post with a review of the first whiskey to bear the Russell’s Reserve moniker, Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve (special thanks to the world’s greatest Wild Turkey super fan, Mr. David James). Sometimes, the best way to appreciate the current trajectory and success of a brand is to revisit its origins. So with that in mind, let’s pour!
Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve (2002) – 101-proof Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey – aged ten years – distilled and bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: dense copper
Nose: (neo-classic WT) toasted caramel, brown sugar, English toffee, vanilla bean, maple syrup, hints of blood orange & cherry
Taste: (oily mouthfeel) vanilla cola, honey-maple, butterscotch, charred oak, caramel chews, molasses, spiced orange, tobacco
Finish: long & flavorful – robust caramel, sweet oak char, chocolate chip cookie dough, nutmeg, sassafras candy, faint clove & leather
Overall: If you’re looking for that signature “funk-laden” dusty Turkey profile, the original 101-proof Russell’s Reserve isn’t my first recommendation. That being said, if you’re in the market for an incredible bourbon loaded with intense caramel, chewy vanilla, sweet charred oak, and warm baking spice, you can’t go wrong with early 2000’s Russell’s Reserve. There’s something inherently special about this whiskey. I like to call it “neo-classic,” as it’s both rooted in the classic Turkey profile, yet in an uncanny way, foreshadows the future of the brand.
Back in December, I published an article on Patreon titled “Exceptional Pours.” I chose this 2002 Russell’s Reserve 10-Year as the highlight. In that piece, I stressed how the original Russell’s Reserve 10/101 bears similarities to certain Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections. Some examples cited were 2016 rickhouse G and M barrels, though I’d throw 2017 B and D barrels in that lot as well. They don’t share an exact profile, but I’d argue the right barrel can be damn close. At a minimum, the depth and complexity are on par, as is the overall quality.
Don’t believe me? If you ever have the opportunity to taste some of these against Russell’s Reserve 10/101 in one sitting, go blind. I think you’ll be surprised.
As for this 2002 Russell’s Reserve 10-Year, it’s one stellar bourbon – a testament to the dedication and talent of the Russells. There’s a reason this whiskey was the first to bear the Russell name, and a reason why it continues to this day: Jimmy and Eddie are the best in the business. It’s really that simple.
Rating: 4.5/5 🦃
For more information on Russell’s Reserve and product availability, visit RussellsReserve.com. You can also read more about the brand and the Russell family in my book, American Spirit: Wild Turkey Bourbon from Ripy to Russell (2020 Mascot Books).
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