Some things you can always count on – a fresh-brewed cup of coffee in the morning, an ice-cold glass of lemonade on a summer’s afternoon, and the tried and true well-aged profile of Russell’s Reserve 10-Year. But then, maybe one of those, not so much. Look, I’ll just rip the bandaid off in paragraph one: 2022’s Russell’s 10 isn’t the Russell’s 10 profile I’ve come to expect and love over the last eight years.
I should’ve known this was coming. After all, Eddie Russell made it clear last year that Russell’s Reserve 10-Year would probably experience profile changes. And here we are. But before you fire up your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, it’s probably best that I share how a recent batch of Russell’s 10 actually tastes. No, it’s not the bourbon you’re accustomed to, and if Russell’s 10 is a regular pour for you, you’ll certainly notice. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t quality bourbon or worth your hard-earned money.
Hang in there. There’s lots to discuss.
Russell’s Reserve Ten Year Old Bourbon (Feb 2022) – 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 …
Nose: caramel, orange zest, toffee, sweet (almost fruity) oak, light baking spice
Taste: vanilla, fruit & nut trail mix, toasted honey, cherry cordial, citrus spice
Finish: moderate length w/ singed lemon peel, brown sugar, milk chocolate, oak char, faint nutmeg & leather
Overall: In a nutshell, 2022’s Russell’s Reserve 10-Year is a more complex, lower-proof Wild Turkey 101. It’s loaded with core bourbon notes like caramel, vanilla, and toffee – considerably balanced as well. It’s just lacking that forward fragrant oak, medicinal cherry, and antique leather profile that’s defined the expression for so long.
Admittedly, there’s a part of me that’s disappointed. I’m sure you gathered as much from the tone of my introduction. That being said, this recent iteration has its merits. There’s plenty to love here – especially if you fancy a mature bourbon that’s sweet and light on the oak notes. It’s simply a shift I’m not ready for, and for that, its rating steps a half notch down from my last review.
Rating: 3.25/5 🦃
Why? It’s a big question, right? Why has Russell’s Reserve 10-Year’s profile changed so notably? I suppose there’s the possibility this particular bottling comes from a rogue batch. It happens. But as much as I’d love for that to be the case, I have strong doubts. Besides, Eddie warned us, remember?
Outside of pure “batchiness,” there’s two factors that likely contributed to this change in profile, and the first is the age of the whiskey itself.
While Russell’s Reserve 10-Year has carried its signature age statement from its introduction, based on past interviews with Eddie Russell, older bourbon often made its way into the roughly 200-barrel batches. Even a handful of teenage barrels can make a difference when combined with barrels several years their junior. Take those older barrels out of the equation, and you’re looking at a profile more akin to a ten-year Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection diluted to 90 proof. Still a damn good sipper, but in its own less-oak-influenced way.
The second factor that may account for this apparent profile shift (and the one you’ll surely hear the most loathing about in diehard Turkey groups) is the new still.
In June 2011, Wild Turkey’s state-of-the-art distillery launched with great fanfare. But it was only a formality, as Jimmy and Eddie Russell, along with the distillery crew, spent the months before putting the new column still through its paces – testing new make and tweaking the distillation process (there were even a number of fall 2010 barrels). By fall 2011, the distillery was cranking out whiskey that would eventually become today’s core Wild Turkey and Russell’s Reserve products.
The first time I recall documenting a profile shift in detail was January 2021, though I’d noticed it in private barrel samples the year before. The post was titled “Profile Shift and a Camp Nelson Comparison,” and it discussed what I assumed were changes in flavor due to a completely new still and distillation facility. Today, it’s less of an assumption and more of an assessment; it’s gauging the impact of that new process. Not that the recipe or yeast has changed, but when it comes to making whiskey – particularly whiskey you won’t taste for four years out – every little step makes a difference. Similar to the sci-fi “butterfly effect,” one minor change can bring about an entirely new reality.
As I sip the last of my glass of 2022’s Russell’s Reserve 10-Year, I must stress this is mighty fine bourbon. Hell, it wouldn’t surprise me if some whiskey enthusiasts prefer this over past batches. I especially love the chocolate note on the taste and finish, which isn’t something I typically find in Wild Turkey expressions. In fact, it reminds me of the ten-year rickhouse E barrel I selected with friends back in March, although this bourbon is lighter and simpler due to the reduction in proof. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to completely win me over. I miss the former profile. I wager I will for some time. But you never know. I might come around and find myself falling for this new experience. Truth be told, it took me years to warm up to post-2006 Russell’s 10 anyway. In the meantime, there’s plenty of 2016-2021 bottles out there to be found … for now.
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