Russell’s Reserve 13 mania has again begun, and with it, droves of whiskey enthusiasts will soon be monitoring websites, scouring liquor stores, and enlisting the help of friends and family across the country. While I have nothing but praise for 2021’s Russell’s 13, let’s be honest – virtually no one outside of Campari has tasted 2022’s iteration. But that won’t matter. It will sell out, sell out quickly, and leave many feeling snubbed once again.

But in this upside-down world of bourbon bedlam, there’s serenity to be found. And it comes at a similar price to this year’s Russell’s 13 (about $125). Despite what many may believe, you only need three Wild Turkey bottles.

Two points to clarify before moving forward.

  1. Needs and wants are clearly different states of satisfaction. One can want a mint-condition 1940’s Wild Turkey 101 (raises hand), but that doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Needs, on the other hand … well, no one really *needs* whiskey. It’s not a requirement for survival. But I’d posit that good whiskey enjoyed responsibly enhances life. At the very least, it makes it more pleasurable. If you feel similarly, you only need quality whiskey to satisfy that need.
  2. I’ll be talking strictly about bourbon today. While Wild Turkey maintains a healthy rye whiskey portfolio, it’s less diverse in comparison to their bourbon selection. And even if you’re having trouble finding Rare Breed Rye or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye, chances are a brief web search or phone call to a friend will yield fruitful results. Besides, Russell’s Reserve 13-Year is a bourbon and this article is in many ways a counter to the hype and hubris surrounding that release.

One last thing. I expect a good many enthusiasts will disagree with this post. After all, I’m omitting some notable fan favorites – heavy-hitters like W. B. Saffell and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (not to mention private barrel selections). So be it. If you have a better list for $125 (or less), feel free to comment below or share and tag on social media. I’d love to read it!

As for me, you only need three Turkeys …

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Batch 116.8 (About $60)

I’ll just come out swinging. What can’t you do with Rare Breed? Jimmy Russell’s longstanding and reliable combination of six-, eight-, and twelve-year, barrel-strength bourbon is perfect for neat sipping, rocks pours, and cocktails requiring a hefty ABV. And with the introduction of batch 116.8 in 2016, it has remained one of the best barrel-proof bourbons on the market (affordable too). And while there’s plenty of YouTubers and websites touting specific date-coded bottles as superior, I’ve yet to find a single bottling lacking in quality.

Rare Breed also earns a place on this list thanks to its versatility via dilution. Fancy a bourbon in the 105-110 range? Just add a few drops of water. You’ll be surprised how nicely that fares. Add a drop or two more and you’ll have Wild Turkey 101 with some additional twelve-year complexity to boot. While “perfect proof” is completely up to the individual, when starting at barrel strength, the sky’s the limit!

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon (About $40)

If you read my recent review of 2022’s Russell’s Reserve 10-Year and its profile change, you’re probably wondering why it made this list. That’s a perfectly reasonable question. Just because a bourbon’s profile changes doesn’t mean it’s an unremarkable whiskey. Frankly, any ten-year straight bourbon from a heritage Kentucky distiller is worthy of consideration in 2022 – even more so when it’s $40 or less. Russell’s 10 shines as a neat sipper (my everyday pour in the brand’s core catalog, even with the change). It’s also ideal for cocktails like a Boulevardier or Manhattan.

But perhaps Russell’s Reserve 10-Year’s greatest strength lies in the ease in which it blends with other whiskeys, particularly Wild Turkey. Take a 50/50 blend of Russell’s 10 and Rare Breed, for example. Some folks call this “Russell’s Breed,” but for me it’s always been “Poor Man’s Saffell.” Or, you could tweak the ratio, add a little less Rare Breed, and end up with a Wild Turkey 101 that’s heavier on an eight- to ten-year profile. Hell, you don’t have to stop at just Turkey. Russell’s 10 plays well with numerous whiskeys. I’ve had success combining it with Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, Wilderness Trail, Pursuit United, and more. So if you’re looking for whiskeys suitable for blending, start with Russell’s 10.

Wild Turkey 101 (About $25)

When it comes to Wild Turkey lists – or any bourbon list, really – there’s a damn good chance you’ll find Wild Turkey 101. And for good reason. It’s inexpensive, available (in practically any size), and punches well above its price. Have no doubt – Wild Turkey 101 is the quintessential bourbon. Even with its overplayed “frat boy” image, it maintains a substantial and ever-growing audience of astute drinkers. And for those doubting its high-class attributes, place it in a blind tasting against sought-after bourbons like Weller and Blanton’s. Just don’t come crying to me when your taterific dreams shatter.

In an era where seemingly every new bourbon – Turkey or not – occupies a lion’s share of social media attention, there’s Wild Turkey 101 to cut through the bullshit. It’s the litmus test of quality/value balance. If a whiskey can’t measure up to 101, serious thought should be given to that whiskey’s priority. Remember, needs outweigh wants. Easy to type, hard to practice, but it’s the truth. I only wish I could heed my own advice more often.

Ladies and gentleman, the Russell’s 13 carnival is pulling into town. Some will be delighted, some will be disappointed, and inevitably, one too many will be led astray by sly barkers. While whiskey enthusiasts are always free to spend their money as they please (and a reasonable premium may very well be justified after a proper tasting), never forget that you only need three Turkeys. Your three may not be my three, but dependable cost-worthy alternatives might just cure impending FOMO. 

Cheers and the best of luck to all!


Photo by Victor Sizemore.

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