Russell’s Reserve 13-Year is arguably the most sought-after expression in today’s Wild Turkey catalog. But when it comes to flavor profile, are all bottles created equal?
At this point, you’ve probably heard of three Russell’s 13 bottlings: April and December 2021, and May 2022. Many whiskey enthusiasts refer to these as batches (1, 2, and 3). While that’s not incorrect, I’ve decided to abandon that classification. Instead, I’m classifying Russell’s 13-Year (114.8 proof) the same way I, and most other enthusiasts, classify Rare Breed (116.8 proof) – by stating the bottling date. I mean, you don’t see anyone referring to a recent Rare Breed bottle as “batch 25,” etc. They simply state the month and year or provide the first two letters (post-prefix) of the date code (for example, “JD” for April 2021).
Think about it this way – as the production of Russell’s Reserve 13 increases, keeping track of batch numbers will grow cumbersome and potentially confusing. Additionally, if it ever changes in proof, there will surely be two camps – one that continues the numerical sequence already established, and another that resets the sequence back to “1.” Yet, by using the bottling date (or code), the problem is eliminated. There’s no confusion, no need for lists or charts. One simply refers to differences in profile (if any) by bottling date.
If I haven’t convinced you, consider this final thought. Outside of word of mouth, we really don’t know what constitutes a batch of Russell’s 13-Year. While I’m aware that the three initial 2021-2022 bottlings contain some differences in ages and maturation locations, there’s no guarantee it will stay the same down the road. I’ve seen Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections dumped and stored in tanks for well over six months. There’s no reason the same couldn’t happen with Russell’s 13, and you’d never know it until after the fact (if ever). By using fan-made batch numbers, it’s possible that two “batches,” months apart, could be the same exact whiskey.
So there you have it, my argument against using unofficial batch numbers. While I hope my suggestion makes sense and is eventually adopted by the community, I’m doubtful. Enthusiast-made batch numbers have become a buzz word for influencers and flippers, each claiming their choice as “the best,” driving the FOMO here or there, up and down. Which brings me to my review, a Russell’s Reserve 13-Year bottled in December 2021, or “batch 2,” as the cool kids call it. 🙂
Before I dive in, I think it’s important to stress that any bottle of Russell’s Reserve 13 is special. If you have one, be thankful. If you have two, consider yourself extremely lucky. And if you have more than two, I hope you’re sharing. While I appreciate the nerdy side of this hobby – especially the nerdy side of Wild Turkey – I grow weary of the snobbiness and attitudes that can sometimes accompany it. It irks me to see someone post a picture of a celebratory pour of Russell’s 13 only to find a Tater Bro in the comments raining on their parade, asking which “batch” and claiming it’s somehow inferior to another. Get a life.
On with the show … Let’s pour!
Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old Bourbon (December 2021) – 114.8-proof, 13-year Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey (non-chill filtered) – distilled & bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: dense copper (almost rosy)
Nose: (intense w/ “rickhouse funk”) toasted brown sugar, vanilla bean, maple syrup, fragrant oak, blood orange, sweet clove, faint tobacco
Taste: (oily mouthfeel) chewy salted caramel, English toffee, medicinal cherry, charred oak, savory orange peel, hints of steeped black tea
Finish: long, warm & flavorful – molasses, oak char, dark chocolate cherry cordial, cola, cinnamon, nutmeg, smoked citrus, antique leather
Overall: The inaugural Russell’s Reserve 13-Year release set the bar so high, I was curious if the follow-up could match it. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, December 2021 Russell’s 13 tops it! While both releases showcase exceptional traits of well-aged bourbon, December’s is notably robust and darker in tone with heavier spice notes on the finish. Per my conversations with Bruce Russell earlier this year, this is likely due to the inclusion of more whiskey aged on higher rickhouse floors (though a similar 13- and 19-year blend). It has just about everything I’m looking for in a barrel-proof Russell’s Reserve expression, and I’m sincerely grateful to have it on my shelf.
Rating: 4.75/5 🦃
Before wrapping up, I acknowledge that I’m probably in the minority by favoring the December 2021 Russell’s Reserve 13-Year. From what I’ve gathered from friends and social channels, it appears the least favorite of the three known releases to date. And that’s fine. Besides, I’ve yet to try a May 2022 Russell’s 13, which seems to get the highest praise of the lot. But even after I do, I’m confident I’ll still love the two releases that came before it.
As stated previously in this review, any bottle of Russell’s Reserve 13 is special. Avoid diving into the uber-nerdy details too fervently. Come up for air and appreciate what’s in front of you. In consideration of time and energy, sometimes face value is the best value. And whatever you do, don’t fall victim to the unofficial “inside info” secondary hype machine. FOMO is a beast we all wrestle with occasionally. Chances are, the whiskey you have right now is amazing. Never let fear steal your joy.
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