Back in February, I published a Russell’s Reserve rye comparison. My goal wasn’t to determine the superior whiskey, but rather, to illustrate which might fare best for you, the reader. After all, each expression has its own strengths, specifications, and flavor profile. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to try the same comparison, but this time between Russell’s Reserve’s two main bourbon expressions: Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

Before diving in, I should note that both the Russell’s Reserve 10-Year and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel I’m tasting were bottled in early 2023 and sport the latest redesigned labels. I’m a huge fan of the new look, particularly the alternating red and white split labels. The gold foil accents on the Single Barrel are also a classy touch, giving the bottle a more premium appearance to match its $60-$70 price. 

First up is a personal favorite, Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon. Russell’s 10 wasn’t always my go-to Turkey, but things began to change in 2019. It was a full-on love affair by 2021. Unfortunately, the expression’s profile hit a slightly disappointing shift by early 2022. Though I still purchase and enjoy Russell’s 10 frequently, it’s admittedly not the same whiskey that captured my heart. As for what this 2023 bottling has to offer, we shall see.

Russell's Reserve Bourbon Comparison

Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Proof: 90

Age: 10 years

Misc.: Distilled & bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rich amber

Nose: vanilla, toffee, orange peel, herbal spice

Taste: caramel syrup, sweet oak, honey butter, baking spice

Finish: medium w/ light vanilla spice, savory citrus, charred oak, white pepper

Impression: No surprises here. While I was hoping for a return to pre-2022 Russell’s 10, it’s essentially a repeat of the bottles I’ve purchased over the past year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. There’s plenty to appreciate. I just wish it had the forward medicinal cherry, oak, and leather notes of older Russell’s 10 releases. Alas, it does not, and what’s left is vanilla, caramel, light citrus, and baking spice. If you removed the younger elements from Wild Turkey 101 and bottled it at 90 proof, this is the profile I’d expect. Again, nothing to pitch a fit about, but outside of a double-digit age statement for a sub-$50 price, it’s nothing to boast about either. 

Regarding Profile Shifts

So, why the change in profile? I’ve discussed this before, so I’ll refrain from a lengthy discourse. I believe there are three primary factors: the age of the whiskey, the rickhouses in season, and a new still.

Russell’s Reserve 10-Year might carry a noteworthy age statement, but I’m of the belief that prior to 2022, bourbon older than 10 years found its way into batches. I have little information to support this claim outside of my palate. But if you think about what’s been introduced in the last two years – particularly Russell’s 13 and Wild Turkey 101 12-Year – it only makes sense.

Next, traditional rickhouses play a role in shaping a batch’s profile. It’s unavoidable. No matter how hard you try, the DNA of a maturation location will affect a bourbon’s flavor. In regard to Russell’s 10’s former profile, it’s possible that batches from 2019 to 2021 contain more Camp Nelson aged barrels, which would explain the woodier vibe. By 2022, a greater number of Tyrone aged barrels crossing the 10-year mark, as witnessed in the private barrel program. It’s not uncommon to find 10-year Tyrone E selections filled post 2021; it wouldn’t surprise me if similar barrels made it into Russell’s 10.

Finally, there’s Wild Turkey’s new still, installed and tested in 2010 and formally launched into service in 2011. For the record, I’m no expert in distillation or still construction, so please take this hypothesis with a grain of salt. But it only seems logical that any change to a major process, in this case distillation, will introduce subtle differences to the final product. And since you have to wait years to taste the fruits of your labor, the full impact of these differences aren’t easily detected. 

But for those who prefer Russell’s 10’s former profile, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve noticed that Russell’s Reserve private selections are growing increasingly impressive since 2020 (the year the new-still whiskey first hit the single-barrel program). In fact, the last two barrel picks I attended at Wild Turkey left me stunned in the very best way – especially the barrels aged at Camp Nelson B. As those stocks cross the 10-year mark, I’d imagine that Russell’s 10’s profile will only get better.

Russell's Reserve Bourbon Comparison

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Proof: 110

Age: not stated

Misc.: Distilled & bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: copper

Nose: caramel drizzle, apple butter, sweet oak, singed lemon peel, herbal spice, hints of cinnamon & nutmeg

Taste: butter toffee, confectioners sugar, vanilla bean, savory citrus, honey syrup, charred oak

Finish: medium-long w/ chewy caramel, brown sugar, oak char, leather, orange zest, faint cola

Impression: This is the best non-private-select bottle of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel I’ve had in years. It’s not “off profile” or crazy unique, but then, those types of barrels are better reserved for the private selection program. It’s pure quality Turkey, non-chill filtered and bottled at a respectable 110 proof. The nose is a medley of caramel and orchard fruit, while the palate and finish satisfy your senses with butter toffee, savory citrus, and hints of cola. Gone are the nutty characteristics that often dominate Wild Turkey single-barrel releases from 2020-2022.

Though it’s possible this particular 2023 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon is a honey barrel, I believe we’re seeing a return to form, as I’m reminded of 2017-2018 private selections from Tyrone’s rickhouses D and H. Similar to the last two private selections I’ve attended, I’m taken aback by the sheer impressiveness of the spirit. Maybe all the new distillery needed was time to work things out. If that’s the case, things can only get better. Hell, I’m counting on it.

As for which of these Russell’s is my favorite, I think it’s pretty clear this round goes to Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. That said, I probably buy Russell’s 10-Year twice as much as the single-barrel expression (including private selects). Even with the profile fluctuations, I still appreciate the 10-Year as a daily sipper. The age, proof, and price are precisely what I desire in a casual pour. 

If you’re searching for an easy-sipping bourbon that’s well-aged, not to mention affordable, available, and crafted by the best in the business, go with Russell’s Reserve 10-Year. If, however, you prefer a more robust and flavorful sipping experience, give a recent Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel a shot. I think there’s a good chance you’ll find a profile reminiscent of earlier bottlings. Of course, I can’t guarantee every single barrel will deliver a comparable experience, but I’m confident at the very least you’ll find an exceptional bourbon. 


Enjoy this blog? Please consider supporting it via Patreon. In return you’ll receive access to exclusive rewards and weekly whiskey content. Thank you! dj