A few years back, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with my favorite bourbon sidekick and the legend Jimmy Russell – master distiller at Wild Turkey. We enjoyed a multi-course meal with several exclusive pours, a group of around 30 attendees, and listening to Jimmy wax poetically about the history and future of bourbon was a once-in-a-lifetime treat.
What’s in a Name?
More than 60 years ago, Jimmy Russell walked into the Old Ripy Distillery and began his career in the bourbon industry. 35 years ago, his son – Eddie– began his career at Wild Turkey. Fast forward to today, and Jimmy and son, Eddie, are the only father-son master distiller pair in the spirits industry. There are master distillers, there are bourbon legends, and there is Jimmy Russell.
Like the great Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken Jr., titans like this don’t come along every day. The bourbon baring the Russell name lives true to the family heritage. In an unimposing bottle, Russell’s Reserve was created out of the partnership of father and son Jimmy and Eddie.
Wild Turkey and its siblings are known for distilling to a lower proof than many of the competitors. It also enters the barrel to age at a lower proof than most – at 110 proof. Jimmy and Eddie – here’s to you and thanks for all you do!
While I’m not always in the mood for Wild Turkey 101 and its spiciness, I’m always amazed at how a little longer aging and a slightly lower proof can smooth out some of the spicy notes of the typical Wild Turkey mashbill.
The mashbill is a surprising – 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% malted barley. I say “surprising” as a common characteristic of the Wild Turkey expressions are its rye spiciness. Many would think it originates from WT’s higher rye content. For comparison, Brown-Forman utilizes a 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley in its Old Forester and Woodford Reserve lines. Jim Beam’s flagship brands utilize a mash of 75% corn, 12% rye, and 10% malted barley. Each of these have either identical (or even slightly higher) rye content. It’s clear the impact of the yeast strain, the barrel char, and the aging of the distillate and its warehouse location have on the finished product, as sometimes the grain mixtures can be surprisingly similar.
This bourbon is bottled at 90 proof and carries a 10-year age statement. In today’s rush for longer-aged bourbons, carrying age statements, Russell’s 10-Year Reserve is in good supply at a reasonable price. This bottle was found at a national retail giant for around $30, though I recently saw a sale at a national grocery chain for this gem in the mid-$20 range – a bargain compared to some craft bourbons that are less than half as old.
Eye: Red ocher blending into sienna. There are long-thin legs displayed in my Glencairn glass.
Nose: A lot of vanilla here. I haven’t noticed that before in some of the other Campari brands. There is also a good amount of well-worn leather and leaf tobacco.
Palate: Spice on the tip of the tongue, followed by oak, tobacco and grassy-earth. There is sweetness with a delicious mouthfeel.
Finish: Medium, very well-balanced. It does linger, low and subtle with a lovely after-glow. Incredibly smooth.
Overall: Jimmy and Eddie have done a great job putting this bourbon together. For a low-$30-something price point (and occasionally a bargain in the $20-something range) with a 10-year age-statement, this is really quite exceptional. It is different enough from its siblings that I prefer it over Wild Turkey 101. For me, it is smoother, more well-balanced and not in-your-face spiciness. The subtle complexity of the profile make it an exceptional buy. This is one bourbon that my trusty sidekick always keeps in stock.