When it comes to American whiskey, there are more labels now than ever before, but at the end of the day the industry is still dominated by a few major names. Among those names, one has always stood out as the boldest: Wild Turkey. Indeed, with its strong proof and spicy body, Wild Turkey feels like the kind of bourbon our burly forefathers were drinking after a 12 hour shift. Oh who are we kidding? Most of them were drinking it during the 12 hour shift.
Hence, it goes without saying that Wild Turkey has always been synonymous with big, uncompromised taste. Most often, that means pairing copious amounts of spice and heat with brilliant texture and explosive flavour. There are, however, a few Wild Turkey statements that deliver robust notes of sweetness in addition. One is Russell’s Reserve 10 Year. It’s our Spirit of the Month for October and it’s easily among the best mid-range bourbons that money can buy. Read on for some background and tasting notes.
There are two Russells in Russell’s Reserve: Jimmy Russell and his son, Eddie. Both are active master distillers at Wild Turkey, which in a manner of speaking makes Russell’s Reserve 10 Year downright quintessential. Behind its exquisite taste is a steadfast commitment to old school craftsmanship and painstaking perfectionism that’s 95 years in the making.
Put simply, the Russell team is about as close as one can get to the walking embodiment of Kentucky bourbon. Jimmy, in particular, is an absolute legend among enthusiasts and peers alike. His obsessive passion has earned him nicknames like the “Buddha of Bourbon” and the “Master Distiller’s Master Distiller.” He’s also the longest tenured active Master Distiller in the world. And while that tenure officially began in the 1960s, Jimmy’s relationship with the brand goes back way further. In fact, he started as a floor sweeper and worked his way up from there. Now over 80 years old, Jimmy has yet to retire. That’s because bourbon is not just his livelihood, it’s his life–though ironically Jimmy claims to have never been drunk.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Eddie Russell has garnered over 35 years of experience at Wild Turkey. We imagine it’s Eddie who’s now primarily responsible for quality control and conjuring up new expressions. The torch has been passed, along with the instincts and knowledge that goes along with it. Meanwhile, the Russell’s Reserve range–which consists of four hand-crafted, small batch statements–represents the apex of their combined expertise.
Using a classic Kentucky mash that goes back decades, Russell’s Reserve 10 Year is aged in #4 char virgin American oak casks for, well, 10 years or more. A #4 char means the barrel has been absolutely torched on the inside, which in part helps explain the spirit’s resoundingly developed flavour and deep amber colour. Naturally, that brilliant flavour also has to do with the recipe as well as the fact that the spirit is distilled at a lower proof than most whiskies.
Whatever the secret is, Russell’s Reserve 10 Year is an absolute masterpiece. Taking the interplay of sweetness and spice to its furthest extremes, the expression achieves balance on the grandest of scales. In other words, this is not a subtle bourbon–one whiff would tell you as much. But who ever said bourbon should be subtle? Here’s a breakdown:
Nose: The aroma is so dense that you can practically see vapours. Wafting from the glass are thick notes of vanilla and caramel with a warm, spicy backbone. Also present are notes of apple, raisin, almond, cinnamon and orange rind.
Taste: At first sip comes a wave of sweet vanilla while a tangible allspice element hangs in the background. As the spirit rests in the mouth, the spice comes forward to duly announce itself. Soon there are heaping amounts of sugar and spice rolling over the tongue, joined by hints of bubble gum, orange, corn, leather and oak.
Finish: The spice expands through the finish, warming and tingling the mouth and throat as it goes down. Generous amounts of oak and vanilla linger long on the palate, though on most sips it’s the allspice that has the last, satisfying word.
With its balanced, full bodied notes of sweetness and spice, Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Kentucky Bourbon is mid-range American whiskey at its finest. And while the 90 proof spirit definitely packs a punch, at no point does it come off as harsh or bitter. For any bourbon enthusiasts exploring bottles in the $30-$40 USD range, you’d be hard pressed to find more bang for your buck.