RUSELL’S RESERVE 10 YEAR
Bottled April 19, 2013 (laser code L3109FH1247)
MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley
PROOF – 90
AGE – 10 years
DISTILLERY – Austin Nichols Distilling Co. (Wild Turkey)
PRICE – $43
WORTH BUYING? – Need one ask?
I’d remembered seeing this bottle on the shelf at a nondescript market on San Francisco’s Geary Street, in the Tenderloin district, some handful of years ago. I left it there because I was brimming with Wild Turkey products at the time, and generally preferred Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels to the standard small batch releases.
But this past April 19, 2022, as I strolled by that same market, I thought, wait, that old label could mean particularly good things in terms of flavor if the whiskey inside was distilled during Wild Turkey’s 107-entry-proof era (2003 or before). I ducked inside. There it was, still gathering dust. I asked how much it cost. The guy said $50. I asked if he could bring it down a bit. He said $40 if I paid cash. I paid cash. There was another bottle behind it. But I left that for some other Wild Turkey enthusiast to happen upon.
When I checked the laser code to see when the bottle was corked, it was none other than April 19, 2013—exactly 9 years prior to the day! This was so much better than had I picked it up that first time I’d seen it, which I doubt had also been an April 19.
I eventually uncorked the bottle late on a Tuesday afternoon, mid-Summer, after a short but trying day. I needed to relax and to treat myself to something. So I poured a glass at the wooden kitchen table of the house-sitting situation where I was staying at the time. The bright russet-orange color of the whiskey and faded brown label on the bottle fit perfectly at that table.
But the kitchen had its own prominent aromas going on, as kitchens do. I wanted clear air in which to try this bourbon. I took the glass out on the back deck, with a view of the San Francisco bay beneath a blue sky blotched with patches of fog. I brought the glass to my nose…
Oh man. Perfect Wild Turkey aromas—cinnamon, black pepper, sweet oak, deep baked cherry, fruit pie crust, and just the right accent of that old Wild Turkey “funk.” I recognized that funk immediately from Forgiven Batch 302, where it was much more prominent and did not make a great impression. I eventually came around to that bottle, but barely. Whereas this Russell’s Reserve had greeted me immediately with its precise and confident balance.
Then on the taste and finish, just like the nose—balancing baking spices with the oak, fruit, and caramel. At 90 proof it was easy sipping, almost too easy. I did miss the viscosity of those 110-proof Russell’s Reserve Single Barrels. But the tradeoff was a flavor profile that came off the still back in 2003, married with oak for a decade, got bottled up and shipped out to San Francisco, then sat there, waiting for me patiently—even after a near miss—until April 19, 2022.
Was it complex? Not particularly. Nor was it simplistic. It came across like a no-nonsense homemade fruit pie. Very satisfying. Further sips brought about more tannins from the oak. The bourbon was drier than it was sweet, yet still in balance. I couldn’t wait to see how it aired out over time.
So here we are, nearing two weeks after uncorking and four pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – pale but vibrant and clear orange, reflecting the world around it
NOSE – slightly floral baking and rye spices, sweet oak, soft slow-dripping caramel, dry smooth river stone, faint cherry pie, black pepper
TASTE – everything swirled together: the caramel, baking and herbal spices, oak, baked cherry, and there’s that nice whiff of the Wild Turkey funk
FINISH – baked cherry, cherry pie crust, the funk, the caramel now thick cut and drier but still oily
OVERALL – a very solid bourbon that tastes just like bourbon should, not “fire water” but more “warm campfire” in Autumn when the pies are fresh and the sunsets are early
My assessment of the uncorking pour holds true now as well. I suspect it will hold true once I’ve reached this bottle’s final pour. Wild Turkey products are not known for their surprises, but rather for their consistency. The quality is top notch in every respect. Thank you Jimmy and Eddie Russell.
For a mainstream brand, Wild Turkey manages to be at once accessible and uncommonly good. A drinker can toss it back without thinking too much and be perfectly satisfied. A connoisseur can parse out the individual notes and have plenty to chew on. This 2013 bourbon would fit in at a late night campfire, an afternoon BBQ, paired with cherry pie after dinner or pancakes at breakfast. It’s a good ol’ standby without being boring in the slightest. Pure pleasure, with wit!
Given that subtle Wild Turkey funk aspect, I thought it might be interesting to taste this vintage Russell’s Reserve next to the much funkier Forgiven Batch 302. Their proofs are similar, with Forgiven just a hair warmer at 91 to the Russell’s 90. Both were bottled in 2013, so their contents come from the same era. Forgiven has rye mixed into it, and the age of the blend is not stated. With all that in mind I poured a glass of each.
Their colors are very similar in the intensity of orange and clarity of how they reflect the world nearby, with the Forgiven tinting slightly darker. Both are similarly viscous, leaving nice drips along the inside of the glass.
On the nose, the funk is immediate and up front in the Forgiven, whereas in the Russell’s I have to search for it among the cherry notes, where it seems to hide. There is a bright freshness to the Russell’s, and a murkier, comparatively darker quality to the Forgiven. The brighter, sweeter floral notes I pick up in the Russell’s find their parallel in a flatter, reedier straw aspect in the Forgiven. They’re very interesting to compare next to one another, because they are so clearly family and yet each has its own emphases, like true siblings. The longer I nose them both, the more cherry and caramel start to emerge, and these notes are quite directly related, rather than in variation like the herbaceous notes.
Tasting them, the Russell’s is syrupy, with perfectly balanced cherry, oak and spice. The Forgiven is dominated by that funk, which is more forceful here than on the nose—though now not objectionable after several months of the bottle airing out. The funk coats the Forgiven’s secondary notes of cherry and oak like a syrup. The finishes of each bourbon mirror their taste.
Though the Forgiven has improved notably over time, I wouldn’t be likely to invest in another bottle given the opportunity. This Russell’s Reserve, however—and even though it’s lighter in weight at 90 proof than I ultimately prefer—I’d definitely buy another bottle.
And in fact I have! Just a week before this tasting, I went back to that same Geary Street market. There sat that second bottle I’d left behind, still gathering dust. Now it’s in my home bunker.
What conclusions can be drawn here?
The most obvious is that if you spot one of these old-label Russell’s Reserve 10 Year bottlings on a shelf, so long as the store hasn’t jacked up the price, you should nab it straight away. I’d pay up to $50 for this. Above that, stick to contemporary Russell’s Reserve at $40 on average, and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel releases at $70 on average. I’d even buy the latter before I’d buy this 2013 bottle at that same price. But for what I paid for this 2013-era 10 Year, I’m delighted. And I’m so glad I have a back up!