Stop me if you’ve heard this one: I’ve always wanted to try [insert bottle name], but just never got around to it. Bourbon’s ongoing popularity continues to grant an overwhelming amount of selection to shoppers, both at the liquor store and online. All these options make likelihood of exploring as many bottles as possible increasingly unrealistic. This makes for an interesting contrast against bourbon’s more limited options, which often receive the most attention, thanks in no small part to their relative scarcity. It wasn’t even that long ago when the vast majority of shoppers wouldn’t so much as consider shelling out triple digits for a bourbon. Now not only do folks nary bat an eye, but many hunt down previously budget-minded bottles that used to collect dust on store shelves.
What does this have to do with the subject of today’s review? Let’s just say I’ve heard stirrings that Russell’s Reserve 10-Year has become more difficult to procure in certain markets. Part of me is caught off-guard since the enthusiasm for this ostensible stalwart has often been middling. Not to mention your more casual drinker might not even realize that Russell’s Reserve is a Wild Turkey brand. At the same time, this isn’t too surprising given how other favorite bottles have seen price bumps, decreased availability, shifting statistics (age statements, proof), or any combination of the three. Russell’s Reserve 10-Year actually went through a transition before bourbon became so sought-after; it started out as a limited product bottled at 101 proof. Now it’s a 90 proof shelfer (or is it?).
Something else that’s brought Russell’s Reserve 10-Year further into the spotlight is the talk of a recent profile shift. David at Rare Bird 101 and Jason at The Mash & Drum recently compared 2022 bottlings to previous ones, with both reaching similar conclusions. Even Eddie Russell suggested as much in an interview with David from last year, mentioning that he thought “it will change some” in the years to come. I recently purchased my first bottle of Russell’s Reserve 10-Year without checking the laser code beforehand. When I did, I discovered that it was indeed a 2022 batch. Let’s get into it.
Nose: Baking spices. Dry, toasty wood and vanilla with cinnamon. Crunchy peanut butter with traces of dried cherry. Maybe some tobacco as it sits. Post-sip smells like trail mix with caramel.
Palate: Light-medium mouthfeel. Cherry syrup and light brown sugar with dry roasted peanuts. Some toffee and smoke. Distinct (but not overbearing) barrel char and oak spice permeates the experience.
Finish: Drying oak, nutmeg, and clove. Hints of lingering cinnamon. Competently long for the proof, but has far less personality than the nose and palate.
Coming to a conclusion on this bottle has been strangely difficult. My first impressions were hardly enthusiastic, and while the bottle did grow on me over time, it wasn’t to a drastic extent. This is undoubtedly reinforced by the somewhat awkward position Russell’s Reserve 10-Year exists in for a number of drinkers. Many Wild Turkey fans gravitate towards the “bolder,” higher proof personalities of 101 and Rare Breed. At the same time, there will always be a place for lower proof options, especially when they carry attractive age statements. I only occasionally reach for higher barrel proof options these days, so the space Russell’s Reserve 10-Year occupies suddenly feels less awkward when viewed through that lens.
Having satisfied my long (but mild) curiosity for the entry-level Russell’s bourbon, there are two things to address: my enjoyment and likelihood of repurchase. I can confidently say I enjoyed my bottle, which is almost a given with Wild Turkey. The profile is a touch simple and leans on the dry side to my palate thanks to the age and presence of baking spices. I’d also say this is a great middle-ground option for an Old Fashioned. Whether another bottle will find a home in my collection, however, is less than certain. This brings us back to the sheer volume of bourbons available and how Russell’s Reserve 10-Year stacks up. I’d say it stands well against the majority of similarly priced options, thanks again to its age statement, potential availability, and fair profile. Throw in some heavier hitters like Four Roses Small Batch/Single Barrel, Knob Creek Small Batch, Maker’s Mark 46/Cask Strength, and Dickel Bottled in Bond that can be found for similar or marginally higher prices and the case for Russell’s becomes slightly weaker. But again, those are top choices in an ocean of less inspiring options.