There’s no shortage of praise being sung for Russell’s Reserve. Positioned as a more premium line from Wild Turkey, almost every expression has received praise and attention in some capacity. I emphasize the word “almost” since there’s one Russell’s Reserve bottling that tends to get overlooked.
Russell’s Reserve 6-Year Rye occupies a similar role to its 10-Year bourbon sibling. Both are the more accessible options from their respective categories, being bottled at 45% ABV while touting attractive age statements. American rye whiskey doesn’t usually hit double digits in the latter camp, so the comparatively low number is easier to understand here. And yet, this particular option is rarely one I hear people recommend, much less reach for on their own time. I have a couple suspicions as to why, but let’s give the whiskey a fair shake first.
Nose: Opens with light brown sugar and citrus before a surprisingly rich cherrywood note takes center stage. Nice, sweet layer of orange and dried green apple accented by a gentle grazing of botanicals (namely peppercorn) and toasty vanilla.
Palate: Light, faintly syrupy, and just a touch prickly. Green apple crisps, light brown sugar, honey, and black pepper. A bit of pine creeps over some sweet, toasted oak. Coconut, vanilla, and traces of allspice.
Finish: Pepper from the palate kicks off before vanilla cream and hints of citrus join the fray. Some toasted oak closes things out while retaining the sweet flavors. Strikes a nice balance between sweet and dry with a decent level of spice for the proof.
This is a slightly surprising one. Most of what I expected going in came to fruition: decent oak and ample baking spice across a light profile. What caught me off-guard was how well the finish holds up, given the bottling strength. I’m used to the deeper, darker, more delightfully sweet profile of the Single Barrel Rye, so to get an experience that feels more brazen in the little sibling was an interesting discovery. Perhaps I shouldn’t be, given Wild Turkey 101 Rye and Rare Breed Rye both exhibit similar personalities. There’s a more developed quality here when compared to those expressions, however, undoubtedly thanks to its lower minimum age.
So why is there seemingly little fanfare for the lower proof Russell’s Reserve rye? My biggest suspicion is the roughly $45 price tag combined with not only the bottling strength, but the competition. That last point isn’t strictly external, either.
Rye can be a more finnicky grain compared to corn. More time in the barrel resulting in more wood (versus less grain) influence is a simple enough concept to understand, but rye tends to experience this quicker and more significantly. As a result, a welcome age statement can be more of a nice-to-have aspect than an outright incentive for one to purchase a bottle. Remove that factor and we’re left with a 90 proof Kentucky rye that can tread $50 in certain places. It’s an enjoyable and competent pour, one that’s easy and fun to dissect, but the numbers can be tough to justify. As far as transitory ryes for bourbon drinkers go, this would make a reasonable option to order at a bar, but the same could be said of many Kentucky ryes.
I didn’t even pay full price for my bottle of Russell’s Reserve 6-Year Rye: I found it on clearance for $25. Having tried it, would I seek to keep it on-hand in my collection for the usual asking price? Probably not. Again, this has less to do with the quality and enjoyment of the whiskey itself and more to do with where it stacks in the grand scheme. I’m totally susceptible to comfort zone material, a designation this whiskey slips comfortably into, for better or for worse.