Review: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey

Russell's Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – the product name is a mouthful and is perhaps one of the longest formal names for a spirit that we’ve covered. The name is probably unnecessarily long: saying that something is small batch and single barrel is fairly redundant and slightly confusing. Adding the term “small batch” to the label may be a carryover from the previous Russell’s release, and we wouldn’t be shocked if future bottlings omitted the words “small batch” in favor of simply “single barrel.”

Name aside, Wild Turkey’s Russell’s Reserve line has always been a place for Master Distiller Jimmy Russell to showcase some of the best whiskey he has aging in Wild Turkey’s rackhouses. Previous entries in this line have included Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Bourbon (which was released at 90 proof) and Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Rye, which we consider one of the best rye whiskeys ever to be released. This time around Russell’s Reserve comes out at a higher proof, 110, but with no age statement.

When it comes to bourbon, age statements can be a little misleading, as barrels on bottom floors of rackhouses age differently from those on top floors (Watch this video with Larry Kass to understand how this works). It’s possible that Wild Turkey decided to go without an age statement to have more flexibility in barrel selection or to keep in line with their other premium offerings like Rare Breed. Rare Breed is a blend of whiskey but with a healthy amount of 12 year old in it, again with no age statement. For a bourbon priced in the $50 space, it would have been nice for Wild Turkey to put more information on the bottle so that whiskey connoisseurs could have a better idea what exactly they were buying, but, ultimately we judge a spirit by what’s in the glass, not what’s on the bottle.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon (110 Proof / 55% ABV, $50) – considerably darker in color than Russell’s Reserve 10 Year, partly do to the higher proof and partly to do with where it was aged, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is deep amber in color. The nose is a nice blend of oak spice, cinnamon, rye, vanilla, pecan, and a touch of maple – all traditional notes we’ve come to associate with Wild Turkey, only deeper and more intensified. The oak spice here is commensurate with an older bourbon, solid oak but not so overpowering that the other aromas can’t come through. For a 110 proof barrel strength whiskey the nose is much more subtle and approachable than we’d expect, which goes to Jimmy Russell’s overall style, which is bold without being overpowering.

The entry on Russell’s Reserver Single Barrel is so easy and approachable that we were double checking the bottle to make sure that it was indeed 110 proof. After a soft, easy start with an entry that’s caramel, cinnamon, and maple, things really ramp up in the midpalate with a burst of flavor and spice including Wild Turkey’s signature deep cinnamon along with solid oak and a clear rye spice. Jimmy Russell didn’t chill filter this release of Russell’s Reserve and in the midpalate you can really tell, as it has a nice weight and mouthfeel. The balance is really superb in the mid palate, until a fairly strong spike of spice where the rye and oak notes intensify considerably.  This spice spike leads the finish which is quite long, oaky, and fairly dry. The balance is a little askew in the finish where it feels like the floor of the base notes (including caramel and maple) drops out and all you’re left with is the spice. The level of oak here again leads us to believe we are dealing with a whiskey around 10 years of age  (although the brand comments, “Jimmy & Eddie hand select barrels that are between 8-9 Years Old and are from the center cut of the rickhouse, where optimal maturation occurs”).  Adding a little water to the mix helps even out the finish and opens things up, and it also enhances some of the sweet notes in the opening and helps the overall balance. It’s our preferred way of drinking this release.

In a market of big, bold, oaky whiskeys, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the other entries in this class, but we’ve always loved the way that Jimmy Russell can acheive balance with strength. Jimmy himself has said that he enjoys drinking his bourbon closer to 6 years than 8 to 10, and we’re inclined to agree with him. The level of oak and spice serve to deliver an impressive bourbon experience worth experiencing, but it’s not one that we’re really drawn to. Priced at $50, it’s considerably more than the 10 year ($30) and Rare Breed ($35) and more than double the base Wild Turkey 101 ($20) which we adore. $50 seems to be a key price for a new breed of premium bourbons, but older and more experience doesn’t mean better.

How much you enjoy Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon will greatly depend on how much you like oak. If you are looking for a big, bold, oaky whiskey, then you’ve found it. For our money, we’ll still be buying Wild Turkey 101 (and longing for the return of Wild Turkey Rye 101) and enjoying the exquisite balance and flavor delivered in one of the most underrated and affordable whiskeys on the market.

Watch our interview with Wild Turkey master distiller (and whiskey legend) Jimmy Russell.