There are so many “limited” releases these days, from so many major Kentucky bourbon producers, that the very idea of such releases begins to feel broadly inessential. The limited release game has become the cornerstone of the bourbon biz—a way for the distilleries to inflate their profit margins over the dependable, year-round brands that otherwise pay the bills. The limited stuff generates hype, and hype is the single most important factor in maintaining a distillery’s street cred in the eyes of the bourbon geeks in 2021. The cycle can eventually leave one feeling a bit disenchanted, shrugging at the prospect of yet another limited release bourbon because there’s just so many of them, singing the same tune.
And then you taste something like this new Russell’s Reserve, and you remember that some of these releases are very special indeed. Sometimes, one comes along like this new Wild Turkey product, and just knocks you on your butt because it’s so damn good. And that, I must say, is a very welcome reminder.
Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old is the newest limited release from Wild Turkey/Russell’s Reserve, and let me say right off the bat: This is an absolutely beautiful bourbon. I had already been a very big fan of last year’s Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond 17 Year release, including it in my list of the best whiskeys of 2020, but there’s some element of harmony in this Russell’s Reserve bottle that ultimately leaves me even more impressed. Everything here just clicks beautifully, in a way that is anything but common.
Which is sort of funny, because in terms of theming, Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old doesn’t really have a specific ethos or gimmick. It’s not part of an established limited release series like Master’s Keep. It wasn’t given a special name; nor does its press release really give a specific reason for why it was crafted, like an anniversary or specific tribute. It’s just an extra-aged, barrel-proof, non-chill-filtered Russell’s Reserve, crafted by Eddie Russell, seemingly for the sake of “because it would taste good.” And it does!
Obviously, this is a 13-year-old release, and it weighs in at a typically lower-end Wild Turkey barrel proof of 114.8, thanks to the brand’s lower barrel entry proof. Its MSRP is a quite reasonable $70, which is a damn good deal for the specs on this bourbon, and will no doubt result in stupid secondary market prices that are 300% or 400% higher. That, unfortunately, can’t be helped, so let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, the first thing that jumps out at me on Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is a melange of dark fruit notes—I’m getting black cherry and plum, bright and vivacious in tone, combined with vanilla and roastier elements. There’s touches of smoke, char and sweet oak, with a bit of funky wildness, but also quite a lot of nuttiness as well—pecan pie, roasted peanut, and a later transitioned into smoked maple syrup. The nose implies richness, fruitiness, and more savory/charred dimensions all at once. Ethanol is modest and perfectly integrated into the experience. It’s absolutely lovely.
On the palate, this bourbon leads off with nice, bright notes of red fruit on the front of the palate, swinging from plum and cherry to tarter cranberry. From there, we segue into creamy caramel and sweet dulce de leche with vanilla and nutty cocoa nibs. Then comes the spice, with gingerbread, a solid charge of rye spice, into savory notes of tobacco and herbs. Smoke and charred oak provide a slight sharpness, but in a wonderful way that is never unpleasantly tannic or dry. There are flashes of great sweetness, but they’re always reined in by oak and trailing roastiness. The balance between these elements is impeccable. It’s complex, but also pretty broadly accessible. It’s decadent, but never difficult to drink. It’s a study in contrasts.
To me, this bourbon is elevated to rarified air not by the vivaciousness or intensity of specific, stand-out flavors, but by the overall cohesion and balance of the end result. This is flavor-balancing artistry on display, on a top-tier level of skill clearly possessed by Eddie Russell. And it’s even a good deal at MSRP, to boot.
All told, it makes Russell’s Reserve 13 Year one of the stand-out bourbons of 2021 to date. Now I just wish I could find some at a Virginia ABC store, but that’s probably asking the impossible.
Distillery: Wild Turkey/Russell’s Reserve
City: Lawrenceburg, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 57.4% (114.8 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $70 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.