Whiskey of the Week is a new review series on Spy. Each week, we’ll review a different bottle, from newly released small-batch bourbons to our favorite cheap well whiskies.
The Spirit: Russell’s Reserve 13-Year-Old
The Distillery: Wild Turkey
Proof: 114.8 proof / 47.5% ABV
Availability: Limited release
Why even bother writing this review? If you love Wild Turkey, including the higher-end Russell’s Reserve label, you certainly recognize the excellent bourbon and rye the distillery produces as being excellent value whiskeys. Wild Turkey 101 is one of the best cheap bottles you can find, and even the 10-year-old Russell’s Reserve can be purchased for around $40 a bottle. But this 13-year-old limited release has gone the way of hyper-inflated bottles like Michter’s 10 and Blanton’s, and can be found priced at hundreds of dollars beyond its SRP. It’s not like this is the first time this has happened with a Wild Turkey product, but usually this has been reserved for bottles like the Master’s Keep expressions or the 2003 Russell’s vintage. I guess this was bound to happen with the 13YO, given its limited availability and age statement, but it has ruffled some bourbon fans’ feathers. All that being said, this is a tasty whiskey that does deserve a closer look.
“Crafting Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old turned out to be one of my most rewarding experiences as a distiller,“ said master distiller Eddie Russell in a prepared statement. “This release embodies our commitment to creating uniquely satisfying flavors, and, hands down, it’s one of our most rare bourbons.” It’s non-chill-filtered and was bottled at a cask strength of 114.8 proof (if that gives you pause, it doesn’t drink as hot as you might expect). The palate starts off with notes of cherry syrup, caramel, orange Creamsicle, and pecan, and wraps up with a medium spicy finish and just a hint of oaky tannin. I’d save this one for sipping, but if you manage to snag a bottle and want to make an Old Fashioned that’s got $50 worth of bourbon in it, go right ahead, I’m sure it’ll be delicious.
So here’s the conundrum. This is a good bourbon, as to be expected from Wild Turkey, pushing the upper limits of maturation but bottled before becoming a cheek-puckering oak bomb. Is it better than the 10-year-old or even the six-year-old Russell’s Reserve? Not in my opinion, but your taste may differ. The problem is the secondary market and unscrupulous retailers that have marked this up ten times past what it was intended to be sold for. Did the marketing department at Wild Turkey know this would happen? It’s not inconceivable to think so, but is that really their responsibility? I’d argue that the primary job of any distillery is to bottle good bourbon, and that’s what has happened here. If you are lucky enough to find a bottle priced below $100 (unlikely but not impossible), buy it. But if you see this one sitting on the shelf for five or six times that, maybe skip it unless you truly have some extra cash to burn – and congratulations to you!
You can find Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old online at Flaviar, where it’s priced at the nosebleed-inducing price of $530. We were able to find bottles available via delivery services like Drizly for as low as $120, but your mileage may vary.