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Russell’s Reserve: Wild Turkey Goes Big City!

Wild Turkey Bourbon for many has always had the reputation of being a Whiskey for the rough and tumble kinda backwater people.  High proof and publicity can do that.  I recall a line from one of my favorite movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, where cousin Eddie is talking about his family and how he has his daughter in rehab getting off  the Wild Turkey, and his son starting his career as a carnival barker.  This is the mindset many people have of this particular bourbon, which is a quite wonderful bourbon in its own right, and really not deserving of the reputation it has.  Most places have Wild Turkey 101 as part of their well offerings, and I end up partaking of this particular bourbon quite frequently.

Well, like all big distilleries they have their flagship bourbon, and then some specialty stuff.  Russell’s Reserve is the brainchild of Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son.  They let this stuff age for 10 years in Oak, and produce it in small batches.  A far cry from the 5 to 10 thousand barrels that get dumped at once to create their flagship bourbon.  So now that turkey is going uptown, how do they compare with the other big boy distillery small batch bourbons?…

Quite well, I’d say.  But let me first say that this is one of the oddest small batch bourbons I’ve ever had.  The reason t is odd is because of how it reacts to cooling and water.  So far every bourbon I have reviewed has either unraveled with water, or been sweeter.  This is not the case here, not even a little.

The pour on this bourbon says quality all the way.  It is a deep rich mahogany color, with lots of  legs, lots of ’em.   This kind of oily quality gave me great anticipation of the treat I had yet to taste.

The nose on this one had a lot of barrel tones, and some sweet orangy spices.  Lots of wood, which would make an appearance later.

Neat

This bourbon was a real treat served neat.  It started out a little woody but was quickly followed with a gum drop like spice that was very pleasant.  It didn’t have a huge finish like some 90 proof bourbons do, but it was there and provided a nice little warming in the chest.  On the night I drank it that was a welcome companion as it was cold, and windy, and raining outside.  This is a great neat drinker.

On the Rocks

With cooling the barrel notes came out, way out.  See barrel flavors can be quite nice, lending sweet and caramel flavors to the drink.  But not this one, this was wood, and lots of it.  It was like chewing on the barrel kind of wood flavor.

With a Splash

Oh my God, did I just replace the bourbon with ground up wood?  You know how sometimes you get a tooth pick that tastes rather sour? This is what that tasted like, astringent barrel flavor all the way.  This is why this bourbon was so surprising, I am used to the opening up experience being a positive one, but on this bourbon it is not.  Drink it neat and no one gets hurt.  Cooling it in my opinion ruins the flavor.

Give it a try, it is a very nice neat drinker.

-Don

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Categories: review, Whiskey

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55 Comments on “Russell’s Reserve: Wild Turkey Goes Big City!”

  1. Rob Crozier
    May 13, 2010 at 8:39 am #

    Don, great review. I keep meaning to ask you expert opinion on where to start for a noob to the world of bourbon. I’ve tasted some in the past but never caught the bug just yet. I have friends that drink bourbon occasionally but want to expand the knowledge. What are some bourbons that you can recommend to someone that’s new to this?

    • Don
      May 13, 2010 at 10:11 am #

      Well Rob, that is a very long list potentially. My house bourbon is Knob Creek. I love the stuff, and at 100 proof there is enough alcohol to really bring out the flavor of the mash and barrel notes. I have often compared alcohol in bourbon to salt in cooking. Too little and it is bland, and too much and it can taste way too medicinal. The really nice thing about Knob Creek, and most other higher proof bourbons is if it is a little too over powering, just add a little water until it hits the sweet spot you are after. Don’t do what my brother did and make a bourbon snow cone. one or two cubes is all you need for cooling, and if it is still too strong for you add a couple table spoons full of water to cut it a little. This will also open up the flavor nicely. So for all the above reasons I like to direct people to Knob Creek. Now if you want something a little less expensive or less sweet that is a different conversation.

      • Rob Crozier
        May 13, 2010 at 10:23 am #

        Thanks for your response. I’ve tried to read the other blog links you guys have listed and it is a bit overwhelming; I figured I would go the an experienced imbiber. Is there a list of bourbons that you could recommend by price range, for example, best 3 bottles in the $25-$35, best 3 bottles in the $35-$45 range, etc.?

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 10:43 am #

          Well Rob, “Best” is completely subjective. The Knob Creek will run you about $35 for a fifth. It is odd, that this is in my buying black hole, yet it is my house bourbon. I typically buy below $25 or above $40. In $25 to $40 I rarely buy anything. Just weird that way I guess. But for cheaper bourbons there are a few very good selections. I like Ancient Ancient Age 10 Star a lot. It is about $15 bucks and has a great flavor profile. I also go to a lot of wheat bourbons in the less expensive price range, as they tend to be better crafted for a lower price. I like Old Weller Antique, this is aged 7 years and has 107 proof, I like Wild Turkey 101, I like Rebel Yell, and I like Evan Williams, and Elijah Craig 12 year old. On the higher end there are a lot of good selections. For Wheat Bourbons there is Pappy Van Winkles 15 year old, Van Winkles Reserve Lot B, others might include Thomas Handy Rye, Van Winkles Family Reserve Rye, Bookers, Bakers, and George T. Stagg. To name a few. The list goes on and on, but these are a few I know are very good.

    • May 13, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

      Knob Creek snow cones FTW!!!

      Icing a bourbon is great for a noob. You start at almost full intensity, and then the flavor mellows and opens up as the ice melts, revealing vanilla, cherries, etc. I’m to the point now where one or two cubes are good for me, but I’m not sure I would’ve hung in there and kept enjoying bourbon if I didn’t have lots of ice in my glass.

      It’s a great way to acquire the taste and to experience the shifting flavors that occur when water is introduced to whiskey.

      • Don
        May 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

        Jim, you are WRONG. In the future, NOBODY listen to JIM when it comes to Whiskey. Nuff said.

      • May 13, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

        We’ll agree to disagree.

        Bourbon can be difficult to acclimate your palette to, and starting off with ice is a gentle way into the wonderful world of whiskey. I’m not saying you should stick with ice, but Knob holds up great to it and tasting the flavor notes as the melting ice changes them is a pleasurable journey.

        As you become acclimated to the powerful flavor, less (or no) ice is required.

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:21 pm #

          Shut the Fu*k up! You don’t know what you are talking about. Quit. This is not a disagreement, this is fundamental to whiskey drinking. You did it wrong and I told you how to do it right when I got to NJ and saw what the hell you were doing. Don’t be handing out wrong advice. Hey and while we are at it, lets tell everyone that the rhythm method works for birth control, the Pope is God, and Santa Clause is real! Now knock it off. There is no disagreement, just I’m right and you are blatantly handing out bad advice.

      • May 13, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

        I don’t like that Santa Claus crack, Don. My kids read this site!

        Enjoy your snow cone, Scott. Mmmm…..

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

          How does your four year old like her whiskey?

      • May 13, 2010 at 3:40 pm #

        She says she likes it “neat, like Uncle Don taught me.” She also says “no more than two coobs of ice, daddy.” She’s hardcore for shore.

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

          See you don’t have the sense God gave a 4 year old!

          Out of the mouthes of Babes!

  2. May 13, 2010 at 9:17 am #

    Wild turkey was my first shot and first taste of hard liquor and the dude who gave it to me said something to the effect of “watch out…it BURNS!!!”

    Anyway, I wouldn’t shoot whiskey these days. Actually, I won’t take a shot of anything. But I do like to drink whiskey now and then, and actually find it quite affordable when compared to craft beer. Your description of this sounds very good.

    I enjoy these whiskey posts now and again…very educational for a guy like me.

    • Don
      May 13, 2010 at 10:15 am #

      Nate, I really enjoy doing the Whiskey posts too, I just wish Whiskey was a little more affordable, and there was a better selection in Idaho to really keep pace with the Beer side of things, but it is fun to do these whiskey posts. I really enjoy all the different nuances of whiskey as opposed to the huge variations in flavor that you can get from beers. Although I do enjoy that in its own right.

      • May 13, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

        Yeah, comparatively, whiskey is cheap. If I spend $8 on a bomber of beer, it’s gone in a night. I can make a bottle of $30 whiskey last a heck of a lot longer, and get more drinks out of it.

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

          You’re correct Nate, comparatively whiskey is cheaper per drink, but when you run a blog that depends on variety in the reviews it gets spendy. I do love it though, and my Whisley Bunker is growing by leaps and bounds. I think I’m well past 30 bottles now.

  3. Rob Crozier
    May 13, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    This is so helpful – thanks so much!

    • Don
      May 13, 2010 at 11:25 am #

      Oh, I forgot one! Fighting Cock! It is really cheap, I think I paid $13 for a fifth. It is 103 proof and aged for 6 years in Oak. Very hot and spicy, but a lot of fun and a great value.

    • May 13, 2010 at 1:40 pm #

      That’s right don, you love the Cock! Can’t believe you forgot that one…

      • Rob Crozier
        May 13, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

        Only a brother can say that and get away with it.

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

          Especially if he is really immature and dumb 😛

      • May 13, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

        We’ll see if I get away with anything, Rob…

      • Don
        May 13, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

        Well they don’t call them KID Brothers for nothin’

  4. Rob Crozier
    May 13, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    I am going to compile a list of the ones you recommend and go shopping. I have a graduation for my step-son next month and hope to serve a couple of these as well as some quality beers…not sure how it will go over as its my wife’s Italian family and they’re all wine drinkers. I will certainly give it a good try.

    Thanks again for your help!

  5. May 13, 2010 at 1:07 pm #

    I like the whiskey posts as well – something I’ve been wanting to try but don’t know where to start. I also think that’s a great picture of Don. 🙂

    • May 13, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

      Start with Knob Creek and lots of ice, Scott. Take your time, let the ice melt and enjoy the flavor as it changes. Great stuff and a terrific place to start.

      • Don
        May 13, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

        No, No, No! Do not use lots of Ice! Jim, you are giving our readers bad advice! Scott, do as I said above. Start with one or two cubes, and add water to cool and tame the flavor. Add a little water about two tablespoons at a time until it gets to where you like it. Don’t make a Bourbon Snow Cone like my brother Jim did. It is far easier to appreciate when you add a little water and one or two cubes. Sheesh Jim!

      • May 13, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

        As a noob who has learned to appreciate whiskey by using ice, I say it’s a fine way into the world of bourbon. Load up a glass with ice, top it with a couple of fingers of Knob on it and enjoy the journey. You’ll find a spot in the flavor spectrum you enjoy most, and can later try to achieve this by adding water as Don suggests above.

        But I like ice as a way to start, even if it’s making Don nuts that I’m recommending doing so!

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm #

          If ANYONE listens to you they are a fool! You did it wrong, and I helped you do it correctly. Had you palate not been already adjusted, I would have recommended putting some water in it to cut the intensity and let the flavors open up. You are nuts to think that anything you are saying is in any way correct. It is not. Stop giving out bad advice!

      • May 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

        I wish you’d stop tiptoeing around what you’re try to say here, Don. Sheesh, next thing I know, you’ll say that putting a bunch of ice in a glass full of whiskey is a bad idea…

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

          AAARRRGGGGHHHH!

      • Rob Crozier
        May 13, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

        You guys are too funny. Its like someone putting ice in a expensive glass of wine – it totally ruins the characteristics and flavor and I cringe when I see it, but, to each is own and I try not let it get the best of me.

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 3:45 pm #

          But, Rob, would you feel ok about a mouth breathing booger eater telling someone who is trying to get into wine to put it on ice, because that is such a great way to drink it? No, you wouldn’t, you would say, please sir don’t listen to the mouth breathing booger eater. Drink your expensive wine cooled not on ice, as it TOTALLY RUINS THE FLAVOR AND ENJOYMENT OF THE DRINK!

      • May 13, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

        Time out here, guys. “On the Rocks” is a common way to enjoy liquors, whiskey included. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the three ways Don reviews every whiskey. I get that I use too much for Don’s sensibilities, but it’s not comparable to putting ice in wine. It’s not like I made it up.

        Although our French brother-in-law will often put ice or a splash into a wine he’s having if it suits him. He’s French, it’s wine, can he be wrong?

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 4:04 pm #

          No there you go trying to deflect the fact that you are a mouth breathing booger eater. Yes you are right, on the rocks is a way to have your whiskey, however I have found through my extensive personal research of the drink this is not an appropriate way to enjoy said drink, because by the time you get done, you are drinking whiskey flavored water. Now when I go out to a bar I will order my whiskey neat with a separate glass of ice. That way I can control the amount of ice that goes into the drink. Some whiskeys (Like this one for instance) drink far better neat, so why would I ruin it with a ton of ice? You shouldn’t. Just because something is an excepted practice doesn’t mean it is correct. In your Mole Ocho post you mentioned that they used to sacrifice people to the Gods in ancient Mexico. Was that right? It was institutionally supported? So just because something is done widely doesn’t automatically make it valid. If Sassoune occasionally splashes his wine with water that is because he has drank enough to float a battle ship during his life and he knows that he likes it that way. If he did it when he was just starting to try wine, that would be wrong.

      • Rob Crozier
        May 13, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

        There’s no wrong or right – if someone chooses to use water or ice to chill their drink, so be it. Like fruit in beer or water in wine, its all a matter of preference – I don’t prefer it but to each his own.

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

          Now Rob, don’t go siding with the mouth breather. I agree to each their own, but my brother was trying to convince everyone that making bourbon snow cones was great and the way to do it. I agree if it works for someone after they have tried the drink several ways that perhaps that is just the way they like it. But you wouldn’t instruct a golfer to swing a club like Charles Barkley! It works for Sir Charles (I guess if you want to bean people at pro ams like he does) but you wouldn’t start out telling people that is the right way to do it. Same here. It works for Jim (but he eats his boogers), but for a noob, you wouldn’t want to instruct them in a way that might spoil their enjoyment of the drink as they progress in their journey. My way allows people to experiment and gradually find their way in Bourbon, Jim’s way (While he swears by it for him) doesn’t give a noob any options. You can always add more ice, but once its in there, it is kinda there for the duration.

      • Rob Crozier
        May 13, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

        I wasn’t siding with anyone – I 100% agree that when offering advice for a newbie you would want to steer them in the right direction. I am familiar with whisky and how it should be drunk and figured bourbon was similar in using water to cut the drink if necessary. Reading Jim’s advice, I actually thought it was pretty funny – I did not take it seriously (sorry Jim). Your blog is very entertaining.

        • Don
          May 13, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

          Well Rob, I’m glad you show far more sense than my brother. Hopefully he has learned something here today, but probably not.

      • May 13, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

        you’re freaking Rob out, Don. He’s Switzerland!

        I don’t know if it counts, but I usually burn through my ice-laden whiskey so quick there’s no time for it to get all watery. What I (well me and Charles Barkley) enjoy about doing it this way is that it gives you a spectrum of flavors to enjoy without having to fart around adding splashes a tablespoon at a time. It also gives you some relief if the whiskey is too much for your noob palate. If you don’t like it, just wait a bit and try again – it’ll magically change. I agree there’s a chance of it getting watery, but if you’re new to whiskey, I (seriously) don’t think it’s a bad way to start.

        Once you’re comfortable with the flavor (like I am now) you can use the two-cube and a splash method, drink it neat or whatever. But for someone wondering into the world of whiskey, I think my method works. It worked for me, and I’m on to zero or one or two cubes max now that my palatte has adjusted to the powerful punch of whiskey.

  6. May 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Thanks Jim – sounds like a good starting point. Interesting how you can almost customize the drink to taste with the ice. Doesn’t work quite as well with beer!

    I’d also agree with Jim on one of Don’s favorites because I saw something written about that on the wall of a rest stop on the Turnpike.

    • May 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

      Must’ve been the one I stopped at last summer…

    • May 13, 2010 at 4:37 pm #

      And after today’s struggle in the comments, I have a few choice thoughts to add to the stall wall.

      • Don
        May 13, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

        Give me strength! I’m glad it works for you. But you might as well be telling slaves to make bricks without straw. Good luck with that. Everyone, I’ve been wrong,, and Jim is right you should all make whiskey snowcones and have them all summer long. Enjoy! Sheesh…

      • May 13, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

        Sticks and stones will break my bones, but bricks and straw, WTF? Happen to catch Ben-Hur lately?

  7. May 14, 2010 at 12:26 am #

    Well, I decided to just put an orange slice on the glass and call it a day!

    Anyway, I think I might have picked up a couple of nuggets of info reading this thread. I think I’m going to try it Jim’s way and Don’s way just to see what yer talking about.

    OK Don, here’s a real dumb question. What’s ordering it ‘neat’ mean anyway? I was raised by wolves so I never learned that type of stuff.

    • Don
      May 14, 2010 at 10:04 am #

      Neat means that it is just bourbon in the glass. No Ice and no water. Just like drinking it straight from the bottle like I do mostly.

    • May 14, 2010 at 10:11 am #

      That’s a great idea Scott. I’d love a guest post about your noob whiskey adventure – ice bomb vs. “add a splash” method. Just make sure you start with Knob Creek – it’s delicious and pretty affordable.

      “Neat” means no ice or water, just a whiskey in your glass and an unholy blast of flavors into your sinuses!

      • Don
        May 14, 2010 at 10:15 am #

        Wimp!

      • May 14, 2010 at 10:32 am #

        I never said there’s anything wrong with an unholy blast of flavors into your sinuses. Once you’ve grown accustomed to it, it’s nice, like getting a tattoo or visiting a dominatrix.

  8. May 14, 2010 at 3:13 pm #

    Jim, I’ll chronicle my experiences. Considering I’ll be dealing w/ my Mother In Law all weekend, I’ll have good reason to get started down this path!

    • Don
      May 14, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

      In that case you might want to try Booker’s. It is 124 to 127 proof! Good luck with the Monster in law.

    • May 14, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

      If that’s the case Scott, skip the ice! Mother-in-laws drive you to drinking it neat.

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