The Defining Quality of Russell’s Reserve Whiskey

Distilling legends Jimmy and Eddie Russell craft exceptional bourbons and ryes that defy age

The Defining Quality of Russell’s Reserve Whiskey
Russell's Reserve

In partnership with Russell’s Reserve

Eddie Russell can still vividly remember the first bottle of Russell’s Reserve, released in 2000 to honor his father, Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell.

“It was a tribute to my father’s 45th anniversary as Master Distiller,” remembers Eddie, who’s also held the Master Distiller title since 2015 (both Eddie and Jimmy are Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame members). “We threw a big party for him, and I wanted to craft something special. We laugh now because, even then, at 65 years old, we thought we’d be announcing his retirement. Almost 25 years later, we’re still waiting.”

Now with nearly a quarter century of unique whiskey releases, Russell’s Reserve has moved far beyond that commemorative bottle. This summer, the iconic Kentucky distillery is launching Russell’s Reserve 15 Year Old, a limited-edition offering that pushes the boundaries of extended aging.

As with other Russell’s Reserve releases, the barrels that make up this small batch release were hand-selected by the Russells from the “center cut” of the warehouses. “That’s the sweet spot for aging whiskey,” says Eddie. “Barrels from the top floors are going to run hot and spicier, whereas barrels from the bottom are going to be cooler and more mellow. The center cut is just right to get the best balance of flavors.”

After enduring 15 years of Kentucky’s intense summer heat and frigid winters, it takes Jimmy and Eddie’s 100+ combined years of whiskey experience to select the right barrels to craft an ideal tasting profile. Non-chill filtered and bottled at 117.2 proof, this bourbon offers aromas of dried fruit, caramel, nutmeg, oak and clove. Take a few sips and you’ll uncover additional layers of spiced fruits, cherry, molasses, coffee, mature oak and tobacco. On the long-lasting finish, you’ll find hints of dark cocoa, caramel and more of the barrel character. It’s best neat, but a drop or two of water can bring out more of those fruity characteristics.

Russell’s Reserve

Overall, it’s an exceptional bottle and an exciting new chapter in the distillery’s award-winning history, which includes both 10 and 13 Year Old bourbons, a few single barrels and rye whiskeys — the latter is where you’ll find even more of Eddie’s influence (Jimmy? Not always a rye drinker).

“Jimmy and the distillers in his generation tended to focus on their signature, hero offering,” says Eddie. “With more consumer interest than ever before, I’ve focused on expanding our portfolio of whiskeys, finding new flavor profiles and unique offerings. Folks get excited as we continue to introduce new whiskeys, whether that’s through finish or age statement.”

That generational influence continues with Eddie’s son Bruce Russell, who has taken on a larger role at the distillery. “I’ve learned so much from Bruce and about what younger generations of whiskey drinkers are looking for,” he says. “As he’s come up working in the distillery, he’s done an amazing job of connecting with bartenders and consumers to understand what they like and what they’re looking for. It’s been an honor to work with Bruce, much like I do with Jimmy, each day and learn from each other.”

Even drinkers more hesitant about rye whiskey can find a lot to love with the Russell’s Reserve releases (especially their signature 6 Year Old release). “There’s a difference in flavor from what rye whiskey once was and what it is now,” says Eddie. “The rye whiskey from many years ago had a lot of those signature rye toast, black pepper and spice notes – it was something that you most often saw in a cocktail. Now, the ryes we’re aging and introducing offer a lot more variety in the flavor due to that extra aging. You still have the spice and pepper notes, but you also get lemon zest and a good sweetness. It makes for a versatile whiskey.”

Russell’s Reserve

You can talk for hours to Jimmy, Eddie and Bruce about all the aspects of a Russell’s Reserve release — and we have —  from the importance of their limestone-rich water source to their use of 100% American-grown, non-GMO grains. But for the bottles that bear the family’s surname, it really comes back to the curation of those barrels.

“All of our whiskey goes into the barrel the same way – using the same mashbill and proof — but the aging process is where the difference is made,” Eddie says. “It’s one of the most unique aspects of the job, overseeing how barrels are aging in each rickhouse and tasting to determine what will eventually become a Russell’s Reserve release.” 


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