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Russell’s Reserve 15 Year Old Is Wild Turkey’s Best Bourbon: Review

Russell’s Reserve 15 Year Old Is Wild Turkey’s Best Bourbon: Review

Russell’s Reserve 15 Year Old Is Wild Turkey’s Best Bourbon: Review

I’m sure you’re familiar with the aphorism about how if a tree falls in the woods and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a sound? Consider this: If a truly remarkable whiskey is released but it’s so limited and expensive that no one really gets to try it, does it still taste good? Indeed it does, and it would sure be a shame if every single one of you reading this doesn’t get to try the new Russell’s Reserve 15 Year Old (spoiler alert, many of you won’t).

Some people don’t like to read about whiskey they might never have a chance to taste, and I totally get that. Still, when something as good as this new bourbon comes along, it’s worth learning a little more about it. No, it’s not going to change the trajectory of your life or help the world in any meaningful way, it’s just a really special bourbon from a distillery and family that have been at it for decades. If you’re not familiar, Russell’s Reserve is the small batch label produced at Wild Turkey, one of Kentucky’s finest distilleries. You’ll still find the legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell sitting at the visitor center signing bottles, even though the man is nearing 90 and surely has other things he could be doing with this time. His son, Eddie, is the other master distiller, a bourbon icon in his own right, and he’s responsible for shepherding the Russell’s Reserve lineup (it’s a family affair as Eddie’s son, Bruce, is an associate blender for Wild Turkey, and a huge rye whiskey fan).

Russell’s Reserve is known as being a really good value whiskey, with a 10-year-old bourbon priced at around 50 bucks, solid single barrel expressions, and an excellent rye whiskey in the lineup. But in recent years the brand has expanded into territory that has, by chance or by design (probably a bit of both), pushed it into the world of coveted, limited-edition, allocated bourbon. It started with Russell’s 13, a superb bottle that skyrocketed in value almost as soon as it was released, followed by a few Single Rickhouse expressions that followed the same trajectory. As Eddie explained to a group of writers recently inside one of Wild Turkey’s many warehouses, for years 13-year-old bourbon was included in the 10-year-old expression, so the decision was made to release the older liquid on its own as a new age statement whiskey (remember, the age statement must indicate the youngest whiskey in the bottle).

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The new Russell’s 15 is a couple of years older, but remarkably different. And unlike the 13, which has been released a few times, there is no plan to repeat the 15 at this point due to some very thirsty angels. “We thought maybe we could do this every two or three years,” said Russell. “But after we dumped it we realized–and I should have known–a 53 gallon barrel yielded just about 17 gallons.” That’s a whole lot of angel’s share, or evaporation as the whiskey ages in the barrels, which can be pretty significant throughout Kentucky’s hot summers and cold winters. The barrels used for the 15 came from Wild Turkey’s Fort Nelson campus, an area that Eddie believes really produces some fantastic whiskey. “Camp Nelson has been bringing out some of our best whiskeys for probably the last six or seven years,” he said. “It sits out in the open, and one warehouse sits on the cliff by the river.” That’s as close to terroir as you can get without actually saying the word, but the proof is in the bourbon, and it is extraordinary.

The first thing you notice is the color, which is one of the darkest bourbons I’ve ever seen–Bruce actually referred to it as “motor oil.” But don’t let that put you off, because it’s delicious. There are notes of caramel and raisin on the nose, a pretty good start to this sipping experience. The palate opens with notes of vanilla, cherry, and brown sugar, and then evolves into flavors like peach, grape, hot honey, expresso, and a bit of Cadbury Creme Egg in the mix. The whiskey is bottled at a strong 117.2 proof, but doesn’t drink as hot as you might expect.

The SRP for Russell’s 15 is $250 (it will be available starting July 1), but please ignore that number. A quick look online shows retailers already selling this bourbon for more than $1,000. At the risk of sounding trite, it is what it is. If you can afford to buy a bottle, you should do so. If you have a friend who gets their hands on one, ask for a taste. Forget the exorbitant price and scarcity for a moment, and focus on the fact that this is a great bourbon, and one of the best that Wild Turkey has ever released. Sure, on an average day I’d rather drink Russell’s 10 or even my old friend Wild Turkey 101, but this is a special occasion pour that stands out, regardless of who’s around to hear the damn tree fall in the woods.

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Score: 98

  • 100 Worth trading your first born for
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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