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Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Bourbon (2023) Review
American whiskey companies have gotten into the habit of naming premium releases to honor founders, distillers, and blenders. From Elmer T. Lee (Buffalo Trace) to Al Young (Four Roses), these bottles serve as de facto career achievement awards for bourbon legends. Wild Turkey is no stranger to this tactic, introducing a line of expressions to honor father/son master distiller duo Jimmy and Eddie Russell. Combined, the Russell’s have over 100 years under their belts at the Lawrenceburg-based distillery.
Russell’s 10 Year Bourbon, 6 Year Rye, and Single Barrel Bourbon expressions set high marks at the intersection of quality and value. Their Single Rickhouse expression also gave fans a new rabbit to chase, though at a significantly higher suggested price point. In 2021, the company introduced an older, cask-strength expression to the line, with an eyebrow-raising 13 year age statement. (It’s worth noting this is the minimum age statement, and it’s widely believed the batches contain barrels of significantly older whiskey as well.)
Now an annual — and annually coveted — release, Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old Bourbon sits at the top of Wild Turkey’s product lineup, along with the limited Master’s Keep expressions. How does the 2023 version stack up in a taste test?
Russell’s Reserve 13: Stats and Availability
Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Bourbon first dropped in 2021. Wild Turkey parent company Campari marketed it as a one-time release to honor second-generation Master Distiller Eddie Russell. In 2022, the company announced Russell’s 13 would become an annual — though limited — release. Bottled at cask strength, the sample reviewed here comes in at 114.8 proof. This bourbon is made from a standard Wild Turkey mash bill of 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 12 percent malted barley.
In 2021, Russell’s Reserve 13 carried a suggested retail price under $80 for a 750-milliliter bottle. Consumers who found it early and for close to that price point could consider themselves lucky, as retail shops soon began adding $100 (or more) to the price tag.
In 2022, the MSRP ticked up to $100; given how sought after the first release proved, many on-shelf and ecommerce retail outlets listed it at $200 or above. In 2023, the MSRP increased once again to $150.
Russell’s Reserve 13 Review
As with all of VinePair’s whiskey reviews, this was tasted in a Glencairn glass and rested for at least five minutes.
Citrus is prominent on the nose — toasted orange peel in particular. There’s also a pronounced tartness, like quince or unripe pear, floating just on top of the oaky and wood notes. The interplay between tart and traditionally sweet bourbon notes immediately lends depth and character to aromas. That interaction gradually subsides toward sweet, dessert-like elements of brandy soaked pears, crème brûlée, a touch of vanilla bean, and dark cocoa. There aren’t as many vegetal notes as I expected based on other Turkey expressions — one ventures these come from the rye content — but that’s not to say they’re lacking entirely. The rye spice is tempered (not absent) and plays well with the citrus, almost like smelling a rye cocktail with an orange twist.
Bright, fruity, and sweet, with depth that takes its time to fully reveal itself, this release of Russell’s 13 is a joy to nose.
At first sip, there’s more chocolate here than the nose suggests. Combined with continued citrus notes, it brings chocolate-covered and candied orange slices across the palate. The spice — rye and baking spice, particularly clove — hits as a secondary flavor and lingers throughout the middle and upper palates.
On a second visit to the glass, the profile opens up a bit with blackcurrant and fig cookies. There’s oak, certainly, and while the midpalate gets very lightly dry, it doesn’t flatline the experience before reaching a crescendo. The time in the barrel has been kind to this whiskey, and the decision to release at 13 years feels just right. I worry a higher minimum age statement would lend itself toward becoming too tannic to support a balanced profile.
At over 114 proof, the mouthfeel isn’t quite syrupy, but it’s noticeably thicker than any of Wild Turkey’s famed 101 proof expressions on the market today. This doesn’t have the punch-in-the-mouth, chew-on-the-way-down viscosity of barrel proof releases from some competing brands. Instead, we’re getting layered flavors with just enough strength to carry them without ethanol pushing anything out of the way.
Far more leathery and peppery than on the palate, the finish is long and fades back to burnt orange peel and subtle notes of dark chocolate. The spice and sweetness work well together; the rye spice on the top of the palate leisurely fades to leave a warming sensation, and the fruitier notes make a welcome reappearance.
Russell’s Reserve 13 Rating
Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old Bourbon is Wild Turkey near the peak of its current powers. While perhaps not any given year’s best release, batch-to-batch it consistently performs among the very top contenders from celebrated brands. It’s a bourbon with loads of flavor and scant few identifiable flaws, and a great example of what experienced blending teams can do with deep stocks of well-aged barrels.
Moving this to an annual release was a smart and welcome move, though one that’s done relatively little to improve its availability to bourbon-hungry masses. If you’re able to snag a bottle at a reasonable cost, consider yourself lucky — and please share with friends.