Updated March 14, 2017
By S.D. Peters
From the Austin, Nichols Company Distillery (i.e. Wild Turkey) comes this 6 year old small batch Straight Rye. Bearing the surname of the it’s creators, Austin, Nichols’ Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie, Russell’s Reserve Rye is a welcome addition to the growing number of small batch Ryes being produced by America’s established distillers. Many retailers still stock Rye amidst the Bourbon (which is where I found my bottle of Russell’s Reserve), but the growing number of Rye varieties brings hope that Rye will soon have it’s own section.
Russell’s Reserve Rye comes in an unassuming, but still decanter-style bottle that, like Austin, Nichols’ other classic Rye, Wild Turkey 101 Rye, has a green label banding the neck and a sliver of a paper label on the front and back affixed to the body. This conservative labeling offers plenty of clear space for the Rye to show-off is copperish amber. Like other newly-minted small batch Ryes from established distillers, such as Knob Creek Rye, Russell’s Reserve Rye starts classic, then incorporates a Bourbon-like finish that will appeal to Bourbon drinkers who are enticed by the spicier elements of high-Ryed bourbons.
Russell’s Reserve Rye is bottled at 90 proof (45% ABV), which I’ve found to be an ideal average proof for bringing out the most flavor in Rye. In the glass, the copperish amber brings to mind a temperate Spring sunset, a good time to sip neat Rye, and the scent – a sun-warmed meadow cooling at dusk – is a perfect compliment. Coming over that meadow, perhaps from a small home situated on the far end, is a hint of macaroon and salted caramel, tied up nicely with a string of spice. Almonds and light brown sugar sprinkled with season salt glide smoothly toward the spice-infused woody finish that, chased by a dash allspice, lingers long into a desert of shoofly pie.
The spicy foundation of Russell’s Reserve Rye is subtle but distinguished, though sweetness remains in the foreground, reinforcing my recommendation of this Rye for Bourbon enthusiasts. I’m usually a bit disappointed by a dominate sweetness in Rye (though floral notes are common to its character), but this one tempers the sweet nicely in the finish. I’d call it a perfect after-dinner Rye.
Addendum by Father John Rayls
Russell’s Reserve Rye is not a punch you in the face tasting. Instead, it lulls you into a sleepy approach and then reveals some surprises when you least expect it.
The appearance is a light orange/brown color with very thin legs. The nose might lead you to believe you were drinking a bourbon instead of a six year old rye. It’s filled with a gentle caramel aroma with some leather over light oak. I was disappointed to find little spice in the nose. It’s there, but way in the background.
The taste experience begins as a smooth mouthfeel. It’s light, but still smooth. Caramel and vanilla make an appearance, but not an overwhelming one. The action is mostly in the mid-mouth area. It’s sweet, subtle and pleasant. It really drinks as a bourbon until the finish makes a strong and surprising appearance. The finish is long and takes place mid-mouth as well. However, the pepperery experience also activates the rear sides of the tongue and shows up at the back of the mouth for a very nice closing. It lingers in a very nice way and your tasting shouldn’t be hurried or you’ll miss the best parts.
When Peters originally wrote this review, he was paying $39 in Virginia, but nationwide it was available for several dollars less. Now the general price is around that $39 mark, and sometimes it is marked up to $45.