Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye Whiskey Review

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By April Manning

Rating: B

Russell's Reserve Single Barrel Rye

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye
(Credit: April Manning)

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye is the latest Wild Turkey creation, only just released in September 2015. It is a 104 proof (52% abv), single-barrel rye whiskey. While there is no age statement found on the bottle, it is bottled at a higher proof than Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye.

In order to be labeled an American rye whiskey there needs to be at least 51% of rye in the mix. Because rye is a more expensive and particularly challenging grain to use, most Kentucky rye whiskeys on the market hit pretty close to that number. However, Wild Turkey (who often keeps its precise mash bills on the hush-hush), makes rye the focus of the whiskey by putting the rye content up in the 70 percentiles in comparison to other Kentucky ryes that are usually down in the 50s.

Against this, the famous Midwest Grain Products (MGP) rye whiskey, that serve as the source for so many rye whiskeys on the market today, is 95% rye.

For Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye father and son Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell strategically chose only the best barrels from the most prime locations of their warehouses, which would be levels 3 to 5. These levels are what are known as the “Center Cut,” because they have less variation than the upper and lower levels.

That predictability is about water evaporation rather than Angel’s Share. Water molecules are smaller than alcohol molecules, so it is easier for them to escape through the barrel. The top of a warehouse is usually very hot and dry, so the water molecules escape much faster which means the barrels at the top can mature at an accelerated pace. At the same time, the bottom of a warehouse is often moist and cooler, meaning that those same small water molecules can also enter the barrel from the surrounding moisture and that drives the proof down in those barrels. Thus, barrels at the bottom of a warehouse will mature at a slower pace. This is why knowing the warehouses of your favorite distillery helps in understanding just what goes into the bottle.

The Bourbon
I am a bourbon drinker, and a Wild Turkey fan in particular, and my experiences with rye whiskeys (yes, even Wild Turkey Rye) have never been, well let’s just say “smooth.” I had not found one that did not leave that bristly feeling in my throat, that is until now. The rye grain in this whiskey has been expressed superbly.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye is not chilled-filtered in order to offer all the richness rye provides. The color is an intense amber copper with a nose that releases a heady sense of spicy pepper, vanilla, oak tones and tobacco.

The first burst of flavor is light, spicy, and (to my shock and delight) smooth. The rye does deepen in the journey with the spicy pepper flavors enhancing it, but it continues to a long, flavorful, fresh finish that makes it easy to drink. Adding a touch of water to the rye enhances the freshness and brings out the citrus tones I had never before been able to grasp in other Wild Turkey products. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye is a delightful balance of what I, as a bourbon lover, consider rye should taste like.

This will now be the rye to which I compare all other ryes.

The Price
$60 for a 750 ml bottle.

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One comment

  1. I have recently tried the standard Russell’s rye at the distillery and found it to be a pleasant and capable rye. So I am interested in trying this rye, but I am perplexed by a B rating when this is now your benchmark rye. Can the reviewing provide some comparisons to other ryes? Perhaps standard Russell’s or 101 rye or any other favorites. As a benchmark, I thought the standard Russell’s rye was a B, possible a B-. It was sampled after Russell’s SB Bourbon and Rare Breed, so not really fair to the standard Russell’s Rye.

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