Guest Review: RareBird101 on Russell’s Reserve 2002

Russell’s Reserve 2002 (2018) – 114.6-proof, 15-year KSBW – distilled & bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY – bottle #3425 of 3640

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  deep copper

Nose:  (mature & complex w/ fragrant spice) toasted vanilla, bananas foster, maple syrup, spicy oak, caramel chews, pecan, polished leather, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, rich herbal/floral spice, hints of ripe citrus & mint

Taste:  (intense, thinner than expected) rich caramel-maple, vanilla extract, deep-charred oak, English toffee, brown sugar, heavy baking spice, blood orange, hints of dark chocolate, walnut shell & black pepper (slight bitterness)

Finish:  long & flavorful (w/ a dry “zing”) – vanilla bean, molasses, sweet & spicy oak, cocoa powder, polished leather, black pepper, faint zesty citrus

Overall:  I’m not going to lie – Russell’s Reserve 2002 is an excellent bourbon whiskey.  Right from the start two features immediately stand out:  its impressive maturity and its intense complexity.  One could literally nose this bourbon for hours (okay, guilty).  Yet at the same time I wouldn’t call this pour entirely balanced.  It comes very close to tasting as decadent as the nose leads you to believe; however, it’s nearly interrupted by a slightly tannic and astringent presence.  Faint, but present nonetheless.  Some folks enjoy that in a bourbon, but I can only appreciate bitter and drying notes so much.  Luckily, Russell’s Reserve 2002 hesitates from crossing that line (at least for me personally), though it flirts with it … heavily.

As I sit here finalizing this review I find it difficult to refrain from drawing comparisons to Master’s Keep Revival.  Sure, they’re completely different whiskeys.  Revival is an experimental sherry-finished whiskey, while Russell’s Reserve 2002 is a traditional straight bourbon whiskey.  Yet I can’t help but see a greater disconnect between them.  It’s as if Revival were a Stradivarius violin and RR 2002 a factory-new Ferrari. WTH, right?  Work with me here.  What I’m referring to is the difference between genuine rarity and artificial rarity.  Please allow me to elaborate.

A Stradivarius violin is genuinely rare because of Antonio Stradivari’s dedication to craftsmanship and the sheer surviving number available after centuries gone by.  Regardless of one’s opinion on their sound or performance, these instruments are true rarities that simply cannot be duplicated.  A new Ferrari, on the other hand, is rare solely because the manufacturer chooses to limit production to a set number of vehicles each year.  While expertly crafted, their rarity is arguably artificial due to imposed limitations, not inherent limitations.

You might be thinking, barrels aged 15-years are inherently limited, right?  Sure, but out of the 20 +/- rickhouses Wild Turkey owns and manages, there were only 25 well-aged barrels?  I highly doubt it.  Here’s what’s truly limited – Wild Turkey KSBW patiently resting in imported 20-year-old Oloroso Sherry casks.  What Eddie accomplished with Revival is a genuine rarity – a masterful work of art.  Carefully blending 12-15-year select KSBW barrels, finishing the resulting batch in a handful of vintage Spanish casks, and finally, meticulously evaluating each cask’s progress to determine peak sherry influence … that’s dedication – that’s craftsmanship.

Now please don’t jump to conclusions.  I’m not saying that Russell’s Reserve 2002 isn’t a notably fine bourbon whiskey deserving of praise and recognition.  Nor am I saying it wasn’t carefully crafted.  I’m quite certain it was.  What I’m saying is that it seems artificially rare – at least the marketing appears that way.  For example, here’s the headline from RR 2002’s official press release:  With First Barrel Proof Offering, New Contender for ‘Unicorn’ Status Enters the Bourbon Lexicon: Introducing Russell’s Reserve 2002.  I’m not sure about you, but I hear that being read by the guy that announces all the big-ticket Heavyweight Boxing events.  “Let’s get ready to RUMBLE!!”  And “unicorn?”  That’s not Wild Turkey.  What are we?  Pappy now?  Please god, no.

I guess I’ve had my say at this point – probably more than my say.  I started my night with Russell’s Reserve 2002; finished my night with Master’s Keep Revival.  Or in other words, I chased a “unicorn status” whiskey with yet another inevitable Wild Turkey shelf turd (wake up, America).

Russell’s Reserve 2002 is a fantastic pour, without doubt.  But here’s the thing – so are numerous other Wild Turkey bottles.  Master’s Keep Revival is but one recent example.  From Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections, to the past several years of Wild Turkey limited editions (particularly Decades), there’s plenty of quality Turkey out there to be found.  More importantly, you don’t have to spend $250 (or four times that) to find it.  If you’re contemplating Russell’s Reserve 2002 at retail, it’s a fair purchase.  Outside of that, gobble on!

TL;DR:  Russell’s Reserve 2002 is awesome, but Master’s Keep Revival is better.

Rating:  4.5/5 

I think it’s easy to say that DJ enjoyed the oak in this bottle more than I did, and that’s the beauty of different palates. 

Check out more of RareBird101’s work here!

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