Last seen in 1998, this is a single vintage, cask strength release of Wild Turkey’s Russell’s Reserve Bourbon, a 15 year old monster of which only 25 barrels have been turned out. Bottled at barrel strength, it’s a rare opportunity to look at Wild Turkey at an advanced age, unadulterated, from a single distilling season.
Our sample has a bit of an odd story behind it, which is why this review is so delayed. When the distillery sent out its initial round of samples over the summer, they were quickly followed up with a recall warning: The samples may have been tainted by the varnish used on the wooden boxes in which they’d been packed. It took a few months to sort all that out, and finally we’re able to look at the unadulterated, varnish-free expression here. I write about this because you might encounter other reviews of Russell’s Reserve 2002 out there; if you notice commentary about off flavors, you might be reading a review of a tainted sample bottle that would not be representative of the shipping product.
So at long last, let’s crack into the fresh, varnish-free version of the whiskey.
A massive, massive whiskey, Russell’s Reserve 2002 pours on the very essence of Kentucky bourbon from the moment you crack the bottle (or, in my case, the sample bottle). Bold barrel char, burnt caramel, some citrus peel, and a hint of caramel corn all meld together on a powerful nose that is scorching with alcohol. The palate bursts with flavor, provided you can stand the heat. Bold barrel char, chewy coconut candy, and a knife-sharp citrus edge all inform the unadulterated palate. Some water is an excellent idea, and you needn’t be shy: At about 2:1 bourbon to water, things really start to pop. Caramel corn, gunpowder, silky caramel, and a milder fruit component all meld together with a body that is still heavy with hot, peppery spice, but which finds a cautious balance amidst all of this insanity.
Lately it’s become fashionable to release very sweet whiskeys that mask any flaws lingering in the underlying spirit. Russell’s Reserve 2002 says that’s all bullshit, and that real bourbon has some muscle to it. As for RR 2002: Does it ever.
A / $250 / wildturkeybourbon.com