On Wine vs. Whiskey & Russell’s Reserve Rye

russellsreserveryeIf you missed me last week, that’s because I was traveling about France, doing very little in the way of tasting American liquors – bourbon especially.  In fact, I managed only one type of liquor over there: a single Calvados whose name I don’t even recall.  Instead, I did what I could to get a taste of the wine world, and in particular, I delved into the world of Burgundies.  Thanks, in large part to David and Lynne.

Naturally, there is quite a bit different between the philosophies of distillers and vintners, but at times I was surprised at the gap between the two.  For instance, the concept of a “single barrel” wine is simply not in the picture for vintners – and this really points to the larger issue at hand: everything that occurs after the harvest of the grapes is important to do correctly, but largely inconsequential to the end product.  With whiskeys on the other hand, where and how the grain is grown bears little importance in the final product and the artistry lies in the post-harvest crafting.  Very interesting to think about, and one would imagine the two worlds might have a bit to learn from each other.

Now that I’m back in my dear States United, however, I’m good and ready to dive back into the good stuff – built from grain, aged in oak.

And what better welcome back into the country than a bit of Russell’s Reserve Rye?  I met Jimmy Russell himself at a tasting at the Brandy Library a few months ago, where he poured me a few of the “Russell” branded Wild Turkey offerings including this very one – though the drink’s subtleties were probably lost in Jimmy’s charming conversation.

So with that, I’m going to give this one a proper American Hooch eye and see what it has to offer.

Stats:

– $30-35

– 90 proof

– Mady by Austin, Nichols (Wild Turkey)

Presentation:

Russell’s Reserve Rye comes in what can only be described as a straight-forward bottle.  Everywhere you look it has clean edges, straight lines, and bold lettering.  The label is an aporximately one-inch thick, four-inch high, vertical strip at the bottom of the bottle declaring the basic information that what you have before you is “Small Batch 6 Year Old Kentuck Straight Rye Whiskey,” with a small monochrome photo of a barrel beneath a window.  Above that, printed on the bottle is the product name and a raised glass signature, and the bottle is topped off with a pale wooden cap that is adorned only in its modest height and simplicity.

The text on the back does bring a bit of out-of-place adornment, praising Jimmy and his son Eddie as “America’s premier whiskey makers” and awarding their own product as “the perfect 6 year old rye.”  There’s nothing wrong with pride in many circumstances, but here it belies the classy no-nonsense approach to the design of the rest of the bottle.

Tasting:

RRR has a very attractive and surprisingly deep scent to it.  It starts with fresh-baked bread and moves into a fruit-sweet, fresh-cut grass tainted by charcoal note.  This very much reminds me of warmer weather and Sunday afternoons.

It is not nearly as smooth on the tongue however, with all the elements of rye (and its high proof) bursting through right away.  Along with the initial brightness though, there’s a creamy, almond flavor to it.  As this fades into the fairly sweet finish, the almond aspect develop into a dominant note with touches of the rye-driven bitterness creeping in on the sides.

There’s a lot going on here.

Over all:

This is a very well crafted whiskey.  It hits all the points that I usually enjoy, especially the sweet/bitter contrast that plays so nicely.  I could also see this making an excellent Old Fashioned – as long as you kept the recipe as simple as possible so as to take advantage of the bright almond notes in Russell’s Reserve Rye.

Very well done.

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7 responses to “On Wine vs. Whiskey & Russell’s Reserve Rye

  • Mike

    I concur with you assessment of RRR. I picked this up at a bevmo in California for $25 and it was a great buy. I defiantly got the almond flavor. This being the First rye whiskey i have tasted i was very impressed. Looking to pick up a bottle of the Pappy Van winkle reserve rye next. I have also heard great things about sazerac 6 and 18 year olds.

  • HomeBrewHawk

    My brother gave me a bottle of this for my birthday. I haven’t tried a lot of rye, so I’m not expert, but I thought it was great. Long finish that really showed off the oak. Nice blog, btw.

    • Nathan

      Thanks, HBH! The more I return to it, the more I enjoy Russell’s Reserve Rye. It’s become my standard for rye over the past few weeks, but like you, I haven’t gone into rye as much as bourbon or even brandy.

  • Visitor

    I’m a big fan of single malt scotch, particularly that producing in the Islay region. Sadly, the good stuff goes for around seventy bucks a bottle. I’m thinking of 16 year old Lagavulin. For sipping, I prefer not to be paying that much money, hence my exploration of American whiskey. Bourbon based in corn is simply too sweet, though I found some I enjoyed. Rye works beautifully for me and this offering is excellent. I’d been looking for Wild Turkey Rye but the shelf was empty. I tried this with no knowledge of its relationship with its sister brand. I’ll likely buy another of this fine Rye. The price is right!

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