We here at The Manual have given love to Russell’s Reserve in the past. In fact, we are members of their Legacy Society, which means we get to enjoy their fine variety of bourbons and ryes all year round. However, last fall, Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie Russell (also a Master Distiller) invited us to a private dinner where they unveiled their latest creation—Russell’s Reserve 1998.
The Russell’s Reserve 1998 has been under wraps since that dinner, but it will soon be available for purchase in October 2015. We spoke to Master Distiller Eddie Russell recently to discuss all of the finer points of this truly unique bourbon.
We set these barrels aside when we first released Russell’s Reserve 10-Year-Old Bourbon. We thought the barrels might become something for another one of Jimmy’s milestones. However, we realized that we hadn’t saved enough for a huge event. We were losing a lot of whiskey to evaporation and the flavors were right in our sweet spot for an older whiskey, so we decided to dump it into our holding tank (which is non-reactive and won’t alter the flavor) last year so it wouldn’t become too woody.
What are some of the qualities that a whiskey drinker should expect and look for in a bourbon that has been aged 17-18 years?
Most of the time, a Bourbon aged that old is going to taste very dry and woody without much of the caramel, vanilla and other fruity-type flavors we prefer. We don’t want one flavor to overpower all the other flavors you typically get in a Bourbon.
What do you think separates the Russell’s Reserve 1998 from other whiskies that have been aged around 17-18 years?
The Russell’s Reserve 1998 has a wide variety of aromas and flavors, which is always what we strive for with our Bourbon. For aromas, it has a fruity, citrus start with some woody smoky spice, before ending with vanilla and caramel. The taste begins with a creamy citrus and spicy start, transitioning to a vanilla, caramel, almost candy-like middle before ending with smoke, oak, leather and bursts of spiciness. The end has a less astringent, bitter taste, which most older Bourbons have. The 1998 has a very clean finish. Ultimately, you should taste what you smell.
When you do your yearly tasting from the aging barrels, what notes and flavors are you specifically looking for?
Each of our products has a different flavor profile. The main thing to look for is that the Bourbon goes on a journey from creamy sweet vanilla, caramel to a bold spicy taste and a clean finish. Some will have more spicy flavors while others feature sweeter, citrus flavors. We only have one Bourbon recipe and one yeast recipe, so the mingling of barrels from different floors is what produces the different main tastes.
Based on your findings during the tasting process, how do you decide to shift a barrel’s location in the rick house? What other adjustments might you make to ensure that the bourbon is aging and increasing its flavor in the correct manner?
When a barrel is aging too fast or too slow—as in too woody or too mild—we will shift them to different floors. I will move older whiskey to the lower floors to keep them from getting too bitter, oaky or woody. Normally the top floors age quicker and the bottom floors age slower. The middle floors age the best.
Are there any other special whiskies that you are working on or excited about unveiling in the next year or so?
Yes. I’m looking at some older whiskey that has been aged in different types of warehouses, and I’m also looking to create a special Rye. I’m always looking for something special for our Bourbon fans.