Why Russell’s Reserve 2002 Is, Hands Down, Wild Turkey’s Best Whiskey of 2018

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 Courtesy of Russell's Reserve

The world of whiskey has become a circus in recent years. But while you might say some brands have been walking a tightrope for our attention, Wild Turkey has been hanging out in the wings of the bourbon scene for a few years now. It’s maybe had less stage time, hogged less of the spotlight, but it’s at the top of its game. If you’re in need of evidence, look no further than Russell’s Reserve 2002.

Russell’s Reserve is an offshoot of the Wild Turkey portfolio. The idea behind it is that, much like Jim Beam’s line of small batch products that includes Booker’s and Knob Creek, these can be showcase bottles, aimed at connoisseurs—or at least beyond the products targeted specifically at the masses.

The name comes from Jimmy and Eddie Russell, the father-son team who together this year achieved a combined 101 years of bourbon-making experience. The family reserves include a wide and impressive swatch of great Wild Turkey whiskey, from its 10-Year-Old Bourbon and 6-Year-Old Rye, to the Single Barrels of bourbon and rye.

The 2002 vintage, created by son Eddie, is actually an indirect sequel to a bottle titled Russell’s Reserve 1998 (also named for the year it was distilled).

To put all of this in perspective, one of our favorite bottles it’s released in the last decade is Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17, also one of Eddie Russell’s creations, also barreled to a mid-teenage maturity, and arguably as close to perfection as we’re able to achieve in this reality, in this dimension.

Russell’s Reserve 2002 might be better.

It’s hard to tell, honestly: We finished up the last of our Master’s Keep 17 more than a year ago. But what that bottle had was an epically long finish, incredible depth, and an impressive balance of youth and age.

With this Russell’s Reserve 2002, it’s all there: great, syrupy texture, a deep, earthy finish, and tons of lip-smacking tannins that coat the inside of your mouth so you can feel the whiskey long after it’s gone. It’s a nice balance of the rye and corn grains at peak performance, and just the right essence of the barrel.

What sets it apart most of all is how close to straight-from-the-barrel character it is. Because it’s bottled at barrel proof, and non-chill filtered, it almost feels like you’ve just poured a char-free glass straight from the oaken vessel.

To get there yourself, you’ll be set back a heartbreaking $250, which we assure you will be worth it this time next year—when you’re trying to snag a bottle at black market prices, full of regret and envy, and not at all full of great bourbon.