Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ Bourbon Review [In Depth]

Russell's Reserve 13 Year

Alex author
Founder, writer
Russell's Reserve 13 Year header

Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ Bourbon Details

Distillery: Wild Turkey

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 57.4%

Composition: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley

Aged: At least 13 years

Color: 1.6/2.0 on the color scale (mahogany, henna notes)

Price: $75-80 MSRP (good luck). I paid $200+tax

From the company website:

Legendary Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell use over 100 years of combined experience to create this thoughtfully crafted expression. Each bottle of Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Old is aged for a minimum of 13 years, reaching an ABV of 57.4% and promising a distinctive, rich, warm flavor best enjoyed right out of the bottle.

Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ overview

Wild Turkey finally did it, they got people really REALLY excited about one of their domestic releases. I’m not saying that all the Master’s Keep releases weren’t exciting, but I feel like there’s an entirely new level of frenzy for Russell’s Reserve 13 Year Bourbon.
It’s the age-statement (one of the oldest released in years except the 17 year bottled in Bond), higher ABV, and not so terrible $80ish MSRP (half that of Master’s Keep). By the way, that’s only a $20-30 upcharge from Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. So yeah, it all looks amazing on paper.
As a result though, availability is extremely limited, prices are often very high, and angst over not finding one is rampant. And I’ll be honest, I was a bit angsty about it until I got lucky to find this bottle at a store for “only” $200, with laser code LL/JL. It’s still multiples above the $75-80 MSRP, but way better than the $400+ I’ve seen elsewhere.
I even tried to haggle down the price to no success, but both of us already knew that the price wasn’t that terrible. I thankfully had the means to buy this, so I did, and also grabbed the “normal” Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon for $55 while I was there. Who knows, maybe a “regular” Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel vs Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is in the works.
Anyways, I’ve also been exceedingly fortunate to have lived in Japan and tried the other two 13 year old Wild Turkey bourbons that are out there today for MSRP: Father and Son and Distiller’s Reserve. The main problem with both was that they were so underproofed (43% and 45.5% respectively), that I could never shake how thin they often felt. The Distiller’s Reserve was still good enough for a “Top Shelf” rating, which says a lot about how good it was despite the ABV.
The added ABV is a welcome sight to what I know to be a great bourbon. As much as I don’t want to go into any review with expectations, which I guess I could fix by doing it blind, I admit that I have some lingering expectations. With my past experience, I sort of know what to expect, but I’m still going to go in with clear eyes (full hearts, can’t lose) to be as objective as I can.
The big question is what the extra ABV brings to the glass. Lucky for me, we’re going to find out now in this Russell’s Reserve 13 Year review.
Russell's Reserve 13 Year front
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Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ smell

Yup I know this smell very well. Russell’s Reserve 13 has loads of roasted caramel, vanilla marshmallow, dried cherry and maraschino cherry, a lot of dark chocolate, fragrant roasted and “sweet” oak, marzipan (had that recently – made from sugar, honey, and almond flour), tobacco, apricot, dried orange peel, and cinnamon.
It’s a dark, oaky, and mature bourbon with that type of fragrant roasted oak that’s a little burnt and chocolatey like a toasted chocolate bar. As long as my description has been so far, the super short summary is that it smells incredible, and with calm heat that stays out of the way.
After swirling and 7 minutes of rest (yes I did time it), there’s dark chocolate and brown sugar up front followed by roasted marshmallow, roasted oak, dried cherry, marzipan, orange peel, tobacco, licorice, and a lot of cinnamon. It’s sweet, oaky, and very spicy, but not a biting and burning spice, just a lot of fragrant and dark cinnamon.
Because the timer was still running as I started smelling for my second pass, it takes about 12 minutes for the rich lower-end sweet and oaky heft to set back in and bring the scents to their full glory. Pro-tip, let Russell’s Reserve 13 Year rest in the glass for at least 12 minutes to get the full smelling experience. Really, it smells a bit thin bodied for the first 10 minutes after swirling, but the sweet lower-end does eventually come back if you’re patient and it starts to smell glorious again.
Russell's Reserve 13 Year bottom
At the same time, a little bit of the oaky astringency starts to come out. It’s not bad, but I definitely can’t forget that smell anytime soon after Wild Turkey 17 Year Bottled in Bond battered me with it.
That chocolate-forward character, like s’mores in a glass, is really reminiscent of Wild Turkey 13 Year Distiller’s Reserve. That alone isn’t that surprising because it’s 13 year old Wild Turkey, the ABV and barrel selection are just the main differences. It’s also similar to Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon, if you’ve been fortunate enough to try it.
If you haven’t had any of those aforementioned bourbons (probably most of you), then…I can’t think of an easier to find parallel that oak and chocolate-forward. That unique set of traits usually takes a lot more time and money to produce, even barring allocations and markups. Double oaked bourbons have a different type of sweetness, although still chocolate and vanilla forward, but it’s not quite the same. That tangent is for another time.
All together, Russell’s Reserve 13 Year smells amazing, and one I can say is worthy of “Top Shelf+” status.

Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ taste and aftertaste

Russell’s Reserve 13 Year welcomes me with dark brown sugar, roasted oak, chocolate, vanilla, dried cherry and orange peel, licorice, fresh and slightly tart cranberry, and a little peach and smoke. It tastes amazing, but it’s already clear to me that it doesn’t have the same roundness, denseness, and completeness that the scents do.
To state the obvious, the flavors showcase all the older bourbon that’s driven by the oak but not dominated by it. Nonetheless, it doesn’t feel quite right given how fantastic Hardin’s Creek Jacob’s Well 15 Year tasted. You might even call it Jim Beam’s take on Russell’s 13. Maybe it’s the overall body, lack of lower-end heft I, and/or the unexpected tartness of fresh cherry or cranberry that throws me off. Regardless, the first sip has me salivating a lot, which is positive, and the bite is manageable.
After “chewing”, I taste brown sugar, vanilla frosting, dried and tart cherry (a unique contrast at the same time), a lot of dark and “sweet” roasted oak that’s not overly burnt, dark chocolate (think 85%), roasted coconut, cinnamon, tobacco, dried orange peel, clove, and apricot.
Russell’s Reserve 13 year is very sweet, oaky, fruity, and spicy as you might expect, with good balance between them. The oak brings extra chocolate, tobacco, and dried fruit flavors that are uncommon in bourbon today, yet never completely take over and trample the experience. Call it roasted smores with some dried cherry on top. It’s way better than how Wild Turkey 17 Year Bottled in Bond handled it.
“Chewing” opens up more of the darkness and roundness, so it tastes even better. Still, I can’t help but feel not completely engaged because it feels incomplete. The bigger and rounder viscosity and low-end aren’t there, and I want it.
This is also when the non chill filtered oiliness usually plows through and shines, coating my mouth with stickly oils and tannins. In this case, it’s oddly not there, unnoteworthy if anything. It’s just weird when Rare Breed Non Chill Filtered had that expected oiliness and stickiness, but the older Russell’s Reserve doesn’t. Even Kirkland Single Barrel Bourbon had more oiliness.
Roasted oak, tobacco, brown sugar, marshmallow, cinnamon, dried cherry, smoke continue from the flavors into the finish. There’s long-lasting cherry, apricot, toasted oak, tobacco, and smoke that goes on for minutes. Even though it’s non chill filtered, it still doesn’t have the stickiness that I got from things like Wild Turkey Rare Breed Non Chill Filtered or even Woodinville Cask Strength.
Post-“chewing” is dark chocolate, roasted oak, tobacco, cinnamon, dried cherry, burnt vanilla, and licorice. Tart cherry and dried grass come out after a few seconds, which is an interesting touch. It’s a great aftertaste that carries on the same great dark, oaky, sweet, and fruity flavors.
I’m sure that’s a lot to process for you as I seemingly grasp for the right words to describe Russell’s 13. If you got this far, my point more or less is that it is a delicious oak-forward bourbon that mostly does everything right, but doesn’t quite stick the landing for me to think “wow”.

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Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ Rating

Top Shelf
Alex…Alex…remember that this is supposed to be a $75-100 bourbon. Just remember that.
To no surprise, the extra ABV (about 12% more than the 45.5% Wild Turkey 13 Year Distiller’s Reserve) bulks everything up. All that oaky maturity and goodness can finally show off their muscles, and it is so so good – absolutely a great “Top Shelf” bourbon. There’s more intriguing and pleasant brown sugar, mature and “sweet” oak, dark chocolate, and dried fruit that I’m glad to have.
While the body and density improve as well, it doesn’t seem to make the complete jump. It’s tough to explain because it feels like it’s missing that final piece of low end roundness and overall body and depth to completely tie it all together.
I’m not saying that Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is thin, it’s just not particularly dense and viscous given the ABV AND non chill filtration, and that’s supposed to be the holy grail of viscosity. You might think that the higher ABV would give it the launch it needs to get to the top of Bourbon Mt. Olympus. It helps a lot, but it doesn’t get all the way there.
Here’s a hot take, from memory I think I prefer Hardin Creek Jacob’s Well 15 Year (from Jim Beam). I will compare them to find out more about that claim. For now at least, I think Jacob’s Well does a slightly better job of marrying the mature oak, sweetness, fruit, and overall viscosity into a more rich and complete package than Russell’s Reserve 13 Year does. Jacob’s Well isn’t quite “Top Shelf+”, but it’s really close while Russell’s 13 is a little further away.
Nonetheless, this is probably everything you could ever want from Wild Turkey, and many people will be extremely happy with that. I totally get it too because I’ve had a lot of modern Wild Turkey (including some Master’s Keeps like Revival and the 17 Year Bottled in Bond) and this is the best of the bunch. As good as it is, I don’t feel strongly compelled to take the leap to “Top Shelf+”, and I really have to feel it (subjective I know).
All that said, I cannot forget to state that Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is an insanely incredible value at the $75-100 MSRP that is unfortunately mired in hype and extreme scarcity. At Wild Turkey’s intended price, they absolutely crushed it in terms of quality to price, so they deserve a standing ovation for it. They easily could have made this a $200 Master’s Keep Release and it would have sold out immediately.
Whether it’s a good value / worth buying above that depends on the person and bank account. I personally don’t think that it’s worth the $400+ secondary asking price, but I’m not mad about the $214 (after tax) I paid for it. I’m lucky to have the means to pay that much and I wanted to experience it for myself.
At the end of the day, Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is undoubtedly an excellent bourbon, but it’s not the grand slam I hoped it would be, as unfair as that may sound (and has no impact on my rating). If you find it for MSRP, consider yourself lucky because the quality greatly exceeds the price. I just wonder what was holding Wild Turkey back from completely nailing it, because they were close.
Truly, the Russell’s and Wild Turkey did an amazing job and I recognize it.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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