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

Russell's Reserve 13 Year (LL/KE)

Alex author
Founder, writer
Russell's Reserve 13 Year LL-KE 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 $260

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​ ll/ke overview

When it comes to unicorns from Wild Turkey, apart from the really old stuff and some Russell’s vintages 1998 and 2003, Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is really the only one that is still made today. And oh man is it popular, so count yourself lucky if you have a bottle.
For me at least, there’s no way I’ll ever be able to find bottle for the $100-150 MSRP. I’ll admit it, I didn’t buy this at anywhere near MSRP. I paid around $260 after tax, which is a bit more than 2x MSRP+tax. I overpaid, but dammit it’s the least terrible price I’m ever going to be able to pay for one. This particular store has taken great care of me over the years, and this is my way to support a family business.
This bottle comes from batch LL/KE, meaning that it was bottled May 2022. E means the 5th month of the year, and K means 2022. The reason it’s important to mention the batch is because apparently each one is blended with very different components, all at least 13 years old. Russell’s Reserve 13 LL/KE is the 3rd batch ever released, although Wild Turkey may not officially consider it a different batch from previous ones.
This is third / maybe fourth-hand knowledge from Reddit so I can’t confirm how true, but it has been rumored that Batch LL/KE (May 2022) has
  • 41 barrels of 20 year
  • 17 barrels of 18 year
  • the rest of the blend is 14 and 15 year. Camp Nelson A, D, and E.
Based on that information (again I personally cannot verify how true this is), there just might be a crapload of old bourbon in here, possibly all of it over 14+ years old. The risk of so much old bourbon is that the oak takes over and the bourbon mostly smells and tastes like wood, making it unbalanced and unpleasant. It takes a true master to control the oak and make something spectacular.
Let’s find out what all this old bourbon brings in this Russell’s Reserve 13 Year LL/KE review.
Russell's Reserve 13 Year LL-KE front
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Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ ll/ke smell

Oh that’s nice. Russell’s Reserve 13 LL/KE has hefty toasted caramel, a ton of roasted oak that’s not burnt, marshmallow, dried cherry, roasted oak, dark chocolate, red apple peel, butterscotch, dried apricot, candied pineapple, fennel, mint, some dry woody nuttiness, coffee, tobacco, and a little hard cheese funk. This smells incredible, with wood for days.
To no surprise, Russell’s Reserve 13 Year LL/KE smells old and woody, especially when it’s sort of known that’s there’s a lot of bourbon far older than 13 years old in the blend. 13 is just the minimum age after all. The oak doesn’t dominate the experience, allowing the sweetness and fruitiness have a major part. That said, I wish that it were a little more fruity like the old Wild Turkey bourbons from the 90’s.
After swirling and 15 minutes of rest, I smell caramel, dense sweet oak, dried cherry, dark chocolate, marshmallow, vanilla pudding, orange peel, coconut meat, cinnamon, clove, pineapple, maple syrup, and a little dry nuttiness. There’s some heat to it too. Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is very very very oaky, which is normal for a bourbon this old (at least 13 years, if not older if the rumors are true). While it’s covers every inch of the scents, the sweetness and fruitiness still shine through.
Russell's Reserve 13 Year LL-KE side
In a partial contradiction, I still wish that it were more fruity. This is undoubtedly an oak-forward bourbon with supporting fruit that isn’t buried under the oak, but I want the fruity components to truly be special in the mix.
It smells incredible, although admittedly I feel like it’s a little hotter than I’d like it to be. On smell alone, I don’t think that this is a “Top Shelf+” bourbon, but it’s close.

Russell's Reserve 13 Year ll/ke​ taste and aftertaste

Russell’s 13 LL/KE packs a big burst of roasted caramel, vanilla, dried cherry, tons of roasted oak, butterscotch, cinnamon, dry apricot and red apple peel, dark chocolate, roasted coffee, fennel, and a little nuttiness. Without a doubt, it’s an oak and spice-forward bourbon with a good amount of fruitiness there. This has the oakiness of Wild Turkey 17 Year Bottled in Bond but with way better balance and none of the astringency.
At first, it’s really not that oily, although it gradually builds. I can’t escape the thought that it’s not as viscous as Jacob’s Well Hardin’s Creek 15 Year, just like Russell’s Reserve LL/JL wasn’t.
As delicious as this is on my first few sips, I can’t quite say that I’m super impressed. It’s old, delicious, and a treat, but I’m not thinking “wow this is special bourbon” just yet.
After “chewing” I taste roasted caramel, vanilla pudding, roasted oak, dried cherry and apricot, more sweet oak, mocha, maple syrup, coffee, roasted coconut meat, tons of cinnamon, pineapple, fennel, and a hint of nuttiness. The best way I can describe this is like sucking on some type of candy that’s mocha / caramel / maple chew mixed together and coated in a layer of enjoyable oak.
“Chewing” ups the sweetness and oiliness, which is a great shift in character. Russell’s Reserve 13 Year is still super oaky, but it’s never astringent or harsh. There’s just a thick blanket of oak on everything.
The finish starts with caramel, butterscotch, roasted oak, cinnamon, dried cherry and apricot with long lingering sweet oakiness and just a little nuttiness. The oak really just keeps on going for minutes.
After “chewing” it leaves caramel, maple syrup, roasted oak, cinnamon, dried cherry, and lightly sweetened dark roast coffee. It’s sweet oak and mocha for days, and I can feel the oils sticking inside my mouth.
This is really really good, but I don’t think I ever cross the threshold into “wow”. I feel like something is missing that prevents it from going higher.

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Russell's Reserve 13 Year​ Rating

Top Shelf
I may be one of the few whiskey reviewers that isn’t madly in love with Russell’s Reserve 13 Year, LL/JL (I reviewed that too) or this LL/KE. I know what lives in “Top Shelf+” land, and this doesn’t feel like it quite belongs there, but it’s really close.
The main thing is that the “holy shit” or “wow” feeling never materializes, as much as I enjoy this bourbon. It’s this feeling of delight and magic that is hard to force, and Russell’s Reserve 13 LL/KE doesn’t have that magic for me. Sure, I paid a lot in hopes of that pristine experience, but honesty trumps everything else. It’s so good yet equally as disappointing.
Make no mistake, this is still amazing and I’m happy to have it. It is densely sweet, oaky, oaky, oaky, fruity, and spicy. That triple-up on oak isn’t a typo, this is that oaky, but not in a bad way. This is a fruity and alcohol-laden caramel chew doused in oak, and it’s wonderful to drink. But the whole time, I’m wondering what comes next? Where’s that other thing that pops and seals the deal to make it unforgettable? The oaky sweetness is great, but I want more…the cherry on top.
I know controlling the oak alone is a major feat with all that 15+ year old bourbon, but I wish the Russell’s could have taken it a step further to bring more fruitiness and pop. I don’t know, maybe I’m jaded after all these years and want more than just really good wood.
At the end of the day, Russell’s Reserve 13 Year LL/KE, or any batch for that matter, is still stupid value at $80, $100, $150, and probably even $200. All things considered, this is at least $200 unique and good. This sweet, oaky, and chocolate-y personality doesn’t come cheap, and it takes a lot of oak aging and masterful blending to get it right. It’s done very well here, but I’m not in love with it as much as I wish I was.
The more I drink it, the more I’m still not entirely convinced it’s as good as Jacob’s Well Hardin’s Creek 15 Year or Hardin’s Creek Clermont.
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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