Sunday, November 4, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

At this point, it's really not a good idea for me to go to the liquor store with the intent of just browsing and picking up something interesting. I'm running out of space to store bottles of whisk(e)y. I suppose that I could drink more and so go through bottles faster, but this doesn't seem like a particularly healthy alternative. So I've started to try to impose more buying discipline; to wit, I try to go to the liquor store looking for something in particular. If it's there, I buy it. If it isn't, then I buy nothing. Of course, it doesn't always work out that way, but the flesh is weak. Anyway, I went to Spec's on Saturday looking for the long-awaited Russell's Reserve Rye or one of the members of the recently-released 2007 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Alas, there was no BTAC; but there was some Russell's Reserve Rye.

You will recall that Russell's Reserve Bourbon started out as something of tribute to Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey's long-time master distiller. The marketing folks got a hold of it, gussied up the packaging, and morphed it into a sort of secondary label for Wild Turkey, one whose primary audience is composed of yuppies who might otherwise consume Maker's Mark. Whatever -- the Bourbon is good, so who cares about the brand image? I would prefer it if it were still at 101 proof, but I'll still buy it. Noticing the rye revival and the success of such premium rye bottlings as Baby Sazerac and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, Austin Nichols apparently decided to expand the Russell's Reserve brand by introducing Russell's Reserve Rye. Like Russell's Reserve Bourbon, it's bottled at 90 proof, although it is only 6 years old (just like Baby Sazerac) where the Bourbon is 10 years old. It's priced at a bit under $25 a fifth, also just like Baby Sazerac. Guess which rye Austin Nichols envisioned this one primarily competing with?

The regular Wild Turkey rye bottling is racy and spicy. It screams out, "I am a rye whiskey," and only after sitting in the glass for a while do I notice the vanilla and caramel notes that aging in (heavily-toasted) charred oak barrels produce. Those notes are much more evident in Russell's Reserve Rye, probably because it's aged two years more than the standard bottling. At the same time, there is no doubt that it's a rye, and, furthermore, that it's a Wild Turkey rye. I can't really describe it, but Wild Turkey Rye is distinctive in a way that no other whiskey I've had is distinctive. Russell's Reserve Rye shares that distinction. Very good whiskey, and a very good value.

(Yes, I know that the picture above is of the Russell's Reserve Bourbon, not the rye. I couldn't find a picture of the rye, but the packaging looks almost identical to the Bourbon.)

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