I sometimes like to think of Eddie Russell as the Prince Charles of American whiskey — Wild Turkey's eternal king-in-waiting, toiling away and doing the grunt work while his father, the ageless Jimmy Russell, basks in his well-deserved glory. But that thinking does a disservice to Eddie — and probably Prince Charles as well, although that's a subject for another time and place. Anyway, it's not like Eddie Russell is twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the torch to be passed. Eddie's a Bourbon Hall Of Fame inductee in his own right, having risen through the ranks during more than 35 years at Wild Turkey to share the Master Distiller title with his dad. And in recent years he's carved out a nice niche for himself, releasing bourbons that are aged longer and differently than Wild Turkey's classic 101 bottlings.
Eddie's latest pair of bourbons are reprises of two of the Russells' greatest hits, which pay homage to his father's legacy while still retaining his own distinctive stamp. Master's Keep: Revival (50.5% ABV, $150), is a retread of one of his dad's lesser-known efforts, the short-lived Wild Turkey Signature Sherry, which was released as a limited edition back in the early 2000s. Like Signature Sherry, Revival is finished in ex-Oloroso sherry casks for an undisclosed amount of time. As is Eddie's way, Revival is aged a little longer than when Jimmy made it (12-15 years rather than 10). I don't have a sample of Signature Sherry to A/B with Revival, sadly, but Eddie's homage is terrific, with dry oak notes sharing the stage with sumptuous dark fruits. I never thought pairing a corn-based whiskey with sherry was the most wonderful idea, but in this case, at least, the Russells proved me wrong.
The other newbie is a follow-up to one of the most acclaimed and beloved whiskeys Eddie and Jimmy ever released, Russell's Reserve 1998, originally held back to commemorate Jimmy's retirement but released in 2015 when it became clear the stuff would evaporate before Jimmy would ever call it quits. Russell's Reserve 2002 (57.3% ABV, $250) is, surprisingly, Wild Turkey's first ever non-chill filtered barrel proof bourbon, consisting of a mere 25 barrels of 15 year old hooch selected by Eddie himself. I'm an agnostic about adding water to barrel-proof whiskey; some need it, some don't. The 2002 benefits tremendously from a few drops of H2O, Taken neat, it's a brawler of a boiurbon, heavy on the char, caramel and unsweetened cacao. Add some water, though, and the damn thing fairly blooms, with baking spices, dark fruits and dark chocolate getting in on the action and balancing out the drier flavors.
It's been said that Jimmy Russell's sweet spot for bourbon is 8-12 years; he's told me that it's more like 6-8 years. He doesn't necessarily disapprove of Eddie's preference for older bourbons, but he's made it clear they're not the type of thing he drinks on a regular basis. But I do hope he's given these two new beauties a try. Eddie may not get him to change his mind about extra-aged bourbons, but only a tongueless teetotaler could fail to appreciate them.