Class: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Reviewer: Andrew Owen
Wild Turkey has been a stalwart on the Kentucky bourbon scene since the 1940's, and its modern day iterations seem to have a fairly polarizing effect on the whiskey drinking populace. Many firmly entrenched whiskey enthusiasts are extremely fond of the Wild Turkey line of bourbons (this author included), yet there seems to be a widespread stigma against Wild Turkey products classifying them as less-than-stellar (okay, rotgut). I was not around in the 70's or 80's to try past renditions of Wild Turkey to see if there's any historical backing to such stigmas, or if its caused by something else (the fact that they have name brand flavored liqueurs, perhaps? The *actually* bottom shelf Wild Turkey 81?) This does pose an interesting postulate that I'm going to linger on for just a few more sentences. All of Wild Turkey's whiskeys are called "Wild Turkey" outside of Russell's Reserve. Do consumers equate a low-grade bottom shelf Wild Turkey whiskey with their more premium offerings like Kentucky Spirit and Rare Breed? Jim Beam has the infamous White Label which carries a poor repuation. But this reputation hardly carries over to JB's other labels like Knob Creek, Basil Hayden's, and Booker's. Why? Is it simply because they don't say "Jim Beam" in big letters on the front of the label? Do most consumers even realize that they are drinking whiskey produced on the same exact stills?
Anyways, I selfishly enjoy the fact that Wild Turkey seems to fly under the radar outside of hardcore enthusiast circles. Its not allocated, its always on the shelf, its priced very fairly, and you don't have to wait in front of a liquor store for 32 hours to snag the yearly limited edition release.
Let me shoot a little bit of history at you now before we get to the review (or just scroll down if history's not your thing). While Wild Turkey's inception came in the 1940's, there's a fair bit of backstory beyond this. In the latter half of the 19th century, Thomas Ripy built a distillery near Lawrenceburg and distilled bourbon to wholesale to grocers and bottlers who bottled Ripy's bourbon under their own labels. One of the grocers was Austin Nichols. It was an Austin Nichols executive who is said to have created the "Wild Turkey" name during a hunting trip with some of the whiskey sourced from Ripy's distillery. From that time forth, Austin Nichols sold their sourced whiskey under the Wild Turkey Label. In 1971, Austin Nichols went ahead and purchased the Lawrenceburg distillery from then-owner Alvin Gould, and officially named it the Wild Turkey Distillery, which stopped wholesaling its stock and became the official distillery of Wild Turkey bourbons.
The distillery and label were bought out by world spirits super power Pernod Ricard in 1980, and then sold to the Italian beverage company Campari Group who retains ownership to this day. Although corporate ownership lies overseas, the Wild Turkey distillery is overseen by the father-son master distiller duo of Jimmy and Eddie Russell, who have nearly a century of combined distilling experience at the Lawrenceburg distillery (Jimmy started working at the distillery in 1954 and Eddie in 1981), and who are both members of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. When you really start to think about it, that's an incredibly impressive feat.
Now onto the review of Wild Turkey 101, named for the proof at which the bourbon is cut to. WT101 is a middle shelf offering that can be found basically everywhere for $20-25.
- Wild Turkey uses one standard mash bill for all of their bourbons which is 75% corn/13% rye/12% malted barley.
- No Age Statement (blend of 6, 7, and 8 year barrels allegedly)
- Bottled at 50.5% ABV (101 proof)
- Distilled, aged, and bottled onsite at the Wild Turkey Distillery
Nose: Fairly rye-forward, with nutmeg and cinnamon initially greeting the olfactory system. Underneath the rye is a thick layer of burnt caramel and pipe tobacco. Overall the aroma is on the dry side. There is a moderate nose tickle reminding me that this is 101 proof. After a short rest, the caramel becomes smoother and sweeter.
Palate: Rye spices hit first along with a wave of moderate ethanol heat. The heat quickly dissipates revealing a sweet nougat-like caramel and something peculiar not unlike sweet corn meal. Altogether, the rye, caramel, and grain meld beautifully creating what reminds me of baked spiced oatmeal with caramel drizzled over it. The mouthfeel is creamy and fairly thin.
Finish: Malty nougat, cinnamon spiced caramel macchiato, a bit of whipped cream. Some lingering oak char and malt. Medium length.
Buying Recommendation: Must Try! For me, this is a shelf staple. I love the sweet/spicy profile which makes me nostalgic each time I take a sip reminding me of baked holiday treats. I also find the higher proof holds up much better in my Old Fashioneds, so this bourbon also serves as my ideal cocktail base.
For others who have not tried Wild Turkey, put the 101 on your list to try. It's a very solid daily drinker and is worth a spot in your rotation, especially if you find the 90 proof whiskeys that fill this price range too thin.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.