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A rafter of Wild Turkey whiskies

You’d think Thanksgiving had come early here at Malt with our superlative coverage of Wild Turkey recently. Things take time, and for this notable Kentucky brand, they certainly have here; for this, our apologies.

I’m pleased that Taylor teamed up with David (@rarebird101) for a definitive exploration of the various Turkey offshoots. In reality, I was going to approach David for an interview when I was given these samples by Rose earlier last year, but Taylor saved me from even moving to first base on such an endeavour. The final article is well worth reading, if you haven’t done so already.

What links us all is an appreciation of what Wild Turkey has achieved and is producing. Here in the UK, it is now my staple bourbon purchase, enjoying solid distribution, and competitively priced. Thanks to the ownership of Campari nowadays, it is widely seen and supported. I also prefer its appearance over the more modern, trendy bourbons and that old Jack thing from Tennessee. Then, there are the contents that are consistently rock solid, with the Rare Bird or 101 editions offering that little bit more when you want to step up a gear.

Why the love? I suppose a sense of familiarity: you know on the core ranges exactly what you are getting, and this opens up various other avenues to explore. It’s also a classic bourbon brand, in my opinion. Only America could have given birth to Wild Turkey; not an outpost in Scotland, nor a fancy state-of-the-art facility in Ireland. Wild Turkey is very much America in liquid form. That sense of consistency and the odd nuance is to be applauded. The brand is one of the few that I’ll reach for off a store shelf without much thought.

Speaking to my bourbon dealer, Tony, he explained that Wild Turkey is often dismissed in his circles, and by bartenders. It’s seen as a quick-slam, college-kid drink, on the cheap side, and inoffensive if you want to forget your life and get drunk. Explaining further, he recalled the reactions from those who asked him about his favourite whiskies—many couldn’t fathom that Wild Turkey would feature on the list. Even bartenders looked disappointed when he requested a Turkey from their well-stocked shelf.

Such an appreciation has transferred into my auction skirmishes in recent times. The historical Scotches I enjoy, or did enjoy before prices went supernova, are now a more luxurious purchase. I quite often find myself walking away at the end of an auction with a Wild Turkey. Price-wise, they represent good value [until recently as prices have risen], and as a visit to Rare Bird 101 will confirm, there is plenty to be unearthed and appreciated. Meaning, we should be reviewing more Turkey as and when here at Malt.

In the States, it seems there is a demand for anything old or limited when it comes to bourbon. Facebook recently restricted the sale of alcohol online along, with any content around this enterprise. Unlike the UK, where we have a long established whisky market where we can buy and sell openly via auction sites or traditional auctioneers, America has a more homespun and organic variant. This, I presume, is as a result of the various alcohol regulations that vary from state to state, preventing the selling and transportation of such contraband.

For many, these online groups offered the chance to buy, sell or trade whiskey, but also to consider the value of their unopened bottles. Personally, there is nothing more devaluating than correlating the value of your unopened collection. Like house prices, it only becomes tangible when you decide to move or sell. The value of the contents within is shunned, shoved aside in favour of the filthy lure of cold hard cash. When I open something old or rare, I do so without consulting the internet or friends for the latest value. I just don’t care. Instead, I focus on sharing with friends and strangers, the interactions and (hopefully) enjoyment that stems thereafter for anyone able to have a dram from the bottle. After all, isn’t that what whiskey (or whisky) is all about?

Back to the whiskies that have been opened. Kicking things off is the Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, bottled at 50.5% alcohol, and a single barrel bourbon release, specially selected by Master Distiller Jimmy Russell. Now, we hear about ‘master distillers’ all the time on Malt. You could, in theory, start your own distillery and dub yourself a ‘master distiller’ without any qualifications or experience. It’s refreshing that we’re seeing more who perform this role and yet don’t elevate themselves with such a title, like Francis at Daftmill distillery. If anyone deserves such a title, though, it’s Jimmy, who has recently celebrated 65 years of service at Wild Turkey. Arguably, given the abuse of ‘master distiller,’ we need to create a new buzz-phrase to truly underline such a commitment.

Next, we take in the delights of the Rare Breed range. This is a blend of numerous barrels, on average 6-12 years old, and as from 2018, bottled at 58.4% without any added water. If you want a bourbon in a more natural form in the UK, then this is a logical choice. As we don’t have access to many single barrel releases in their natural state, the Rare Breed is indeed bold, genuine and true, like the branding proclaims. This range retails in the UK for £52.25 with Master of Malt or via The Whisky Exchange. This comes in batches, so expect variation and there is plenty to explore and compare; speaking of which…

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit 101 Proof – review

Colour: Honey.

On the nose: Cinder toffee and vanilla (of course) with memories of charcoal. Marshmallows, a diluted orange, wood spice and wafers. There’s digestives and marzipan, glazed cherries towards the end with a floral honey and buttery popcorn. Adding water reveals butterscotch, pine sap and vanilla.

In the mouth: A tinge of alcohol with a pleasing texture and a candid simplicity. Vanilla nougat, more nuttiness and milk chocolate. A twist of black pepper and caramel round off the core flavours. Nice, but nothing captivating, or any sense of progression. Water just underlines this approachability and removes the alcohol, leaving a nutty caramel.

Score: 5/10

Wild Turkey Rare Breed 116.8 Proof – review

Color: Bashed copper.

On the nose: A thick luscious arrival delivering cherrywood, cinnamon bark and a synthetic vanilla. A real creaminess alongside brown sugar, nougat, orange zest and unused matchsticks. There thyme and a chunk of mossy wood. Rounding off an enjoyable ride are toffee, ginger root and apricot. Adding water showcases pancakes, milk chocolate and toast.

In the mouth: Great texture and mouthfeel with lots of natural oils and a resinous quality. Vanilla it goes without saying but also a metallic copper aspect. Woody as a 16th century Galleon, but a lovely balance to proceedings. A rich honey, fatty with thyme and fennel. Adding water I felt wasn’t hugely beneficial.

Score: 7/10

Conclusions

The Kentucky Spirit I found to be a tad disappointing. I expected with the higher proof that it’d kick on a bit and give us more gusto. Instead, it seemed to be somewhat pedestrian, albeit well made, and restrained. I’m not alone in this, as speaking with Tony again, he finds the range to be hit or miss. Preferring the Russell’s, which is on average 8-9 years old whereas the Kentucky Spirit is older averaging 10-12. That higher proof and non-chill filtered approach gives the Russell’s the edge. Although in the UK, access to Russell’s is more difficult.

Moving onto the Rare Breed, this is of course, more widely available.

It is far much punchy and dynamic. Those robust flavours and aromas that I associate with Wild Turkey come through dramatically. The whiskey isn’t massively expansive or enchanting, but what it does, it does extremely well.

There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Photographs and samples kindly provided by From Where I Dram.

CategoriesAmerican
  1. Avatar
    Anthony Quinn says:

    Have to disagree with you on the Kentucky Spirit, I had it a couple of years ago and the quality was there for me, loved it. At no point did I think about adding water. The Rare Breed is still good but not as good as it used to be. Loved the teardrop shape of the old bottlings, why they changed it I don’t know.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Anthony

      Maybe this was a poor batch. I always add water to see what happens. I have some of the old Rare Breeds going back a few decades. Looking forward to opening those for a future article.

      Cheers, Jason.

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