“Dust” probably isn’t a word that sets your pulse racing, but I’m hoping today’s review will convince you otherwise.
I have written before about characteristic flavor notes and their respective distilleries. For those that have a hankering for a very specific smell or taste, it’s worth seeking out bottles with corresponding profiles. Some of these are wacky one-offs from single barrels, while others are evident across the distillery’s mainstay expressions (I’m looking at you, Dickel).
One of the notes that I especially prize in whiskey is what I call “dust.” It’s a cousin to (but distinct from) “funk,” that prized note in some pot still rums, as well as whiskey distilled in decades past. It’s somewhat akin to what oenophiles refer to as sous bois, which translates roughly as “forest floor.” However, while I think of that note as being more damp and fecund, this dusty nuance I am referring to presents itself as altogether more dry. I find it frequently alongside other flavors near that end of the spectrum, such as leather, tobacco, cigar box, and so forth.
I’m not sure why, exactly, I find this particular flavor so appealing. Maybe I’m harkening back to early memories of rummaging around in my grandmother’s crawl space, looking for my mom’s old toys. Perhaps I’m thinking of my later years as a collector of rare books, and the hours I spend among the teetering stacks of quaint and curious volumes in antiquarian bookstores. Whatever the source of my fondness for dust, it persists, and I am delighted when I can find a bottle with abundant notes of this type.
No one distillery has a monopoly on dust, but it can be found reliably (and economically) from Wild Turkey. Whether you’re splurging for the prestige Master’s Keep bottlings like Revival, or picking up the comparatively low-priced Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old, there’s a better-than-average chance of scratching your dusty itch with a bottle from Lawrenceburg.
As always, I’m happy to call upon the expert on all things Turkey: my friend David Jennings, a.k.a. Rare Bird 101. I pestered him with some questions about dust, which he obligingly answered as follows:
Malt: I love a note in Wild Turkey that I refer to as “dust.” Do you know what I’m talking about?
David: I hear folks say barnyard and hay. To me it’s a nuttiness. I get the smell of a rickhouse with Turkey sometimes, but not really with 101.
Malt: What expression has had the most potent form of these types of notes, in your experience?
David: Depends on so many things with Wild Turkey. Russell’s Reserve 10 tends to have more oak, cherry, and leather. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel and Kentucky Spirit are dependent on the rickhouse the single barrel was aged in. So maybe Rare Breed?
Malt: In your conversations with the Russells, have they ever mentioned these particular notes?
David: No. With Jimmy it’s always the old-school response: vanilla, caramel, oak. Eddie and Bruce will deep dive. But never heard anything described as dust.
Malt: Any thoughts on what aspects of the production or maturation processes cause these notes?
David: I think it’s just a combination of the recipe, entry proof, and traditional wood rickhouses. Different rickhouses are in season each year. They each have their own DNA. Also, the new still kicked off in 2010 and exclusively starting in 2011. And 101 has gotten a little younger. It used to be 6.5 to 8+ years. Eddie said the recent stuff is mostly 7-year bourbon.
Malt: Any other whiskies (non-Wild Turkey) that spring to mind as having similar notes?
David: Turkey is pretty unique, but Beam can come close on rare occasion.
My sincere thanks to David, as always, for indulging my endless litany of questions.
So, here’s hoping for a heaping helping of dust in the whiskey I’ll be reviewing today: Wild Turkey 101. I frequently mention this expression as being among the great value buys in the $30-and-under category of bourbon whiskey. This is the first bottle I have purchased in a while, featuring the handsome redesign that, to my tastes, is an improvement over the preceding generation’s labels.
The code on this bottle is LL/LA050417, indicating it was bottled on January 5th, 2023. I paid $23 for 750 ml, which the usual price in my neck of the woods. Bottling proof is… well, you know.
Wild Turkey 101 – Review
Color: Brownish-orange gold.
On the nose: That’s what I’m talkin’ about, baby! This has a perfect note that jumps right out of the glass, encapsulating what I was inartfully attempting to describe in the preamble. There’s a dry note that sits equidistant between dirt, wood, and nuts, with just a hint of funky barnyard (as David mentioned). Sniffing deeper reveals more aromatic layers, with dried pine boughs and menthol cigarette ash adding to the complexity. Leaving this a little longer in the glass, I start to pick up on a lighter and sweeter note of flowers, as well as some cocoa.
In the mouth: Upfront, that same special note makes an appearance on the tip of the tongue, however it has the volume dialed down in comparison with its manifestation on the nose. This then leans into the sweeter flavors of confectioners’ sugar and candy wafers as it moves up the middle of the tongue. At midpalate, the nuttiness really steals the show; the types of folks who gobble up peanut brittle will find lots to enjoy here. This all settles down and resolves itself into the finish, where a piquant and tingly spiciness takes over, reminding me once again that this comes to us at 50.5% ABV. The peppery flavor and texture lingers on the inside of the mouth moderately, before this finally disappears after perhaps 20 seconds.
Look, I would never mistake this for a whiskey matured in the 10+ year age range. On the palate, especially, this still has a youthful kick to it, as well as a somewhat limited scope of flavor development. That said, the nose is excellent, with the entire presentation coming in somewhere firmly above the middle of the quality range. Taking that into consideration, and factoring in the extremely competitive price, I once again feel justified in awarding this a solid mark, consistent with my prior review of 101.
Hopefully all this waxing nostalgic about dust has intrigued a few of you to seek out this note for yourselves. Whether you find it in a bottle of 101, a different Wild Turkey expression, or from an entirely different distillery, I hope you’ll drop a comment below and let me know how you liked it.
Image courtesy of Wild Turkey.