There’s an easy way to separate the bourbon geeks from the newbies. Just ask this simple question:
“So, what do you think about Wild Turkey?”
The neophytes might be quick to say, “Ha. That was my go-to shot in college!” But the connoisseurs will perk right up. In fact, many will say it’s their absolute favorite distillery. That’s because the geeks know Wild Turkey offers something few other American whiskey producers can: an incredible history mixed with remarkable products at an undeniable value.
Need to know what’s what? Here, seven reasons every true bourbon lover always has a bottle (if not several!) of Wild Turkey on their bar.
With so many emerging whiskey brands arriving in the last decade, Wild Turkey loyalists are happy to not only know the legacy of the brand, but that the same guys are still making it. Some 66 years ago, 19-year-old Jimmy Russell started working at the distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., eventually ascending to master distiller. Today, at age 86, the lovable “Bourbon Buddha,” along with his son, co-master distiller Eddie Russell, are still making Wild Turkey the way they always have.
In a world where so many brands have taken advantage of the current bourbon boom by “premiumizing” their longtime flagship products — adding fancier corks, more expensive bottles, higher price points — Wild Turkey has always let the liquid inside do the talking. Wild Turkey 101 is extremely affordable, always has been, and always will be. And despite the immense, international love for its bourbon, Wild Turkey hasn’t tried to manufacture hype by allocating the product; it’s always there on the shelf, and always reliable in taste.
3. Flavor profile
Just as time costs money, aging does, too. Many less expensive bourbons can feel immature and, thus, a little unfinished, that’s hardly the case with Wild Turkey 101. While it lacks an age statement, most barrels in the blend are in the six-to-eight-year range. In an era of bourbon shortages, that’s nothing to sneeze at. More importantly, it makes for a complex and well-rounded whiskey, with notes of caramel, toffee, vanilla, old leather, coffee, baking spices, and even nuts and berries.
You have your “sipping whiskeys” — those too expensive to enjoy any other way — and then your “mixing whiskeys,” those that need to be covered up to be more palatable. Wild Turkey 101 shines because it works any way you want to enjoy it. Because of its price, it’s not sacrilegious to deploy it in a basic bourbon and Coke but it also holds up in cocktails like the Old Fashioned and Manhattan. That said, it’s perfect on the rocks and it offers enough complexity and maturity for neat-sipping, too.
So many bourbon brands today offer their economy shoppers the bare minimum, i.e., an 80-proof spirit, the lowest legal level. Not so in the case of Wild Turkey. Bottled-in-bond bourbon has long been the standard of excellence — at least four years old, exactly 100 proof — but Wild Turkey does one point in proof better and tacks on several years of age. In fact, the “101” is so iconic that no other brand would dare mimic it. That number is now off limits.
6. Rye, too
When rye, too, saw extreme demand over the last decade, many bourbon brands weren’t prepared, having scrapped their rye programs in the 1980s and ’90s when no one was drinking it. Luckily, that was not the case at Wild Turkey, which has continuously distilled rye whiskey since the 1970s. It is also available as a “101,” the barrel’s deeper alligator char unlocking intense flavors of rye with bursts of spice like cinnamon, anise, and mint. It is equally stellar in cocktails.
7. The higher-end
Of course, Wild Turkey is well aware of the current bourbon zeitgeist and has recently taken to releasing more top-shelf offerings. There’s Rare Breed, a barrel-proof mingling of well-aged whiskeys. There’s also Kentucky Spirit and Russell’s Reserve, both of which represent Wild Turkey in single-barrel form. Since 2015 the brand has had the Master’s Keep line, a yearly series of one-of-a-kind bourbons and ryes in handsome glass decanters and lavish presentation boxes. So far the series has seen a 17-year-old bourbon with a designated bottled-in-bond certification (Master’s Keep Bottled In Bond), a blend of 10- and 20-year-old bourbons (Master’s Keep Decades), an oloroso sherry-finished bourbon (Master’s Keep Revival), and even a rye release (Master’s Keep Cornerstone Rye). Not surprisingly, all are outstanding.
This article is sponsored by Wild Turkey Bourbon.