Those that consume Wild Turkey products seem to fall into one of two camps - either they are absolute fans, or they feel it's harsh, spicy, and is more likely suited for a fraternity cocktail. Today, we take a look at Kentucky Spirit - a single barrel product from Wild Turkey and decide which camp we’re in.
Your Grandfather's Bourbon
The Wild Turkey brand traces its roots to Austin Nichols who began selling spirits as a wholesale grocer in the mid-1850s. By the 1860s, the Ripy brothers began distilling on Wild Turkey Hill near the current site of the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Many will recall that the Wild Turkey brand name is attributed to a sales executive - Thomas McCarthy - who took samples on a turkey hunting trip in 1940. His friends enjoyed the bourbon so much, they began requesting him to continue bringing "that wild turkey bourbon".
In 1954, Master Distiller Jimmy Russell began work at the Wild Turkey Distillery, learning the trade from Bill Hughes and Ernest Ripy (son of the original distiller). Jimmy's son, Eddie, began working at Wild Turkey in 1981, learning the trade from the ground up. In 2015, Eddie was made Master Distiller, making the pair the only father-son team of Master Distillers in the world.
The distillery utilizes a single bourbon mash bill and one rye mash bill - each made with the same yeast strain that's been used since (at least) the 1950s. Michael Veach, a bourbon history expert and member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, shared, "For those wanting to taste whiskey that tastes the way it did in their grandfather's time, Wild Turkey 101 is as close as you can find in the market today."
The Kentucky Spirit brand was introduced in 1995 and is a single-barrel expression of Wild Turkey. It begins with the core Wild Turkey mash bill - 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. The bottle design was changed in early 2019 from the turkey [feather] fan to a modern design. Personally, I'm more of a purist and really appreciated the uniqueness of the former decanter style.
As a single barrel product, each bottle is labeled with its source. The label is hand signed to indicate that it was bottled on 10/24/2019 from barrel number 1740 stored in warehouse F on rick number 19. It is bottled at the standard 101 proof. The bottle doesn't carry an age statement, however the website shares that this product is aged for at least 8 years.
As a single barrel bourbon, these are the true test of a Master Distiller. Will the flavor profile be close to the traditional Wild Turkey product? Or something dramatically different. While most Wild Turkey products are aged at the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky facility, some are aged at Camp Nelson near Nicholasville. Many purists feel these warehouses produce the finest expressions. If you're lucky, you may see the letters "CN" on your label.
Eye: Shiny Copper
Nose: Sweet and savory with vanilla and caramel blended with brown sugar, cinnamon and spice.
Palate: An explosion for the palate. There is caramel toffee along with pecan and baking spices followed by light citrus notes. The nose is true, as it is an exceptional balance of complex sweet and savory spices.
Finish: A kick of spice leads things off followed by sweet toasted oak. While many would feel Wild Turkey is "too spicy", this is really balanced and satisfying.
Overall: This was very nice and I appreciate single barrel products and the brand name itself, as it seeks to capture the wild, frontier spirit of Kentucky's earliest days. That said, this isn't the easiest bottle to source. In fact, you'll likely find bottles of Rare Breed and Russell's Reserve 10-Year more often than this one.
And there is also the question of value. I found this bottle for $55. At that price point, I could secure a couple of bottles of WT 101 or even a couple bottles (on sale) of Russell's Reserve for the same investment. Was this bottle (in hand) worth twice of those?
I have a good friend who is a Wild Turkey fanatic. He was kind enough to snatch up a couple of dusty Kentucky Spirits in the old bottle design. I might leave it to him for the deciding vote. As for me, though, I love the "Christmas morning surprise" of opening up a single barrel product to sample what's inside and savor the Master Distiller's creation. And I treasure the notion of enjoying a bourbon, unchanged, as it might have tasted so many years ago.