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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Wild Turkey 101

I have a buddy who is a Wild Turkey fiend. He is an absolute super-fan. And while Wild Turkey wasn't the first bourbon I reached for, I have to admit that it truly is starting to grow on me.

That Wild Turkey Bourbon

The Wild Turkey brand reflects the bourbon heritage of many upstart brands coming to market today. For many years, Wild Turkey was a non-distilling producer - bottling bourbon that it purchased from other distilleries and marketed under the Wild Turkey name.

The brand traces its roots to Thomas Ripy who built the Old Hickory Distillery in 1891. Shuttered during Prohibition, the Ripy family re-opened the distillery upon repeal and sold the finished product to wholesalers who, in turn, bottled and marketed the finished product under their own brands. Austin Nichols was one of the wholesalers who purchased product from the Ripys.

It was an Austin Nichols executive – Thomas McCarthy – who is attributed to the “Wild Turkey” name. McCarthy took some samples on a turkey hunting trip in 1940. The bourbon was a hit and his friends asked for more samples of “that wild turkey bourbon”. The name stuck and Austin Nichols began bottling Wild Turkey in 1942.

In 1949, Robert and Alvin Gould purchased the Old Hickory Distillery from the Ripys. Much of the whiskey in the Wild Turkey brand originated from the Goulds (the distillery later changed its name to the Boulevard Distillery). In 1971, Austin Nichols purchased the facility and renamed it to the Wild Turkey Distillery.

Spirit giant Pernod Ricard purchased the distillery and brand in 1980. In 2000, fire destroyed a seven-story rickhouse at the site. More than 17,000 barrels were inside and burning whiskey flowed from the warehouse, setting a nearby forest on fire. It was estimated that over 3,400 barrels of whiskey flowed into the adjacent Kentucky River. Campari Group purchased the distillery and brand in 2009 and expanded operations, including a new distilling and bottling building.

The Tasting

Wild Turkey recently updated the bottles for their flagship 101 on the heels of a branding revamp of Kentucky Spirit and Rare Breed. I like the new bottling for 101; the deeply embossed glass bottle sporting wide shoulders is a better representation of the crafted spirits inside. I have to say, though, that I LOVED the iconic turkey fan (tail feathers, if you will) shaped bottle of the vintage Kentucky Spirit bottlings.

The mash bill of the bourbons from Wild Turkey hasn't changed since its introduction. It's made up of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. While the bottles don't carry an age statement, according to the Wild Turkey website, today's bourbon is aged between 6 and 8 years.

Eye: Amber with lacy legs displayed in the Glencarin glass.

Nose: Classic old rickhouse. Rich with caramel-vanilla, spice, and a plum-laden fruit compote.

Palate: The higher proof hits immediately with spice followed by vanilla and toasted oak.

Finish: Medium-long with clove spice, vanilla, and oak.

Overall: Wild Turkey 101 is a great, everyday bourbon. Early on, I'd refrained from it as I felt it was spicy and rye-heavy. Now, after broadening my palate, I've taken a liking to its rich, bold, and well-balanced notes.

Perhaps its greatest attribute is its high-proof for the price point. This is an extremely versatile bourbon, whether experienced neat, on ice, or in a cocktail. Wild Turkey holds up to the elements and brings traditional bourbon notes front and center. Its balance of sweet and savory makes this a bourbon to ensure it is always in your cabinet.

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