Wild Turkey 101

I have to admit that I try to avoid writing about “common” whiskeys here, mainly because I don’t want to re-invent the wheel with my reviews. But I did make a promise to myself when I started this blog that I’d write about what I’ve drunk – irrespective of their commonality – so I could document what I tasted. Sure, while I share these reviews, these are more diary entries for me than anything else.

Plus, I’m an equal opportunity drinker when it comes to whiskey and far be it from me to be a snob. Sure, there are things I’ve tasted that I don’t like at all that will never show up here (I don’t like writing negative reviews), but I gave them a fair shake and tasted them. But what I’ve done my best to not be a snob and not try something based solely on my perceptions.

Thus, we come to Wild Turkey 101… Growing up, Wild Turkey was the bourbon my dad would stock in his liquor cabinet. He wasn’t a big drinker; in fact, he rarely drank, but he and mom enjoyed entertaining, and he had a collection of booze for when guests would come to the house. And when he did have bourbon, it was always Wild Turkey.

We always had vodka (my mom like vodka tonics) and Tanqueray, Canadian Mist, and for bourbon, we had Wild Turkey. The funny thing was that my dad revered his Wild Turkey. I was too young to understand at the time, but for some reason, he put particular pride in having a bottle of this.

I hate to admit this, but that reverence my dad had for Wild Turkey kind of made me think that it was an “old man’s whiskey.” Kind of like a dear friend of mine who’s 86 years old who will only drink a Manhattan made with Canadian Club because that’s how she and her late husband drank them since the 60’s. So I guess I had a bit of a bias against it…

Fast-forward forty years, and yesterday there I was at Trader Joe’s with my youngest son, picking up some fixins’ for lunch. I turned down the liquor aisle, and my son asked, “You need to pick up some bourbon?” I told him, “Not necessarily, son. But I do want to see what they have in stock.”

You see, my local Trader Joe’s carries several major brands of booze, and they sell them at prices that are oftentimes far better than even the big-box liquor outlets. For instance, a bottle of Bulleit is only $20 at Trader Joes. It costs a few bucks more elsewhere. And such was the case with Wild Turkey 101, which was only $17.99! It’s $19.99 at Total Wine and Spirits!

I was planning on going to Total Wine and Spirits later that day to pick up a couple of bottles of Henry McKenna for my “cheap” bourbon. But when I saw that price and the fact that I hadn’t had anything from Wild Turkey for years, it was a “no problem, man” (in my best Jamaican accent) moment. I snagged a bottle. After all, at only $17.99, if I didn’t like it, I could always serve it as a cocktail mixer when I had guests over. 🙂

But I have to admit: I was actually surprised and quite delighted that it was great! Cheap price and high production volumes are usually a bit of a turn-off for me (I know, the snob does come on). For instance, while I like Evan Williams, I only drink it mixed, which works really well. But sip it? There are a few harsh notes in it that I don’t quite enjoy. But don’t get me wrong, I actually do like it, and usually have a bottle around to make an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan with it.

And I admit to having a bit of this bias with the Wild Turkey 101 as I was opening it. But it took me by surprise. It is quite enjoyable!

What I Smell

At a 101 proof, I was expecting a hit of alcohol up front. It’s there, but it’s not nearly as powerful as I was expecting. The alcohol immediately gives way to a pronounced peach cobbler followed up by Heath Bar, marzipan, and citrus notes then finishes with cinnamon and clove. With a little air, the alcohol settles and a distinct vanilla powder aroma – the kind you sprinkle in your coffee – pervades the inside of the glass. Nice.

When I smelled this, I made a mental note that this bourbon was far more complex than what I would’ve expected from a high-production spirit.

What I Taste

Wow! Spice up front from the heat, but it’s pleasing. The heat does kick in around mid-palate, but it doesn’t overpower. The palate starts with a foundation of citrus that leans toward orange peel, that persists throughout the taste. This is overlaid with ginger up front that gives way to more Heath Bar mid-palate, then finishes off with a pleasing dustiness the leans toward a light pipe tobacco.

Mouthfeel is velvety smooth and luscious and the finish is medium. While there’s heat due to the high ABV, there’s nothing harsh about this bourbon – at all.

How I Like to Drink It

I could drink this neat any time. That’s how I first drank it. But on a whim, I thought I’d bring out the citrus, and added a couple of drops of Regan’s No. 6 Orange Bitters. Wow! It only needed a couple of drops, and it was magnificent. I think I will also try this by dropping in a well-expressed twist of orange peel.

After I finished my neat pour, I made an Old Fashioned (yeah, it was a long, hectic work week, and I wanted to get mellow). I have to say that that was one of the most enjoyable Old Fashioneds I’ve had in a long time. This bourbon fits my recipe to a “T!”

Overall Impression

I wasn’t expecting to like this bourbon this much. I had my doubts about it but these have been completely waylaid by the astounding quality that’s contained in the bottle. It’s a testament to the skill of Master Distiller Jimmy Russell to be able to produce this kind of quality over what must be thousands of barrels.

But cheap or not, I now understand why my dad had so much reverence for this bourbon. It’s just plain good. There’s no arguing about it – at least for me. And the fact that this kind of quality and complexity is contained in this bottle at such an affordable price makes me appreciate it that much more. I guess my dad was onto something… 🙂