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Wild Turkey is a curious brand. With their latest “give ‘em the bird” campaign, WT continues to position its whiskey with the “bad boy” crowd. No doubt, it’s immensely popular with the type of person who thinks that quietly suffering the burn in one’s throat after taking a shot is the truest measure of manhood.
In economic terms, there is nothing peculiar about reinforcing this logic to a certain—large—whiskey-buying audience. What is peculiar is how well liked WT is among the myriad American whiskey enthusiasts who are not part of this demographic. One might tend to guess that marketing a whiskey as a “tough guy’s” drink would be the strategy of choice for abominable whiskey, and that’s no doubt generally true. But WT is a serious exception.
Wild Turkey bourbon uses rye as the “small” grain in its mash bill, like most bourbons on the market. The rye content isn’t terribly high (around 13% of the mash), but it is nevertheless unmistakable in the resulting profile. In the summer of 2011, Wild Turkey moved from its old distillery across the road to a new facility, more than doubling its production capacity to 11 million gallons per year. At the same time, they upped the alcohol content of their flagship bourbon by 1º—that is, Wild Turkey 81 and 101 proof. This was more than just mere marketing, however: the new release was also an improvement in quality (especially the 81 over the 80).
The nose on the Wild Turkey 101 is prickly from the outset, but also immediately expressive. There are dominant notes of baking spices (especially cinnamon and nutmeg), walnuts and peanuts, vanilla, and yeasty rye bread. Other notes of honeycomb, sarsaparilla syrup, sweetened cocoa powder, and brown sugar appear occasionally.
Like the nose, the palate is a little hot, a little sharp, and quite engaging. There is an initial hot streak of cinnamon that contrasts nicely with honey, butter, walnuts, citrus fruit (oranges and grapefruit), and sarsaparilla. The finish is healthy and the sweet and dry elements are beautifully balanced throughout, though the opening heat is not fully in check.
Those among you who have ignored Wild Turkey because of its marketing have had, in general, a good reason to do so. (Notably, the current flagship WT releases are not, as of writing, listed on Connosr.) The reason, however, is simply not good enough in this case. Consider the bird.