Wild Turkey 101 … possibly the most versatile and readily available American whiskey on the market today. It’s the bourbon for everyone, anywhere, at just about any time. It’s like the old print advertisement says (in Don Draper style): Drink Wild Turkey now, and you won’t have to change bourbons when you become a millionaire. But times have changed since those classic print ad days. The world has changed, and Wild Turkey 101 has changed with it.
While it remains a solid pour, if you’ve ever tried dusty Wild Turkey you know exactly what I’m talking about. Yes, that’s right – your daddy’s and granddaddy’s 101 ain’t your 101. But what I’ve often wondered is: of the most recent bottles of non-age-stated Wild Turkey 101 (all three labels still sitting on retail shelves if you look hard enough), which is best? Would they look and taste the same? Have there been any differences in the last five to six years that one would be able to detect? I set out to answer these questions last night with a simple blind tasting.
I’ll spare the exact science of the setup; basically, I poured three bottles into three different shot glasses with labels hidden under each glass’ base. Notes were made as to which pour went into each shot glass. Those shot glasses were then shuffled out of my sight, relabeled on the glass’ sides, then poured into three marked Glencairn glasses. Notes were made as to which shot glass (by side label) was poured into which Glencairn glass. All of this would later be traced back to the original source pours.
The three bottles used were:
- 1999-2011 label “Bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distillery” Wild Turkey 101 – NAS – 200ml (2010)
- 2011-2015 label “Bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distillery” Wild Turkey 101 – NAS – 375ml (2014)
- 2015-2017 label “Distilled and Bottled by the Wild Turkey Distillery” Wild Turkey 101 – NAS – 750ml (2016)
The tastings proceeded in phases of color, nose, taste, and finish, with slight breaks and plenty of water between each bourbon. Without further ado, I present the results …
Sample A – amber
Sample B – amber
Sample C – amber
Color summary: No major differences in color.
Sample A – funky toffee, vanilla, slight grain, baking spice, musty oak
Sample B – rich vanilla, toffee, caramel, Boston Baked Beans, slight rye spice, musty oak
Sample C – big funky toffee & sharp vanilla, subtle baking spice, musty oak
Nose summary: While all of these pours carried the expected Turkey nose, Sample B was a touch more complex and balanced. Sample A and Sample C were very similar; however, Sample A suffered from a slight grainy note, while Sample C was a touch heavy on the funk. Both A and C weren’t as balanced as B, which reminded me of Russell’s Reserve Ten-Year.
Sample A – sharp vanilla, nuts, caramel, very slight grain, hints of rye spice & funky oak
Sample B – warm vanilla, toffee, fresh baked bread, sweet rye spice, musty oak
Sample C – flat vanilla, somewhat grainy, peppery spice, funky oak, hints of maple
Taste summary: Wow – the differences really started to show here. As with the nose, Sample B was the clear winner with greater sweet/spicy balance and more palatable notes. Samples A and C were in some ways similar, yet in other ways unique. Sample A was essentially how I expect modern Wild Turkey 101 to taste, while Sample C seemed a little bit unbalanced, though slightly more complex.
Sample A – medium-short w/ slight warmth – sticky vanilla & lingering Turkey funk
Sample B – medium & warm – sweet vanilla, nice waves of spice, light herbal notes
Sample C – medium-short w/ slight warmth – sharp vanilla, hints of baking spice
Finish summary: As expected, Sample B shined above the rest, though ever so slightly. Sample A and C were, again, very much similar (neither really coming across better than the other). Unfortunately, the finish on all three of these paled in comparison to the 101 that came decades before. (Another talk for another day.)
Overall: This was a fun but exhausting tasting. The nuances between these three releases were sometimes obvious, other times hidden deep within the spirits. It took a lot of time nosing and tasting to really gather my notes. Then, drinking plenty of water and going back to confirm a few times over. I’m not complaining, but it wasn’t nearly as fun as a side-by-side with two bourbons of opposite profiles. I graded these three before the reveal, as well as guessing the outcome. As follows …
Guess and Reveal:
Sample A – graded 2.5/5 🦃, guessed 2014 Wild Turkey 101, reveal = 2016 Wild Turkey 101
Sample B – graded 3.5/5 🦃, guessed 2010 Wild Turkey 101, reveal = 2010 Wild Turkey 101
Sample C – graded 3/5 🦃, guessed 2016 Wild Turkey 101, reveal = 2014 Wild Turkey 101
How about that? I’m not surprised about Sample B, but I’m very surprised with the Sample A & C reveal. I thought Wild Turkey was improving in quality, but if you take this blind comparison into consideration that doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case. That said, do I recommend tracking down previous label bottles or paying premiums to acquire them? Not really.
If you have access to older Wild Turkey 101, by all means buy it at retail but don’t go crazy hunting it. Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon is still the best standard shelf Turkey out there, and modern 101 does just fine as a daily sipper (as well as for cocktails, cooking, etc.). Truthfully, if you really want to experience fabulous Wild Turkey, save up or sample swap for the dusty stuff. You can’t go wrong there.