Two years after the eight-year age statement was dropped from domestic Wild Turkey 101 in 1992, a promising new expression started hitting the shelves – Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. Unlike the retired American stalwart, Wild Turkey 101 eight-year, and its sly replacement, Old No. 8, Kentucky Spirit was released as a super-premium, single-barrel bourbon whiskey (at the familiar 101 proof, of course). While still lacking an age statement, Kentucky Spirit had just about everything else: a fancy bottle with a fancy pewter top, fancy packaging, and for the first time to my knowledge, fancy handwritten barrel and storage identifiers. It’s quite obvious (at least in my opinion) that Kentucky Spirit was created to compete specifically with another well-known super-premium KSBW – Blanton’s.

WTKS Pewter-Top 1994

Fast forward to 2017 and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit can still be found at almost any retailer stocking a decent whiskey selection. It’s still single barrel, still NAS and 101 proof, but not anywhere near as fancy in presentation. There’s no longer a gift-worthy box, nor a full-color bird, and unfortunately, no pewter top. Sure, one could argue these are mere aesthetics, but when you’re marketing a super-premium bourbon whiskey, these things matter (especially to non-enthusiasts). My guess is that when most of your average consumers are scanning the shelves for “top-shelf” bourbons to gift or enjoy nowadays, they pass right on by Kentucky Spirit. I wonder if it was that way in 1994? I’d like to hope it wasn’t, especially with such classy presentation. Even the wording of the box reverse is strikingly elegant:

Once in a while you catch a glimpse of perfection. I can’t always explain it, but certain barrels, as they mature, take on a taste that is extraordinary. Believe it or not, I can still remember exact barrels from more than 20 years ago. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit lets you in on the pleasure of making one of those memorable discoveries. In this bottle, we’ve captured the pure bourbon poured straight from a single exceptional barrel, and I’m proud to pass it along to you. – Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller

But that was then and this is now. The only thing left that truly matters is the whiskey itself. Does it taste dramatically different from modern Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit? Does it taste similar to 1994 Old No. 8, or maybe 1994 export 101/8? There’s only one way to find out … time for a pour!

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit (“Pewter-Top”) – KSBW at 101 proof – no age stated (reportedly at least eight years) – bottled 9/20/1994 from barrel #4, warehouse C, rick #19 – distilled & bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: deep rosy copper

Nose: (distinctly old Wild Turkey) classic vanilla, rich musty oak, dusty WT funk, honey-maple, brown sugar, tobacco, leather, herbal & floral notes, blood orange, baking spice (clove & cinnamon)

Taste: (rich & creamy) vanilla, funky & musty oak, thick maple syrup, fragrant tobacco, antique leather, herbal & floral notes, faint citrus

Finish: (the taste goes on and on) long & satisfyingly warm, honey-maple, vanilla, rich funky oak, herbal & floral spice fading slowly

Overall: Well, that’s not what I expected. I mean, I expected an excellent dusty pour with classic Wild Turkey character, sure – but this is truly exceptional bourbon. This pewter-top Kentucky Spirit tastes almost exactly like 1991 WT 101/8 – so much so I had to compare them side by side. Yep – a near perfect match. The most notable difference was in mouthfeel, with the ’91 having a slightly oilier texture. It’s surprisingly different from export 1994 WT 101/8, which I’m very familiar with. What that tells me is that most likely choice barrels (notably older than eight years, or “honey” in nature) went into the ’91 WT 101/8 batch. By 1994 those types of barrels were probably set aside for super-premium releases, such as this Kentucky Spirit.

So, wrapping this up I’ll remark on something I’ve said in previous reviews – that Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit is a gamble. If we’re talking modern Kentucky Spirit, that’s still very true. But if we’re talking early Kentucky Spirit (late 1990s, early 2000s), I think the odds of finding an amazing bottle/barrel are well in your favor. And this pewter-top Kentucky Spirit is just one shining example.

Rating:  4.5/5 🦃

Photos courtesy M. Czyzewski (2017)