I’ve reviewed no-age-statement Wild Turkey 101 before. In fact, I recently had a three-bottle blind comparison a few months back to test profile differences over the last 6-7 years. The results at the time turned out a little differently than I expected. I had assumed that Wild Turkey had hit a slump in the early 2010’s and that the most recent WT 101 releases (2015-2016 label) were a notch better. Instead, the blind comparison revealed that the overall profile had moved in an even younger direction. Having completed a fair number of Wild Turkey tastings since then, and with the recent confirmation of entry-proof changes by the Russell’s, that conclusion actually makes a lot of sense.

So, what if we roll it back a little further? Well, after having some luck on my semi-monthly dusty Turkey hunt, and thanks to a generous sample from an associate, I now have the opportunity to compare two different Wild Turkey 101 bourbons from the mid-2000’s – a 2004 and a 2007. The 2004 was found on a shelf somewhere in rural Kentucky, while the 2007 was found similarly in Georgia. The 2007 WT 101 for this tasting comes from a liter bottle that is curiously labeled “distilled by,” while the 2004 is labeled the more typical “bottled by.” There’s no need to get into the “distilled vs. bottled” debate, as the Russell’s have already clarified this. Both of these whiskeys were produced by Wild Turkey, it’s just a label difference I wanted to point out for full disclosure.

As a final introductory note, this comparison is strictly blind and will be conducted in phases of color, nose, taste, and finish, with slight breaks and water between each bourbon. So without additional delay, let’s pour …

Wild Turkey 101 (2004 & 2007) – KSBW @ 50.5% ABV – no age stated – distilled/bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Sample A

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: copper

Nose: caramel, rich vanilla, maple, brown sugar, sweet herbs, funky oak, baking spice

Taste: vanilla, honey-maple, funky & musty oak, chewy caramel candy, “fruity” tea, herbal spice, cinnamon

Finish: medium-long, rich vanilla, sweet oak, caramel, herbal spice

Overall: Very much like a typical mid/late-2000’s Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. It’s classic Wild Turkey with hints of some notes found in dusty bottles from the 1990’s. I’m going to guess that this is the 2004 WT 101.

Rating:  4/5 🦃

Sample B

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: copper

Nose: spicy vanilla, musty oak, brown sugar, caramel, baking spice, nuts, hints of pepper

Taste: rich vanilla, brown sugar, musty oak, caramel, honey, herbal/baking spice

Finish: (slightly drier than Sample A) medium-long, spicy vanilla, butter toffee, musty oak, fading spice

Overall: This is the classic Wild Turkey 101 profile I love and know well as a reliable daily sipper. It’s nothing to go crazy hunting or chasing, but certainly more complex and mature in comparison to modern Wild Turkey 101 (just my opinion, of course). This is most likely the 2007 WT 101.

Rating:  3.5/5 🦃

Reveal & Summary:

Sample A = 2004 Wild Turkey 101

Sample B = 2007 Wild Turkey 101

Based on all the Wild Turkey I’ve been sipping lately, the reveal is as expected. So what does this mean? Well, since both of these bourbons share the same recipe and entry-proof (107), and likely come from some of the same rickhouses, that leads me to believe that the further back you go, the older the whiskey is in the batches. I’m not claiming that all of the whiskey is older in the 2004 WT 101, but it’s possible that a greater number of older barrels were added to the batch to improve the profile. Bottom line – something is undoubtably different and it appears to be a linear trend ever since the age statement was dropped in 1992. I suppose I need to review WT Old No. 8 sooner rather than later.

In closing, if you find these older label Wild Turkey 101’s in the wild I highly recommend buying one. Sip it next to modern 101 and decide which profile you like best. If you prefer the modern profile, you’ve got it made (at least for now). But if you like the classic 101 profile (mid/late 1990’s to late 2000’s), then you might want to focus on either Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel or pre-2012 Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. Older label NAS WT 101 is a great find at retail price, but much more than that and you’ll find current Russell’s Single Barrel will sip just as nice – arguably even better.