Tradition is a name shared by two different Wild Turkey expressions released several years apart. Tradition from the late 1990’s is a non-aged-stated export-only KSBW offering which I reviewed back in 2016. 2009’s Tradition is a 14-year KSBW limited edition released both domestically and internationally. While the bottles and packaging for these two Traditions are quite distinct from one another, it can be a little confusing to the Turkey novice. Wild Turkey has done this on more than one occasion, with two additional examples being Kentucky Legend and Tribute. As with Tradition, each shares its name with a separate and uniquely different release. In all cases, Google is your research bestie, and of course, I’m always here to lend a hand.
Today I’m reviewing Wild Turkey Tradition, the domestic and international Master Distiller Selection from 2009. The first thing that commands one’s attention is the presentation. Wow – this is one solid (and heavy) package! Tradition’s box is composed of two pieces – a dark wood box which fastens via button-toggle latches to a golden metallic base. Once opened the bottle is revealed, which sits recessed into the felt-lined base interior. The bottle on its own is all business. Aside from the elegant script and design one would expect from any LE release, the glass is fused to a hefty engraved bronze base. Those familiar with Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary will recognize the glass’ shape (sans bronze base) and metal stopper, though Diamond’s overall visual appeal pales in comparison to Tradition’s. It’s a true Class-A presentation that makes the most recent Wild Turkey LE releases, save for maybe Russell’s Reserve 1998, seem almost cheap in comparison.
Unlike the last few Wild Turkey special releases, there’s not much of a story to Tradition. According to its press release, Tradition “celebrates the history of the Wild Turkey Distillery and the traditions held dear by the people of Kentucky.” The same could be said for practically any ultra-premium Wild Turkey release, but very nice nonetheless. If Campari had left it at that I’d be satisfied – but no – someone in the marketing department had to take it to near-cringe level … “aged for 14 years in new, white oak barrels with the heaviest (and most expensive) level of char.” So, basically you’re paying more for some wood that cooked a few seconds longer. Ah, but who am I? Not a cooper. Maybe there’s some justification in char level (I don’t think there is), but passing it on to the consumer with that wording is just silly. The presentation is stunning and it’s a mature age-stated KSBW. I think that works just fine without a story. Anyhow, on to the tasting!
Wild Turkey Tradition, Master Distiller Selection (2009) – 101-proof KSBW – aged 14 years – distilled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY (30,000 bottles total)
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: rosy copper
Nose: (well-aged classic WT) rich honey-maple, funky & musty oak, vanilla bean, brown sugar, cream cheese frosting, nutmeg, cinnamon, herbal & floral spice, orange peel, hints of clove tobacco
Taste: (oily mouthfeel) creamy vanilla, honey-maple, fruity/funky oak, chewy caramel, cherry, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, faint leather
Finish: long in flavor w/ lingering spice – rich vanilla, honey-maple, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, leather, hints of ripe citrus
Overall: Well, there’s certainly a lot to love about Tradition. At 101 proof and 14 years of age, this bourbon showcases the classic Wild Turkey profile like a champ. And even though it was distilled well before the first barrel entry proof change in 2004, I wouldn’t necessarily call it dusty – at least not in the profile sense. Sure, one could argue there are some dusty notes settled within this bourbon, but in my opinion Tradition is more of a mature representation of the classic WT profile. It’s undeniably honey-maple and musty oak forward, yet appropriately balanced with herbal and floral spice. There’s also notable balance between its sweeter notes, such as orange peel and cherry, and its drier notes like pepper and leather on the finish. Stated simply, Tradition is a complex and well-aged pour, though if I had to be critical I’d argue it lacks a bit of intensity.
It’s hard to review a whiskey without comparing it to others – particularly those in similar categories. After all, the mind works by association and what better way to express how a whiskey tastes then to draw comparisons to another? In the case of Wild Turkey Tradition, it has a helluva swing but I wouldn’t call it a homerun. Perhaps its profile is best described as a slightly diluted version of 2006’s 14-year Master Distiller Selection (107 proof). At similar ages and released only three years apart, they may very well be close in origin. As for how Tradition falls in line with more recent LE releases, I’d say it’s a step above Diamond Anniversary and no less than on-par with Master’s Keep Decades. Tradition and Decades may not share the same profile, but their quality is near equivalent.
In closing, if you’re considering acquiring Wild Turkey Tradition through secondary outlets I’d recommend sampling it first. Don’t get me wrong – it’s fantastic and I’ve rated it accordingly – but with Decades still easily found at retail (often on sale), I’m not sure the price some folks are asking for Tradition is worth it. Sure, it’s an excellent top-quality Wild Turkey expression, but so are several other past releases in its value range. So find a friend or a well-stocked bar and get to sampling. There’s so much Turkey out there to love – you shouldn’t have to invest a fortune to find your favorite.
Rating: 4.5/5 🦃