“Mama always said life is like a bottle of dusty Wild Turkey.  You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump (original first draft)

Back in February of this year, Blake at Bourbonr expressed his dislike for single-barrel bourbon whiskeys.  He made some valid points, particularly in regard to their consistency.  But here’s the thing – if single-barrel bourbons struggle with variance, and in turn you believe batched bourbons are firmly consistent, you need only open a few dusty bottles and revelation will undoubtedly follow.

Now, it may appear that I’m calling Blake out.  I’m not.  His article focused more on single-barrel expressions and less on batched expressions.  It also refrained from comparing dusty releases to their modern relatives.  In regard to single barrels, I don’t share the same opinion as Blake (I love single-barrel whiskeys) but I respect his argument nonetheless.  That said, there’s plenty of discussions to be had regarding inconsistencies in batches – especially when it comes to the bourbons of yesteryear.

Truth be told I’ve sipped my share of dusty bourbon, particularly Wild Turkey.  There are many, many other enthusiasts that have sipped far more than I have, so please don’t consider me an expert.  But one thing that I’ve noticed, and it never ceases to amaze me, is how vastly different dusty Wild Turkey is to modern Wild Turkey.  And even more so, how vastly different dusty Wild Turkey expressions can be from one another – even just a year or two apart.  From the 1970’s into the 2000’s, Wild Turkey 101 (age stated or not) can range in profile anywhere from 6 years to 15+ years in discernible maturation.  Opening a dusty Wild Turkey 101 is truly a roll of the dice.

Thanks to a generous friend traveling from Japan, I’ve had the fortune of adding a 1998 Wild Turkey 101 8-year to my collection.  I’ve reviewed a few Wild Turkey expressions from the same exact year – several Kentucky Legends (Donuts) and a Pewter-Top Kentucky Spirit.  I’ve also reviewed numerous other releases spanning the 1990’s, almost all (if not all) of which scored considerably well on my Turkey Scale.  Some were better than others, but most were of notable quality.  But while quality proved fairly consistent, profile did not.  And I’m not referring to those Donuts and Pewter-Tops.  I’m talking specifically about Wild Turkey 101 8-year.  The 90’s profiles I’ve experienced ranged from near 12 years in taste (early 90’s) to a rock-solid 8 years (mid/late 90’s). This leads me to believe that as release years moved further from the Glut Era, the whiskey bottled shifted younger.

Taking all of that into consideration, as well as my knowledge of at least two so-so reviews of 1998 Wild Turkey 101 8-year, my expectations for this bottle are conservative.  It’s not that I expect it to perform poorly.  Not at all.  I’m just expecting something more similar to 2000’s (NAS) Wild Turkey 101.  An excellent pour, but then so are countless Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections.  Wait – I shouldn’t be throwing single barrels back on the table.  Sorry Blake.  No, today we’re rolling the dice on a batched bourbon.  So with that, let’s see how this ‘98 101/8 shakes out!

Wild Turkey 101 8-Year (1998 export bottle) – 50.5% ABV KSBW – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color:  deep rosy copper

Nose:  (complex dusty WT) butterscotch, maple syrup, toasted caramel, plums, vanilla bean, musty & funky oak, brown sugar, tobacco, clove, herbal spice, floral perfume, blood orange, antique leather

Taste:  (oily mouthfeel) intense caramel, creme brulee, toasted vanilla, sweet musty oak, rich honey-maple, molasses, sweet herbs, chocolate orange, hints of leather & pepper

Finish:  pleasantly long & warm – vanilla extract, butterscotch, caramel, musty oak, sweet herbal spice, nutmeg, citrus zest, tobacco, licorice, faint cinnamon & clove

Overall:  Well, this is a nice surprise.  While I was confident this 101 8-year would be a quality pour, I had no idea it would be this robust and complex.  Instead of the typical mid/late-90’s Wild Turkey 101 profile, I’m getting something closer to late-90’s 101/12. Seriously.  It wouldn’t shock me at all to learn there’s 10-12 year whiskey in this bottle.  The creamy butterscotch, dense molasses, and fragrant herbal/floral notes are reminiscent of 90’s CGF and Split Label expressions.  And the oak … well, it’s about as sweet & musty as it gets for Wild Turkey (of any era).  Undoubtedly mature.  Undeniably dusty.

Without question this ‘98 Wild Turkey 101 8-year is a prime example of why one shouldn’t assume the profile of any dusty bourbon.  As for the reasons behind its incredible profile, in typical fashion I don’t have the answers.  All I can do is hypothesize. It’s my best guess that Wild Turkey simply had an excess of older barrels around 1998, so into the export 101/8 batches they went.  And, ‘98 was the year of Kentucky Legend (Donut).  Being a single-barrel product at a reported 15 years of age, it’s possible that in the selection process Jimmy found some mature barrels not ideally suited for single-barrel release.  If so, I’m willing to bet those barrels ended up in expressions bound to an age statement, such as 101/8 and 101/12 exports.  It’s all conjecture, however, so don’t take any of my ramblings as gospel.

In closing, if you’re looking for a mature and complex dusty Wild Turkey 101 expression, you don’t have to find a coveted 12-year bottle to get there.  There’s several 101 8-year releases that will get you mighty close to 101/12 and this is definitely one of them.  It may not have the subtle and intricate complexities one often finds in legendary 101/12 bottles, like 1980’s Beyond Duplication and CGF, but it’s surely no average 101/8 either.

Rating:  4.5/5 🦃