When it comes to 1990’s Wild Turkey 101 12-year releases, the “Split Label” variety struggles for attention respective to its former design, the iconic “Cheesy Gold Foil” (or “CGF” for short).

Are the bourbons behind the two labels really that different? Why are CGF bottles valued higher than Split Label bottles? Well, that’s precisely why I’m writing this post.

If I cut to the chase, the answer is fairly simple: It depends. But don’t worry. I’m not leaving you with two words and a vague sentence. I think you know me better than that! 😉

Let’s jump back to 1992. Times had been incredibly tough for the bourbon industry. Moving into the mid 1990’s things were looking up, at least for Wild Turkey. There was a new strategy in play – introduce new super-premium expressions domestically while continuing to grow sales internationally. Included in that strategy was the removal of Wild Turkey 101’s 8-year age statement. Wild Turkey 101 12-year would stick around – at least temporarily.

So what kept the 12-year 101 hanging on a few more years domestically after the 8-year became export-only? Most likely, inventory.

By 1994 there were two domestic Wild Turkey super-premium expressions outside of 101/12, Rare Breed and Kentucky Spirit, as well as exports like 1855 Reserve, Kentucky Legend (101 proof), and Tradition (NAS). All of these expressions required well-aged bourbon. In addition, foreign markets like Japan were paying premiums for age-stated Wild Turkey 101.

So what do you do when you have limited stocks and various labels tapping into them? You follow the money. For Wild Turkey (and several other bourbon distilleries) that meant focusing on non-age-stated products in the U.S. and age-stated products overseas. And with that, the 12-year Wild Turkey 101 expression ended for Americans by the late 1990’s.

But wait – what does this have to do with CGF being desired over Split Label? Well, everything.

The Glut Era of bourbon is typically classified as the 1980’s (or thereabouts). Of course each distillery felt its impact in its own time, but for Wild Turkey, 1979-1991 appeared the toughest. The net result was an excess of bourbon. In other words, all of those 1970’s-filled barrels made for some pretty damn tasty whiskey by the 1980’s. As the Glut Era faded, distilleries found themselves with less of an excess of choice whiskey. It would take time for production to catch up with increasing demand. Whatever well-aged stocks Wild Turkey had by the mid 1990’s, they were going primarily to super-premium and export expressions.

So if you follow my logic, the bourbon in a late-1980’s Wild Turkey CGF would’ve likely been batched from a greater variety of choice barrels (in age and profile). By the time production reached the mid/late 1990’s, Split Label was now competing directly with Rare Breed (which needed 12-year KSBW) and indirectly with Kentucky Spirit (as more 8-10-year barrels had been set aside on or prior to 1994).  And that’s just domestically.

Taking all of those factors into consideration, it only makes sense that 1980’s and early-1990’s CGF has a slightly different profile than mid/late-1990’s Split Label. But does that mean that the whiskey in a particular 12-year label is better than the other? Well, (you’re going to hate me for this) but … it depends.

First, there was design crossover in domestic and export Wild Turkey 101 12-year labels. This was discussed briefly in my review of a 2012 101/12 export last year. Essentially, exports were issued with older labels after domestic labels changed. In other words, you might find a 1993 domestic Split Label and at the same time a 1993 export CGF. So label style alone shouldn’t be the sole determining factor when assuming a 101/12 bottle’s profile.

Secondly, all Wild Turkey 101 12-year labels are quality pours, so we have to take a word like “better” with a hefty dose of subjectivity. But if you ask most Wild Turkey veterans, they’ll tell you from experience that CGF bottles (and Beyond Duplication) tend to have a little more depth and complexity than Split Label bottles. For the record, I tend to agree with that statement; however, it doesn’t mean that a particular batch of Split Label can’t be as good or “better” (there’s that word again) than a particular batch of CGF. The only way to know for sure is by tasting – which reminds me … I have a review to complete!

Before moving to my notes, I’d like to say thank you to a very patient bourbon friend for making this tasting possible. I really appreciate it, Mike! I’d also like to say thanks to my incredible Patreon supporters for voting this 1995 Split Label Wild Turkey 101 12-year as today’s review. Let’s give this beauty a proper tasting, shall we?

Wild Turkey 101-12 Split Label

Wild Turkey 101 12-year “Split Label” (1995) – KSBW at 50.5% ABV – aged at least 12 years – 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) maple syrup, butterscotch, toasted vanilla, clove, rich musty & funky oak, licorice, brown sugar, nutmeg, herbal spice, floral perfume, tobacco, leather

Taste:  (notably oily) intense honey-maple, caramel, musty charred oak, clove, vanilla bean, dense herbal & floral spice, cola, blood orange, hints of leather & pepper

Finish:  long, warm & flavorful – clove, butterscotch, tobacco, vanilla extract, caramel chews, sweet oak char, licorice, sassafras, herbal & floral spice, faint citrus

Overall: Seriously. Amazing. Whiskey. I’m finding this experience remarkably eye-opening, having recently finished off a 1990 CGF. I’ll have to admit, this 1995 Split Label comes extremely close in profile. Maybe if I had the opportunity to taste the two side by side I’d feel differently. Based on what I’m sipping right now, I’m not sure that really matters.

Here’s what does matter: This ‘95 101/12 is delicious. Frankly, it’s nearly everything I look for in a dusty Wild Turkey expression – rich complexity, distinctive maturity (that’s nowhere close to bitter or “over oaked”) and a noteworthy balance that never waivers. Yes, this whiskey has it all – all but the gold foil label – which is exactly what I should be emphasizing.

When looking for vintage Wild Turkey expressions, don’t get stuck on a particular label. Sure, CGF bottles are certainly worth chasing from time to time (I’m guilty myself). Just don’t miss the forest for the trees. There’s plenty of incredible 12-year Wild Turkey out there and it doesn’t always come from a bottle with a “cheesy” label. Cheers!

Rating:  4.75/5 🦃