Wild Turkey 13-year Distiller’s Reserve … one of those Wild Turkey expressions I’m asked about surprisingly often. Why’s that? Well, I’m not entirely sure but my first guess is that whiskey enthusiasts are always looking for rarities. While definitely a rarity stateside, Wild Turkey 13-year is relatively common – debatably plentiful in Japan.
So what’s the deal with this expression? 13 years certainly sounds impressive. Surely this is close to the fan-favorite Wild Turkey 101 12-year, right? Wrong.
I’ll refrain from delving into the history of Wild Turkey 101 12-year in this post. I’ve done that several times in the past (which you’re free to explore). For today, let’s just say that the revered Wild Turkey 101/12 ceased production around 2012. Shortly after, a brand new expression, the 13-year Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve, took 101/12’s place in Japan and several minor export markets. While 13 years is nothing to scoff at, 91 proof points coming from the 101-proof distillery … not too exciting for a long-time Turkey fan. Sure, whiskey enthusiasts fond of other well-aged lower proof expressions might take notice, but die-hard Gobble Heads typically expect a little more from a special expression.
Yet here we are in 2019. Still no 101-proof 12-year; still just a 91-proof 13-year. If I sound a bit cynical, well that’s because I am. I’ve had the 13-year before – reviewed it even – but after numerous bottles and samples of Wild Turkey 101/12, well it breaks this Turkey lover’s heart to have to console myself with such a notable step down in profile (comparatively speaking). And so I haven’t – at least for the last couple of years.
Folks, today I break the streak and give Wild Turkey 13-year another run. This time it’s a newer style bottle with the current logo – a 2016 to be exact. Special thanks to a very generous globe-trotting friend for making this review possible. Will I find this 2016 13-year comparable to the 2014 I’ve already written about? Hard to say without tasting, but right from the start there’s one label difference worth mentioning.
In general, the 2014 and 2016 share identical box verbiage. There is, however, one significant edit. While the 2014 states the bourbon was “slowly matured in the low floors of the fabled ‘B’ warehouse,” the 2016 states it was “slowly matured in the fabled Wild Turkey warehouses.” Both descriptions then go on to say “where cooler temperatures, higher elevation, and greater air circulation combine [etc.]” Well, that makes sense for rickhouse B, but not for every Wild Turkey rickhouse (on and off site). I guess it just depends on which rickhouses are “fabled?” 🤷♂️
For now I suppose we’ll chalk the current version up as revised “label talk.” As for the 2014 “rickhouse B” label, its language perpetuates the oft-spoken legend that rickhouse B whiskey is exclusive to Japan. Apparently there’s some truth to this, though I’ve had pre-2019 Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit bottles labeled rickhouse B on many occasions. In fact, I’ve reviewed one as early as 2007. So to say that rickhouse B is exclusive to Japan is inaccurate, though it’s fair to conclude that at least some expressions, such as the 13-year Distiller’s Reserve, were at one time selected from rickhouse B.
Boxes, labels, and rickhouses aside, I think it’s time to see how this expression performs. Regardless of rickhouse origin, I’m guessing this 2016 Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve will be similar to the 2014 release. At 13 years of age they share the same barrel-entry proof (107), as well as the same bottling proof (91), so I’m not expecting a dramatic change in two years of production. But let’s not put the cart before the horse. I’ve been surprised many times before by Wild Turkey – today might just be another.
Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve (2016 export) – KSBW at 91 proof – aged at least 13 years – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: vanilla spice, caramel, peppery oak char, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange peel, clove, hints of honey-maple & herbal/floral spice
Taste: (delicate modern WT) toasted caramel, vanilla, sweet charred oak, clove, leather, pepper, nutmeg, citrus, floral spice, faint cinnamon
Finish: medium-long & well-balanced – zesty oak, clove, vanilla spice, caramel drizzle, leather, pepper, nutmeg, honey, savory herbs & diminishing floral notes
Overall: Well, no surprises today. Generally speaking, this 2016 Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve is similar in profile to 2014’s release. If there’s any differences at all it’s in the balance between sweet and spice notes. I recall 2014’s 13-year having more sweet and “funky” oak, similar to Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary. This 2016, on the other hand, showcases more “zesty” oak with leather and dry spice (clove, pepper, cinnamon). While I prefer the overall balance of the 2016, I wouldn’t necessarily classify one release as better than the other. Both are easy sippers with commendable complexity for 91-proof whiskey. Essentially, they’re more similar than different, at least going from memory.
Closing thoughts: Before wrapping up there’s something important I should mention. As stated earlier in this post, I receive a lot of questions about the 13-year expression. More often than not, someone is inquiring on value, as they’re contemplating a secondary market purchase. I’m going to be very honest and straightforward – the 13-year Distiller’s Reserve is not worth secondary premiums. It’s just not. In fact, anyone seriously hunting Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve need only look for Russell’s Reserve 10-year – more specifically – a 2018 Russell’s Reserve 10-year.
Some of you might recall my appearance on The Mash & Drum a few weeks ago. One expression we discussed at length was Russell’s Reserve 10-year. The discussion centered primarily around comments made by Master Distiller Eddie Russell on a recent Bourbon Pursuit podcast. Eddie remarked that this past year’s Russell’s Reserve 10 contained 13-year whiskey. He didn’t say how much or how many batches – but – Jason and I each compared mid-2018 to mid-2017 bottles and found the 2018 a touch more rounded and developed. And then, as somewhat of a half-hearted dare, I suggested Jason sample his 13-year Distiller’s Reserve against the 2018 Russell’s Reserve 10. He confirmed my suspicion – far too similar to justify any secondary premium on the 13-year.
Impressed with this spur-of-the-moment, live-on-camera experiment, I proceeded to acquire a Distiller’s Reserve for myself. The timing couldn’t have been better. Thanks to my previously mentioned gracious friend from Japan (who happened to be headed for the States), I was able to acquire a bottle at retail and perform the 13-year versus 10-year expression comparison for myself. Jason from The Mash & Drum is correct – the 13-year has a little more spice and a slightly longer finish, but other than that, Russell’s Reserve 10-year is remarkably similar to Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve. So much so that one could easily be fooled in a blind tasting (me included).
So to all of you out there reading that may be contemplating a purchase of the export 13-year Distiller’s Reserve beyond true retail I suggest two alternatives: Russell’s Reserve 10-year or Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary. Russell’s Reserve 10 will get you 95% there (with 50 additional milliliters and cash in your pocket too). Hell, you may even like the Russell’s 10 better. Diamond Anniversary will get you 110% there – and – you’ll enjoy a 13 to 16-year-old bourbon that’s truthfully more layered and complex. Both Russell’s Reserve 10 and Diamond Anniversary can be found at retail, though Russell’s 10 is by far the budget-friendly option.
And there you have it. For all of those that have asked, you have received. At the end of the day I can’t tell you how to spend your hard-earned money. That’s your call. I can, however, suggest that when it comes to secondary market purchases (of any whiskey), you should always try before you buy.