If you’re familiar with secondary whiskey markets, you’ve surely noticed a recent increase in the value of vintage Wild Turkey bottles. Highly sought-after expressions like “Cheesy Gold Foil” and the venerable 80’s and 90’s Wild Turkey 101 8-year now sell for hundreds more than they had just two years prior. So, why the sudden change?

I think the answer is pretty simple: eyes (and ears) have finally opened.

When I first started dabbling in dusty Wild Turkey several years back, the bourbons garnering the lion’s share of attention were Stitzel-Weller (anything), Willett, BTAC, and Pappy. There was, however, a small subset of folks pursuing dusty Old Grand Dad (National Distillers), “pre-fire” Heaven Hill, 101-proof Eagle Rare (Seagrams/Old Prentice), and vintage Wild Turkey. Even so, dusty Turkey failed to carry the value it truly warranted, at least among the mainstream. But you can’t keep quality whiskey secret forever. Vintage Wild Turkey bottles are now far more than an underground buzz – they’re arguably en vogue.

If you’re worried you may have started a little late in the dusty game, you’re probably right. Yet in the sea of prohibitively expensive 8 and 12-year vintage Wild Turkey expressions, there are a few releases not nearly as sought after. The subject of today’s post, 1990’s Wild Turkey Tradition, is one such expression.

While I don’t have the exact dates of issue, Wild Turkey Tradition is a 101-proof straight bourbon expression that followed the 101-proof Kentucky Legend and preceded the 105-proof Stampede ‘55. All three expressions being non-age-stated, export-only releases created primarily for duty-free shops and select foreign markets. The earliest Tradition bottle I’ve seen was dated 1994, and the latest 1997 (which I reviewed back in 2016). I’ve seen 101-proof Kentucky Legend bottles as late as 1992, and Stampede ‘55’s as early as 1998. Based on the combination of those dates, I’d give Tradition a release period of roughly 1993-1997 (with potential overlap).

Thanks to a generous bourbon friend I recently acquired a pristine 1996 Wild Turkey Tradition – like-new duty-free tag and all. I also happen to have a 4-ounce sample of a 1994 Tradition on hand (also from a generous friend), so I thought – why not compare them? At a time when dusty Wild Turkey is more popular than ever, it might be helpful for enthusiasts seeking out lesser-known expressions to have another profile reference or two. At least it can’t hurt, right? Absolutely not. Let’s pour!

Wild Turkey Tradition 1996

Wild Turkey Tradition (1994 export/duty-free) – non-aged-stated, 101-proof KSBW – (not labeled, yet assumed) distilled and/or bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rich copper

Nose: (dusty WT) butterscotch, musty & funky oak, honey-maple, blood orange, clove tobacco, herbal & floral spice, hints of cedar & leather, faint port wine

Taste: (rich w/ subtle spice) dense honey-maple, clove, musty oak, butterscotch, toasted caramel, tobacco, leather, herbal/floral notes, licorice

Finish: medium-long – clove, leather, burnt vanilla, spicy oak, tobacco, molasses, pepper, dry spice

Overall: If you’re looking for a general dusty Wild Turkey profile, look no more. 1994 Tradition is literally saturated with vintage Turkey funk and old bourbon character. That said, it lacks the finesse, depth, and layered qualities of other 80’s and 90’s Wild Turkey expressions like select 101/8’s and virtually all 101/12’s. In fact, I’m reminded more of early-90’s “brown label” Wild Turkey 80-proof – plenty of dusty notes, but none that really shake things up or demand attention like those found in Rare Breed, Kentucky Spirit, or 101 from the same era.

Rating: 3.75/5🦃

Wild Turkey Tradition (1996 export/duty-free) – non-aged-stated, 101-proof KSBW – (not labeled, yet assumed) distilled and/or bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rich copper

Nose: (“zesty” dusty WT) honey-maple, caramel, orange zest, toasted oak, light butterscotch, brown sugar, apple peel, herbal & floral spice

Taste: (dusty/classic WT) fruity vanilla, sweet musty oak, creamy caramel, honey-maple, nutmeg, herbal spice, orange peel, hints of red fruit & plums

Finish: long & zesty – vanilla, zesty oak, caramel candy, leather, sweet herbs, citrus, diminishing floral spice

Overall: While very much established around the same dusty foundation as the 1994 release, this 1996 Wild Turkey Tradition has a little more to offer in terms of stand-out qualities. First, it has a touch of finesse and a bit more layered spice to its profile. Nothing I’d call extraordinary, though I’d argue it’s somewhat closer to 1990’s Wild Turkey 101 8-year (or “Old No. 8”). There’s also more of a citrus vibe present, but not nearly as citrus-dominant as I recall 1997’s Tradition. At one time I might’ve desired less of these “finessed” notes in favor of the heavier (sometimes darker or “portier”) dusty notes. Not today. I’ll gladly take more lively notes over general dusty notes any day of the week.

Rating: 4/5🦃

Closing thoughts: While export Tradition is a suitable example of the dusty Wild Turkey profile, and can typically be found at a more reasonable price than numerous other vintage Wild Turkey expressions, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for the experienced enthusiast. At least that’s my two cents. Personally, I prefer a more vibrant whiskey. More often than not, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – particularly private selections – shine in that department. Sure, I’d love to sip on CGF and Donut bottles all day, every day. But let’s face it – that’s just not happening these days.

So when it comes to 1990’s Wild Turkey Tradition, if you desire dense dusty notes (but not much else) go with an earlier release (1994 or so). If you want a zestier, more finessed pour (with plenty of dusty notes to boot) go with a later release (1996 or so). Either way you’ll end up with a smile on your face, so long as you don’t spend too much. And remember – there’s still that myth out there that “forward-facing” Wild Turkey bottles are superior to modern Wild Turkey bottles. Don’t fall for it. If you do, you’ll be missing out on some of the best bourbon whiskey currently known to man.