Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you’ve surely noticed a handful of new and updated releases from some of Wild Turkey’s biggest competitors. While they’re all intended to satisfy the ever-growing hunger of modern whiskey enthusiasts, the influx is debatably a mixed bag of ups and downs that has the potential to affect Wild Turkey’s long-standing affordability.
On the brighter side, Jim Beam announced that Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon’s 9-year age statement will return. Beam also filed labels with the TTB for a 12-year/100-proof Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon and a limited edition 13-year/107-proof single-barrel Baker’s Bourbon. While prices have yet to be determined on these two expressions, I’d imagine Knob Creek 12/100’s price to be quite reasonable (considering 12-year+ Knob Creek private selections can be found for $60 or less); Bakers 13-year, however, will likely be priced at a minimum of $100 – possibly as high as Booker’s 30th Anniversary (just my guess). Still exciting news for Beam fans (including me).
Another positive announcement came from Barton, who revealed a new 12-year 1792 bourbon expression bottled at 96.6 proof and priced at $50. Considering the insane hype and unavailability of the 90-proof Weller 12-year (another Sazerac-owned label), $50 for a 12-year/96.6-proof bourbon whiskey isn’t unreasonable in today’s mind-boggling market.
On a seemingly positive side (at least on the surface), Maker’s Mark’s duty-free 101-proof bourbon will now be available domestically as a distillery-only exclusive at $50/liter. While many enthusiasts are itching for Maker’s Mark 101’s national distribution, with the lack of an age statement I’d argue they’re better off diluting Maker’s Mark Cask Strength down to 101 proof. It’s indisputably the more versatile and readily available option. Besides, isn’t it just a little hypocritical for Maker’s to use another brand’s signature “101” as a major branding point, yet no other bottle can have dripping wax?
And finally, on the downside we have Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond, the discontinued and once-affordable 6-year bourbon that was a longtime Kentucky household staple. Yes, it was a bit under-priced (about $15), but once it finally left shelves for good people lost their bourbon-crazed minds. Folks started searching high and low – paying premiums on secondary markets and acting like it was the end of the bourbon world. Apparently, Heaven Hill took note and whether by convenience or design, an opportunity to profit (some say gouge) became crystal clear. Enter a new 7-year Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond … at a whopping $40/750ml.
Remember that scene from There’s Something About Mary where the psychopath hitchhiker reveals his master plan to profit off the success of the “8-minute Abs” exercise videos? And what was his incredible revelation? 7-minute Abs! Genius (sigh). Folks, Heaven Hill may have officially abdicated its “Value King” throne with 7-minute Abs – I mean – 7-year Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. Sure, there’s other Heaven Hill labels that are priced considerably well – but – if Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond’s price is meant to stay, it can’t remain unbalanced among the distillery’s portfolio for long. I sense an unfortunate distillery-wide increase down the road.
So what do these changes mean for Wild Turkey’s prices? Hopefully, nothing. Unfortunately, we’ve already seen two increases just this year – Kentucky Spirit and Master’s Keep. I’ve covered Kentucky Spirit’s changes already. Pretty much beating a dead Turkey at this point, so I’ll move to Master’s Keep.
Ever since the Master’s Keep line was first introduced back in 2015, we’ve seen domestic releases priced at $150. Each of those releases, the 17-year, Decades, and Revival, all touted specs that arguably supported their suggested retail price. That is, until this year’s Master’s Keep Cornerstone was announced. Its retail price? A hefty $175. I’ve yet to taste Cornerstone, but for a 9-year/109-proof Wild Turkey rye whiskey to be worth $175 … well, it must be something special.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand the rarity of Cornerstone’s whiskey, considering there’s very few well-aged rye barrels at Wild Turkey (at least for the time being). As the years go by, however, we’ll see more mature Wild Turkey rye products. It’s just a matter of time. Yet at the moment we’re looking at a substantial amount to fork over for a limited edition rye whiskey. Could it be Peerless Rye’s $125 price tag influencing Cornerstone’s pricing? Hell, Peerless Rye is only two years old. That’s right – $125 for only two years. Or maybe it’s the $200 Stoli wants for Kentucky Owl Rye Batch 2? While closer to Cornerstone in age, it’s lower in proof and distilled by an undisclosed source. I’m willing to bet that these two rye whiskeys, and possibly a few others, are factoring into Campari’s valuation of Cornerstone.
At the end of the day, it’s my hope that Wild Turkey steers clear of this retail madness, at least in regard to its core expressions. I understand prices can’t stay the same forever. We all deal with inflation year over year, but that’s a different scenario entirely. What we don’t need right now is a pillaged consumer base.
Since 1942, Wild Turkey has maintained its everyman status. Let’s cross our fingers that despite questionable pricing by its competitors, Wild Turkey stays true to its loyal fans. If you think about it, that’s what pulled Wild Turkey through the Glut Era. Jimmy Russell kept doing what he’d always been doing – no compromising, no cutting corners, and never forgetting the customers that kept the lights on at the distillery. After all, it’s the hard-working men and women that regularly purchase Wild Turkey Bourbon and Wild Turkey 101 that mean the most. Not the whiskey enthusiasts, not the bourbon geeks, but the Janes and Joes busting their asses everyday (the very folks Heaven Hill is now sending Wild Turkey’s way).
Hold the line, Campari. It’ll pay off. I promise.