Over the past few weeks I’ve discussed what constitutes a value bourbon, as well as what constitutes a “dusty” bourbon. Today, I’ll incorporate the two. One bottle is often mistaken as a dusty Wild Turkey, and the other just hit shelves. Both are Wild Turkey 101 releases, though from distinct years. Each contains slightly different whiskey, as the barrel-entry proofs vary and the rickhouses from which barrels are pulled are season-dependent. Both are relatively inexpensive (considering today’s market), though packaged somewhat differently. How will they compare? We’ll soon find out, but before we do let’s get an idea of what we’re diving into.
The first bottle I’ll be tasting is a 2013 “transitional label” Wild Turkey 101. I call this particular label “transitional,” as it didn’t last very long (no more than five years or so) and is basically a sepia-toned variation of the non-age-stated 1999-2011 “Austin, Nichols” Wild Turkey 101 label. A lot of folks out there call this release a dusty. While the bottle itself may sometimes be coated in dust, it’s not what I’d consider a dusty bourbon. It’s certainly not the dusty Turkey profile, though it’s not exactly the current profile either. More on that later. Anyhow, I picked this bottle up last year at a small “mom & pop” liquor store tucked away in a South Carolina shopping center. It was packaged in a Christmas set that included two Wild Turkey rocks glasses (pictured), all for $27. That’s a deal in my book!
The second bottle is a 2019 (March 12, 2019 to be exact) bottle of Wild Turkey 101. This is the current label design – one that I’m quite fond of and feel the artist should take considerable pride in. I’m excited to try this 2019 release, as I was impressed with 2018’s batches – especially mid/late-2018 (codes LL/GG through LL/GJ). Fingers crossed this 2019-filled bottle measures up. That said, laser codes are just fill dates. They don’t necessarily relate to a particular batch. At least I’m assuming. I’m honestly not sure how often batches are created and bottled, so there could very well be overlap. Which reminds me …
Before moving forward, I should mention that there’s a lot of misinformation and senseless activity revolving around Wild Turkey bottle codes lately. I guess I’m partially to blame. I’ve discussed these numerous times over the last year, from this very blog, to several YouTube interviews. At the same time, I need to make it very clear that specific modern Wild Turkey bottle codes DO NOT justify paying a premium. They just don’t. You can argue with me all you want, but until you do your fair share of blind tastings with numerous bottles of various codes, you’re standing on a shaky leg. So if you see someone offering 2018 Wild Turkey 101 or 2018 Rare Breed bottles for premiums on secondary markets, pass. Please, pass. What you find on retail shelves will give you just as much satisfaction (arguably more, considering you didn’t waste extra time and money securing a commonly found bottle of whiskey). Avoid the flippers; enjoy the sippers.
Speaking of sippers, I think it’s about time to compare two bottles of Kentucky’s finest. Let’s pour!
Wild Turkey 101 (2013) – KSBW at 50.5% ABV – no age stated – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: toffee, vanilla, slightly musty oak, confectioners sugar, orange peel, cherry candy, baking spice, faint honey-maple
Taste: (silky mouthfeel) creamy vanilla, caramel drizzle, sweet oak, nutmeg, honey-butter, hints of lemon peel & herbal spice
Finish: long & pleasantly warm – caramel candy, creme brulee, sweet charred oak, brown sugar, nutmeg, herbal tea, faint citrus & clove
Overall: This is an interesting pour. It’s very much modern Wild Turkey, though not exactly the same Wild Turkey one finds in the current label. There’s a pinch more fruit and what I can only describe as a “tease” of the classic Wild Turkey profile, with its musty oak and dense honey-maple. And by tease I mean that you detect it initially (primarily when nosing), but as soon as you do it almost completely disappears. If you go back specifically looking for classic Turkey notes, chasing what you originally sensed, the modern Turkey profile notes only seem to get more prevalent (especially in a side-by-side comparison).
Why is this? Well, much like the transitional nature of the label itself, 2013’s Wild Turkey 101 is likely a batch of whiskeys barreled at different entry proofs. With 101 being a batch of 6 to 8-year+ bourbon, there’s at least two entry proofs represented – possibly three (see my timeline for details). The end result is a profile that some may prefer more than others – predominantly modern with notes that almost hearken back to late-2000’s Wild Turkey 101. Almost.
Rating: 3.5/5 🦃
Wild Turkey 101 (2019) – KSBW at 50.5% ABV – no age stated – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: butter toffee, oak char, vanilla, toasted caramel, brown sugar, nutmeg, spiced apples, orange peel, clove, faint bubblegum
Taste: (oily mouthfeel) toasted caramel, vanilla, toffee, charred oak, brown sugar, molasses, nutmeg, clove, hints of citrus & leather
Finish: long & robust – vanilla spice, toffee, sweet charred oak, caramel, brown sugar, nutmeg, ginger beer, pepper, faint orange zest & clove
Overall: Profile-wise, there’s nothing but rock-solid Wild Turkey goodness here. Vanilla spice, brown sugar and charred oak with plenty of citrus, nutmeg and clove to offset the core bourbon notes. Maybe it’s just me, but Wild Turkey seems to be getting better by the day.
There’s no two ways about it – this is damn-good whiskey. Call it value. Call it modern. Call it whatever you wish. If you’re looking for a quality bourbon that’s easily found and checks virtually every box you can for under $25, today’s Wild Turkey 101 is where it’s at. This particular bottle is no simple exception. In fact, it’s simply exceptional. How so? Well, if you thought 2018’s Wild Turkey 101 was something worth buying a case at a time, I encourage you to give 2019’s a try. I recently conducted a blind side-by-side comparison between this 101 and an October 2018 (LL/GJ) 101. While both are equally enjoyable, the 2019 is my overall favorite.
Rating: 3.75/5 🦃
In closing: While each of these Wild Turkey 101 releases are tasty in their own way, my preference leans towards the 2019. But that’s just me. I could easily picture someone finding more common ground in 2013’s transitional profile. The good news is that neither are a bad investment. Just don’t fall for the secondary traps – the flippers, the misinformed, and the misled. 2010’s Wild Turkey is a retail-price bargain. Outside of that, if you’re looking to spend your hard-earned money on a higher-quality modern Wild Turkey expression, grab a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selection or a release from the Master’s Keep line. You and your conscience will be much happier for it.