Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit … I’ve had a lot to say about this expression lately. From design changes to price increases, Kentucky Spirit’s been riding a bumpy road. But … the quality of the whiskey remains. It may not be the Kentucky Spirit of old, thanks to entry proof changes and self-competing single-barrel expressions like Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, yet it still has something to offer the curious whiskey enthusiast.

Essentially, Kentucky Spirit is a single-barrel version of Wild Turkey 101. Created by master distiller Jimmy Russell to compete directly with Blanton’s, the first bottles were filled in 1994; they’ve adorned retail shelves ever since. While lacking an age statement, the Russells will openly tell you that Kentucky Spirit averages about eight years – sometimes a little more. With the premiums people pay for modern export Wild Turkey 101 8 Year, you’d think Kentucky Spirit would be the more sensible domestic option. Sure, it’s bottled from a single barrel, but that often works as a profile advantage (at least more often than not for Wild Turkey).

But what if I told you that sometimes – a very rare sometimes – considerably aged barrels are bottled by Wild Turkey as private selections? I wrote about one of these a few months back – Moonshine Grill’s “Cheesy Gold” Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. At twelve-plus years and 110 proof (NCF), Cheesy Gold is a genuine rarity. It’s not the only genuine well-aged rarity, however. Enter Moonshine Grill’s “Stay Thirsteen My Friends” Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit.

Much like Cheesy Gold, Stay Thristeen is a notably mature private selection (thirteen years) – the result of a relationship Austin, Texas’ Moonshine Grill shares with Wild Turkey and the Russell family. You can read more about Moonshine Grill and their connection to the Russells in a post from this past April. As for the bourbon itself, age is just a number, right? It’s easy to think so, but the Buddha on this bottle is telling me otherwise. And who am I to argue with a sticker of the Buddha of Bourbon? His jovial smile and caricatured wisdom says it all. And his counsel? “It’s time for a pour,” of course!

Kentucky Spirit - Moonshine Grill

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit “Stay Thirsteen My Friends” – selected by Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, Austin, TX – 101-proof KSBW – aged 13 years (verified) – bottled 1/14/2019 from barrel #13-1000, warehouse A, rick 72 (bottle 18 of 120) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: dense copper

Nose: (modern & classic WT) cherry-vanilla, caramel, butterscotch drizzle, sweet oak, nutmeg, orange peel, herbal spice, honey, apple pie, hints of cinnamon & clove

Taste: (thick & creamy) vanilla spice, toasted caramel, nutmeg, sweet charred oak, honey-maple, brown sugar, herbal & floral notes, hints of licorice & cola

Finish: long w/ curiously lingering spice – vanilla, caramel candy, sweet & spicy oak, nutmeg, citrus, sassafras, clove chewing gum, diminishing pepper & leather

Overall: This is a lovely bourbon … nuanced and delicate, yet not at all in the elusive or fragile sense. “Stay Thiristeen My Friends” is what I’d imagine the export-only thirteen-year Wild Turkey Distiller’s Reserve to be, were it bottled at 101 proof. For a modern Kentucky Spirit release, I’m impressed, though it’s not the end-all, be-all of modern Wild Turkey releases. Similar complexity and maturity (if not more) can be found in Master’s Keep Decades. But again, on its own as a 101-proof single-barrel selection, Stay Thirsteen is about as good as modern Kentucky Spirit gets.

Rating: 4.25/5 🦃

Before signing off, I have a few closing thoughts. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit is a quality whiskey (particularly this private selection). But I can’t help thinking that Kentucky Spirit could improve. How so?

Well, for starters a “barreled on” date would be nice. Yes, we have a “bottled on” date, but that does little for the savvy bourbon geek. I’d also like the rickhouse floor disclosed. We have the actual rack number, but that means little to those unfamiliar with the layout of each rickhouse (including me), leaving one to only guess at the floor. And finally, it’s 2019. Why the hell is anyone chill-filtering super-premium bourbons marketed specifically at discerning consumers anyway? Might I see a show of hands as to how many whiskey enthusiasts actually want their high-priced, higher-proof bourbons chill filtered?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller … Bueller?

Didn’t think so.

At this point I’m starting to feel like a broken record. These aren’t new suggestions. I’ve typed these before. But in my own way, I guess I’m taking my frustration out through the keys of this Chromebook. I taste things like this incredible thirteen-year Kentucky Spirit and wonder – what if?

Okay, I’ll wrap this post up. Look, if Campari wants to do something truly different – break the wheel, if you will – I have an idea and Kentucky Spirit is the perfect candidate.

Seeing that Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon is the de-facto choice Wild Turkey single-barrel expression (even if by specs alone), outside of making it available at full barrel proof, leave that one alone. As for Kentucky Spirit … considering the unique complexity of Stay Thirsteen, I’d be willing to pay an even higher premium for exceptional maturation, were that an available option.

So what if there were two Kentucky Spirits? Maybe “Kentucky Spirit Classic” and “Kentucky Spirit: Beyond Duplication.” Kentucky Spirit Classic would remain an eight-year-plus single-barrel bourbon, but Kentucky Spirit: Beyond Duplication would be an outlet to market choice twelve-year-plus barrels, thereby warranting an even higher premium.

Maybe I’m crazy. Maybe I’ve listened to the cries of die-hard Turkey fans far too long. But I’d be willing to wager a hefty sum that a twelve-year-plus, 101-proof single-barrel Wild Turkey expression wouldn’t sit on retail shelves very long.

You don’t have to listen to my silly ideas, Campari, but staring at this half-empty thirteen-year Kentucky Spirit … I honestly wish you would.