There’s a scene in 1983’s Return of the Jedi that’s long been a favorite of mine. I remember sitting in the theater and feeling the weight of the conversation between Luke Skywalker and Ben Kenobi regarding the fate of Luke’s father. (Warning: spoiler ahead.) Ben had once told Luke his father was a good man, killed by the film’s antagonist, Darth Vader. As it turns out, Darth Vader is Luke’s father (very much alive and considerably evil to boot).
Ben goes on to explain the circumstances of Vader’s transformation and counsels Luke with the following bit of wisdom: “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”
Sure, I was only eight years old, but even at that young age those words struck me profoundly. Ben was right. Life is inevitably complicated – the truth even more so. What something is or isn’t, especially when it comes to terms like “quality” and “value” (even the word “whiskey”) depends on one’s own point of view. It’s in many ways the consciousness of our hobby – perception, interpretation, valuation – all existing uniquely in the mind of the individual.
But opinions are one thing, facts are facts, right? In a perfect world, yes. (Warning: another spoiler ahead.) This isn’t a perfect world.
Before moving forward, I should once again stress that I’m not an employee, representative, or affiliate of Wild Turkey or its parent company, Campari. I’m just a fan that likes to share my point of view. As such, consider this post an epilogue to last week’s “Rumor Has It … There’s Turkey in Bardstown.” If you’ve yet to read it, I recommend doing so as it relates directly to today’s discussion.
It Does Not Gobble
Last week started out pretty well. While this blog doesn’t see near the traffic that whiskey websites like Breaking Bourbon and MALT receive, every once in a while I write something that gets a measure of traction. “Rumor Has It” was one such post. I guess the desire for well-aged, NCF, barrel-proof, batched Wild Turkey was higher than I expected. I received a lot of positive feedback and folks genuinely seemed to enjoy the (admittedly long) piece. Things were looking great – that is, until Friday.
For the record, Eddie Russell rarely comments on my Instagram posts. When he does, naturally, I take note. Here’s what Eddie had to say about Four Gate Foundation (assuming batch 5): “It does not gobble. Sorry to bust the bubble.”
Well … that’s a little embarrassing. I was sure Foundation batch 5 was Wild Turkey – incredible Wild Turkey, mind you. Regardless, I wasn’t upset one bit with Eddie’s revelation. Truthfully, I appreciated him sharing his professional insight and taking the time to comment. I made sure to let him know precisely that and considered the case closed.
But was it?
Generally speaking, yes. When a master distiller of Eddie’s stature remarks that a whiskey doesn’t gobble, it ain’t Wild Turkey. (Patton Oswalt voice) Buuuuuut … that answer didn’t completely satisfy my curiosity. I proceeded to do what I do best and make Eddie Russell’s job a little more difficult – probably Bill Straub’s too. (Apologies, gentlemen.) Suffice it to say (with the exception of a few minor specifics), I eventually concluded my inquiry. Thank you both for your patience.
Out of respect for Eddie Russell and Wild Turkey, as well as Bill Straub and Four Gate Whiskey Co., I’m keeping details to a minimum. I’ll just say that neither are being disingenuous or deceptive (as some folks on social media seemed to insinuate). Foundation 5 (or 3) may not be Wild Turkey distilled, but it’s certainly remarkable bourbon. But what is it exactly? To the best of my knowledge the label is 100% accurate. It’s nine-year, nine-month KSBW (the minimum age for this batch of primarily older whiskey), non-chill filtered, and bottled at full barrel proof. I can also confirm that it tastes like well-aged Wild Turkey bourbon; moreover, I stand by my tasting notes and overall impression I shared last week.
If all of this sounds conveniently enigmatic, I apologize. This is the plight of sourced whiskey. Outside of the regulatory requirements of a straight bourbon label, you simply don’t know what’s in the bottle or where it comes from apart from a state. This applies to consumers, and apparently, NDPs and brokers as well. You may think you know, or have insider friends that assure you they know, but the harsh reality is you don’t. Unless a bottle’s label says “distilled by” and is followed by the name of an established distillery at their location of operation, it’s essentially whiskey and a story.
Does that make it “bad” or undesirable whiskey? Not at all. Plenty of popular NDPs have been purchasing sourced whiskey for decades now. Not only do popular bottles from producers like Willett command premiums, the older (most definitely sourced) ones command extravagant premiums and are highly sought after on secondary markets. To my understanding, Willett doesn’t disclose the source of distillation on non-Willett-distilled releases. Does that change what consumers think? Obviously not. At least the demand drastically exceeds supply.
The Bullshit in American Whiskey is Never Going to Change
As I wrap up this post and my thoughts on Four Gate Foundation batch 5, I’m reminded of something Fred Minnick said in his recent video titled “Is this Bourbon Worth $150?” Regarding the supposed origins of sourced whiskey in general, he had the following to say, “To be honest with you, I don’t really care about that stuff anymore as much as I used to. What I really focus on now – because there’s something to be said for this – is the whiskey any good?” The backstories and all of that … the bullshit in American whiskey is never going to change.”
So here I am. It’s 10:56 PM and I’m sipping Four Gate Foundation batch 5 with a smile on my face. It may not have been distilled by Jimmy or Eddie, but someone that knew what they were doing damn sure distilled it.
I appreciate Foundation 5 because the profile reminds me of my favorite brand. It exudes qualities reflecting the best that mature, NCF, barrel-proof Wild Turkey bourbon has to offer (Turkey or not). Each sip stirs memories of prized Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections, Jewish Whisky Company behemoths, and cherished “Donut” (Kentucky Legend) releases.
Is Four Gate Foundation batch 5 worth $200? To me it is. But should you ever find yourself lost in the nebula of sourced whiskey doubt, have a taste and consider the counsel of Fred Kenobi: “Is the whiskey any good? Well, that depends greatly on one’s own point of view.” Cheers!
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