Thanks to this hobby, I’ve been fortunate to meet some truly remarkable, generous and kind folks from all over the world, many of which I now consider friends. Sadly, I’ve had to witness too many of those friends either lose their jobs or worry if they’ll wake up with one tomorrow. It’s the kind of stress that none of us should be facing, yet far too many are dealing with. This situation is something I don’t take lightly, and I’m grateful to be a part of a community that recognizes its gravity.

I’d like to say thank you to the individuals and groups that contributed to my Adopt a Bartender initiative over the past four weeks. As of this post, over $3,600 has been raised for these fine ladies and gents. I hope to continue this program in the weeks to come and with a little luck, raise a little more.

I’d also like to recognize the considerable kindness shown by the whiskey community with multiple efforts to support the U.S. Bartenders Guild (USBG). From bloggers and YouTubers, to distilleries and industry veterans, whiskey insiders are spreading the word and their supporters are giving in turn. It’s undoubtedly impressive and I’m proud to see everyone coming together in these troubling days.

Finally, it should be stated that Campari America, parent company of Wild Turkey, recently donated $1 million to Another Round, Another Rally, a non-profit organization assisting bartenders and hospitality workers facing financial setbacks from COVID-19’s impact. In addition, Wild Turkey Distillery provided 25,000 liters of neutral grain spirit to be used in the production of hand sanitizer for first responders. Well done, Campari.

Since we’re on the subject of generosity, I’d like to take this opportunity to review not one, but two vintage Wild Turkey bourbons graciously shared with me by Turkey fan extraordinaire, David James. Some of you may recall the 1974 Wild Turkey 101 mini bottle he gifted last December (which was incredible, by the way). I can’t say thanks enough, David.

Let’s start things off with Wild Turkey Heritage, then wrap things up with Wild Turkey Cuvee Lafayette.

Wild Turkey Heritage (2005)

Like 2002’s Wild Turkey Freedom, 2005’s Heritage was a travel-retail release exclusive to DFS Galleria stores. At some point those bottles ended up in the inventory of other international wholesalers and retailers, and at least one U.S. store. I can only assume liquidation of overstock being the primary cause, as DFS continued to expand and open new locations throughout the 2000s. Whatever the reason, both Freedom and Heritage (despite their limited production) are more easily found on foreign websites and secondary markets than one might expect.

As for the whiskey itself, Heritage is a non-age-stated, 101-proof, single-barrel bourbon (essentially a repackaged Kentucky Spirit with a bottle similar to 2007’s American Spirit). How many barrels were allocated to DFS for Heritage? I’m honestly not sure, though Eddie Russell states it wasn’t many. This particular barrel was pulled from rickhouse E. Based on the 2005 release date, that could be Tyrone E or Camp Nelson E. My money’s on Tyrone E.

Wild Turkey Heritage

Wild Turkey Heritage (2005 limited release) – 101-proof, single-barrel KSBW (barrel #88, rickhouse E) – no age stated – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rosy copper

Nose: (classic WT) honey-maple, fruity & funky oak, caramel, cherry-vanilla, orange peel, lemon zest, strawberry preserves, nutmeg, graham crackers, faint clove

Taste: (oily mouthfeel) peppery vanilla, honey-maple, creamy caramel, heavily toasted oak, nutmeg, citrus zest, herbal & floral spice, leather, hints of butterscotch

Finish: medium-long & flavorful – vanilla spice, dense oak char, maple syrup, leather, spiced gumdrops (sugar, cinnamon, clove, licorice), leather & black pepper

Overall: First off, I’d be absolutely shocked if this bourbon is less than ten years old. Heritage #88 is a no-holds-barred, 101-proof whiskey, loaded with character and notes akin to Wild Turkey limited editions that would follow, primarily American Spirit (2007) and Diamond Anniversary (2014). In particular, the charred oak and drier spice notes, such as leather and cinnamon, remind me heavily of the fifteen-year American Spirit. But it’s not all oak and spice. There’s plenty of fruit – particularly on the nose – as well as a nice vanilla and caramel presence laced throughout.

All things considered, Wild Turkey Heritage is an excellent whiskey. It’s a single-barrel expression, so profiles will vary from barrel to barrel (of course). I’ve had a good many Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections I’d place above this release, and several Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit bottles I’d place on par, but it’s unique enough to hold its own. With Diamond Anniversary still found at retail, however, I’m not sure I’d pay secondary prices for Heritage. Maybe one day, just not today.

Rating: 4/5 🦃

Wild Turkey Cuvee Lafayette (1988)

With Pernod Ricard at the helm in the 1980s, this next one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Cuvee Lafayette was a Wild Turkey limited edition released exclusively for the French spirits market (though it later made its way to select Asian retailers). I’ve seen bottles dated as early as 1988 and as late as 1992, though I’m uncertain precisely how long the expression ran. Needless to say, it’s long been discontinued, quite rare, and as such, remains highly sought after by experienced whiskey enthusiasts.

Spec-wise Cuvee Lafayette is equivalent to other Wild Turkey 101 twelve-year releases from the same time period, such as “Cheesy Gold Foil” (“CGF”) and Beyond Duplication (export). It’s sometimes (mistakenly) cited that Cuvee Lafayette is a finished whiskey similar to Wild Turkey Sherry Signature. While its design certainly gives the bottle an appearance similar to an Armagnac or Cognac, it’s very much a straight bourbon whiskey. Its label reads:

This rare private reserve Wild Turkey bourbon was tasted 12 times as it aged in charred oak casks. Only those casks that were judged to be exceptionally fine were marked by the master distiller’s signature for this special bottling.

Does Cuvee Lafayette taste like late-1980’s CGF or Beyond Duplication? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s pour!

Wild Turkey Cuvee Lafayatte

Wild Turkey 101 “Cuvee Lafayette” (1988) – 101-proof KSBW – aged at least twelve years – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: deep rosy copper

Nose: (fragrant dusty WT) dense maple syrup, butterscotch, black cherry, toasted caramel, rich musty oak, well-aged Armagnac, molasses, blood orange, baked brown sugar, tobacco

Taste: (notably oily mouthfeel) vanilla bean, honey-maple, salted caramel, butterscotch, sweet funky oak, English toffee, ripe red plum, brown sugar, leather, herbal & floral spice

Finish: long, layered & flavorful – vanilla spice, butterscotch, thick honey-maple, charred oak, nutmeg, cinnamon, leather, pipe tobacco, pepper, hints of clove & ripe citrus

Overall: The depth and complexity of Cuvee Lafayette is striking. It’s loaded with flavor, yet sips as if the ABV were a fraction of its 50.5%. In many ways I’m reminded of well-aged, cask-strength Armagnac, with its red plum, blood orange, sweet oak, tobacco, and leather notes. On the flipside, core bourbon notes like vanilla and caramel present themselves alongside darker attributes like butterscotch and honey-maple. As for its spice elements, they’re very much on the warmer, more well-rounded side of the spectrum – “bakery-esque,” if you will.

This is whiskey that sits you down and bestows a greater appreciation of Glut Era bourbon (particularly Wild Turkey). While not entirely unique in comparison to other late-80’s and early-90’s Wild Turkey 101 twelve-year expressions, Cuvee Lafayette is every bit as impressive. In fact, I’d be remiss to exclude it from my Top Ten, which is something I’ll take care of right away.

Rating: 5/5 🦃

How lucky I am to have a friend like David James. Not only does he share his rare whiskey, he’s more than happy to share his Wild Turkey knowledge and experience whenever called upon. Thank you again, and all the best to you and your family, David.

Aren’t most of us lucky in some sense? Regardless of where you stand – whether you believe the world is in a full-blown coronavirus tizzy, or knee-deep in dire straits – the fact of the matter remains: people are suffering. The vast majority of us – the lucky – are safe. We have our health; we have our friends and family. On top of that, we have enjoyable hobbies like this one that allow us to escape the surrounding madness. Don’t be fooled by an “essential goods” designation. Sipping whiskey is a luxury. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stay grounded. That doesn’t mean we can’t help.

Let’s continue to stick together. Let’s keep fighting this crisis by staying smart, compassionate, and when able, giving to charitable causes. Politics and religion have no bearing here. As far as I’m concerned, no one in our hobby should be left behind. No one. Our strength is our common bond – our appreciation for whiskey. It may sound silly, but it’s not. We can do more.

And we will.

Bottle photos courtesy of David James.

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