Last week was nice for a change of pace. My Wild Turkey book presale launched, I tasted Master’s Keep Bottled In Bond, and thanks to some good friends, secured Rare Breed Rye, Forgiven Batch 302, and two different 2020 Russell’s Reserve private selections (CNF and Tyrone G). Considering the weight of what presently surrounds us, it’s never a bad thing to discover a smile or savor small moments of satisfaction. Little victories courtesy of whiskey, if you will. 

Based on last week’s excitement, I thought it best to focus on a simple review. And as much as I’d like to cover Rare Breed Rye, it’s not time. Not yet. As with the grand majority of my whiskey reviews, it’s important to dedicate appropriate focus to the spirit – make sure I have an accurate impression of its profile. Though I have been thinking – it’s been a while since I covered a rye expression. October 2019, in fact. Damn, that’s a long time. Too long. I should probably remedy that and I know exactly how – by reviewing this 2014 Wild Turkey 101 Straight Rye.

Some folks call these transitional-label bottles “dusty.” They’re not (at least not to me), but I won’t give anyone a hard time for saying it. If you think about it, 2014 was only six years ago. But to those new to Wild Turkey or American whiskey, it’s not a label you’ll find commonly in 2020. So, I get it. But is there anything particular that sets it apart from today’s Wild Turkey 101 Rye? Actually, there is. 

In 2011, Wild Turkey’s new state-of-the-art distillery opened for business. Any whiskey distilled prior to 2011 originated at a facility that had been standing long before Jimmy Russell was hired in 1954. Any whiskey distilled 2011 onward is a product of the new facility. Based on Wild Turkey 101 Rye’s rumored age of four to six years, 2014 bottles should contain whiskey distilled at the old Wild Turkey distillery (formerly, J.T.S. Brown & Sons, Anderson County Distilling Co., and Ripy Bros. Distilling Co.). Today’s 101 Rye bottles should, of course, contain whiskey from the new distillery (at least primarily).

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve discussed it before – possibly more than once. And for the record, I’m perfectly content with the latest 101 Rye bottlings (seemingly prefer them, even). But that doesn’t mean I’m not up for putting a 2014 bottle through the paces. Hell, I’m anxious to see what I’ll think, considering it’s been a while since I’ve tasted a transitional label rye. Maybe it’s better than I remember? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s pour!

Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (2014) – 101 proof – no age stated (reportedly four to six years) – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: amber

Nose: (sweet, welcoming) vanilla icing, Golden Delicious apples, lemon-honey, light oak, sugar cookies, citrus zest, hints of sweet herbal/floral spice

Taste: (silky mouthfeel) lemon squares, vanilla candy, caramel drizzle, honey-oak, white tea, confectioners sugar, tangerine peel, faint mint

Finish: medium in length, notably balanced – zesty vanilla, caramel, sweet oak, lemon oil, pepper, ginger ale, diminishing floral spice & mint

Overall: Unsurprisingly delightful. Lots of honey, vanilla, and light syrupy sweetness that’s not exactly common in everyday rye whiskey – especially popular high-rye recipes from Indiana (MGP). When one typically thinks of rye, they think “spice.” While there’s certainly a dose of herbal and floral spice to be found here, as well as some pepper and mint, I’d hardly call it spicy in the conventional whiskey sense – at least not as much as one finds in Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye, or even present-day Wild Turkey 101 Rye. In fact, if there’s any differentiator for 101 Rye over the last six years (albeit minor), it’s arguably the sweet/spice ratio. For example, in comparing a 2018 101 Rye to a 2014, the 2018 is a bit spicier; the 2014 is a pinch sweeter. Otherwise, the profiles are similar.

Before wrapping up I’ll mention that my fondness for rye whiskey in the springtime is increasing – particularly Wild Turkey 101 Rye. I once thought of 101 Rye as an ideal winter holiday pour (still do), but lately I’ve found it quite refreshing when accompanied by a warm breeze. Much like my observation with Longbranch last week, 101 Rye is checking all of the right boxes outdoors. I’ve even found it holds up to ice remarkably well – debatably “enhanced” as a simplified cocktail. Add a fresh slice of orange or lemon, and it’s an incredibly tasty combo. Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself and see. Don’t be shy. There’s no room for whiskey snobbery with the challenges we’re facing. Enjoy your whiskey how you damn well please. Cheers!

Rating: 3.5/5 🦃

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