We all make mistakes. When it comes to human nature, I doubt you’ll find four words with more truth. Anyone who thinks these words don’t, or shouldn’t, apply to making whiskey … well, they’re mistaken.
Most of us have heard the story of Wild Turkey Forgiven by now. For those that haven’t, it’s fairly simple. A distillery employee accidentally batched straight bourbon whiskey with straight rye whiskey. She did the right thing, spoke up, and Jimmy Russell, being the fine Kentucky gentleman he is, made the best of the error. Last I’d heard the employee still works at Wild Turkey, and all, as they say, is forgiven.
There are two official batches of Wild Turkey Forgiven: batch 302 (2013) and 303 (2014). I can only assume batch 301 was the initial “whoopsie” batch that was eventually added to and/or tweaked by then associate master distiller, Eddie Russell (all of which would’ve been overseen and approved by Jimmy, of course). Again, that’s only my assumption, but with Eddie’s enthusiasm to experiment juxtaposed with Jimmy’s stalwart passion for straight bourbon, that’s about the only way I see it.
You might recall my review of Forgiven batch 303 back in March 2018. Long story short, I wasn’t impressed. While I don’t find batch 303 offensive or off-putting, it leaves a lot to be desired for a limited edition whiskey. I can sum it up with one word: youth. The whiskey is undeniably young in profile, and while palatable, it’s nothing I find myself desiring often (if ever, really). Maybe it’s best to leave mistakes in the past. Forgive and forget, if you will.
But is it fair to jump to such a conclusion based entirely on a single batch? I don’t think so; I’d be mistaken. Thanks to a generous whiskey friend (appreciate it, Mark), I have the opportunity to evaluate 2013’s Forgiven batch 302. Will it leave something to be desired like its follow-up release? Or, will it surprise me?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Wild Turkey over the years it’s not taking anything for granted. This is most evident in their single barrel program, though I’d be lying if I said their everyday batched products like Rare Breed haven’t improved substantially in the last five years or so. The only way to know, however, is by popping corks and giving bottles an honest try. And that’s precisely what I’ll do now. Let’s pour!
Wild Turkey Forgiven (batch 302, 2013) – 78% six-year Kentucky straight bourbon and 22% four-year Kentucky straight rye – 91 proof – distilled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: rich amber
Nose: (reminiscently classic WT) vanilla bean, warm apple cider, honey-maple, musty oak, fruitcake, orange peel, baking spice
Taste: peppery vanilla, sweet charred oak, zesty citrus, toasted honey, caramel apple, clove chewing gum, faint licorice
Finish: medium in duration – butter toffee, caramel, oak char, orange zest, nutmeg, red apple, hints of clove & leather
Overall: Well, I’ll be damned. This is notably better than 2014’s Forgiven batch 303. How so? First off, there’s an undeniable classic Wild Turkey character weaving its way through this whiskey. Second, it doesn’t carry the youthfulness one finds in batch 303. If the barrels comprising batch 302 are of similar age to 303 (and by all reports they are), they must’ve been pulled from entirely different rickhouses and/or floors. Finally, being a non-age-stated expression, it’s always possible there’s older barrels in batch 302 (possibly barrels filled at the former barrel-entry proofs of 107 or 110). I’m not saying it’s likely, just possible.
If I had to sum up Forgiven batch profiles in simplistic terms it would go something like this: Forgiven batch 302 tastes like a blend of 2000’s Wild Turkey 101 and 2000’s 101 Rye cut to 91 proof; Forgiven batch 303 tastes like a blend of 2010’s Wild Turkey 81 and 2010’s 81 Rye miraculously “proofed up” to 91. That’s basically it in a nutshell. So if you like the 2000’s Wild Turkey profile and you’re looking for something new, seek out Forgiven batch 302. Conversely, if you enjoy modern-day 81-proof Wild Turkey bourbon and rye, take a few minutes to blend the two together (or try my hack). If you appreciate the resulting profile, look for Forgiven batch 303. You won’t be disappointed.
It’s my hope that Wild Turkey continues experimentation in the straight whiskey blend category. It’s been nearly six years since we’ve last seen it happen. In that time, producers like High West have drawn significant attention – and rightfully so – with products like Bourye, Son of Bourye, and Campfire. This is an area Wild Turkey should consider refocusing. As I’ve tasted with batch 302, it can be done. Sure, there’s room for improvement, but that could be said of virtually any expression from any distillery in operation today. And think about it – Wild Turkey has more rye stocks than they did at the time of Forgiven’s release. They also have an increased volume of mature bourbon stocks. Bringing Forgiven back as a retooled expression might prove extremely successful. Hell, you could have a Master’s Keep Forgiven, though it better be ridiculously good for that kind of money. We certainly don’t need another mistake. After all, forgiveness rarely comes easy in this hobby.
Rating: 3/5 🦃
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