*Craft Your Perfect Bird
You’ve heard it countless times – “Bring back eight-year 101!” Don’t get me wrong. I’d love to see an eight-year age statement on Wild Turkey 101. Hell, we all would. But if you think about it, eight-year, 101-proof Wild Turkey already exists (and I don’t mean the Japanese export). It’s called Kentucky Spirit. There’s also Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, which is 110 proof and typically aged eight to ten years. Each of those are excellent alternatives. Besides, adding an age statement to domestic Wild Turkey 101 would only increase the price of an already phenomenal value bourbon. And no one wants that.
But what if I told you there’s a way to craft your own eight-year Wild Turkey 101? No, it doesn’t require a collection of rare or vintage components. It doesn’t even require limited editions or sought-after private selections. Not at all. You only need two ingredients, both of which can be found at your friendly neighborhood liquor store: Russell’s Reserve 10-year and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon.
Blending Wild Turkey expressions isn’t an uncommon subject on this blog. I’ve covered more than a few in the past several years. Some, like “W. B. Hackell,” I enjoy on a regular basis (enough to fashion a handle worth this summer). I even crafted a 101-esque blend back in 2018 to mimic classic Wild Turkey. Unfortunately, it requires Master’s Keep 17, which isn’t so easy to find nowadays. But that hasn’t stopped me from revisiting the “improved 101” concept. And what it comes down to is a simple science with a creative kicker – an equal-parts, fixed-proof blend with infinite flavor profile potential.
Let’s start with the first component, Russell’s Reserve 10-year. This readily available 90-proof bourbon can be found for $30 to $40 almost anywhere fine liquors are sold. Though sub-101 proof, it maintains a maturity uncommonly found in bourbons its price (Eagle Rare comes to mind). It’s also flavorful, consistent, and easy to appreciate, be it neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail (I hanker a Boulevardier myself). It won’t blow you away with complexity or boldness, but that’s not what Eddie Russell has in mind with this particular expression. Today’s Russell’s 10 is a well-batched, mid-shelf daily sipper. Nothing more, nothing less.
I recently discovered my first 2020 bottling of Russell’s Reserve 10-year on a casual shopping trip (one of the perks of being a dedicated Turkey fan – finding joy in everyday bottles). This particular batch was bottled on February 3rd (for more information on Wild Turkey bottle codes, please refer to my guide). I’ll spare a full review (it’s unquestionably as good or better than the 2018-2019 batches I’ve had), but here’s some general tasting notes for reference: toasted caramel, cherry pie, fragrant charred oak, licorice, clove, vanilla bean; medium finish w/ leather, dark citrus, diminishing herbal spice.
Damn. This bourbon only gets better each year! Eddie Russell once mentioned thirteen-year whiskey finding its way into Russell’s Reserve 10-year. It wouldn’t surprise me if this 2020 batch has thirteen-, fifteen-, or even seventeen-year whiskey in it. Pure speculation, of course. But I wouldn’t doubt it for one second. The oak influence is unmistakable – arguably magical.
Moving along to the batter half of this 101/8 blend, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. You can opt for the standard retail iteration or a private barrel selection. The choice is yours. With that said, I think you’ll find a greater appreciation for this blend when experimenting with different bottles of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. Blending with private selections helps tremendously, as you have rickhouse and floor information, as well as maturity (distilled, dumped, and bottling dates) thanks to the mid-2019 label update.
For today’s illustration I’m using a Russell’s Reserve private selection (#20-1171) from Lincoln Road Package Store in Hattiesburg, MS. Aged eight years on the fourth floor of Tyrone B (the second oldest rickhouse at Wild Turkey), it features a well-rounded, confectionary-centered profile. My tasting notes are as follows: vanilla, honey-butter, caramel drizzle, sweet oak, maple candy, warm baking spice; medium-long finish w/ toffee, brown sugar glaze, faint orange peel & clove.
As expected, a rock solid Russell’s pick – one that should balance out the leather and earthier oak tones of 2020’s Russell’s 10. With that, let’s blend!
This is where the fun begins. And the best part? There’s no measuring cups, droppers, or hydrometers needed. Simply add equal parts of each whiskey in a glass and you’ll end up at 100 proof every time. Introduce a pinch more Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel to bump the proof to 101. (If you want precision, a 45/55 blend of Russell’s 10 and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel will equal 101 proof exactly.) Give it a swirl, a few minutes rest, then dive right in.
Upon nosing, you’ll immediately notice your creation showcases both similarities and differences with its originating parts. You’re likely to discover new profile notes as well. Here’s what I’m getting from today’s example: vanilla bean, salted caramel, dense oak, nutmeg, baked cinnamon & brown sugar, hints of honey maple; medium-long finish w/ molasses, herbal tea, cola, diminishing leather & pepper.
While this combination isn’t miles apart from Wild Turkey 101, it’s complex and finessed, and as such, a notable improvement. And it should be. After all, both Russell’s 10-year and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon are super-premium expressions. But this is only one example. Depending on which Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bottle you select for your blend, you’re sure to end up with something altogether different – potentially stunning even. It’s all up to you!
And if you do end up with something out of this world – a truly amazing FrankenTurkey – what next? Own it! Fill an empty Wild Turkey 101 bottle (of any size) and personalize it with a sticker or your own handcrafted art. I’m not saying to market it, sell it, or any of that ridiculous (illegal) funny business. To the contrary – this exercise is for your own satisfaction and joy (and the occasional share or brag among your bourbon friends).
So, what are you waiting for? Get up and start crafting your own 101/8! Worst case scenario you end up with excellent whiskey and a damn good time. I’d call that a win. Cheers!
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