They say the dusty Turkey profile is long gone. Until a few weeks ago, I would’ve said they’re right. Sure, there’s well-aged expressions such as Master’s Keep 17 and Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond where one might expect to find vintage Wild Turkey attributes. There’s undoubtedly similar notes, though not enough to classify their profiles as dusty. And then there’s Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed several with a genuine throwback character – Woodland Wine #16-490, Total Wine of SC #2342, and Davidson’s #2394, in particular. Even so, I wouldn’t classify them as dusty in profile. Classic, maybe. But certainly not dusty.

Before jumping into today’s review, I think it’s best to address what makes dusty Wild Turkey taste like dusty Wild Turkey. And the truth is, there’s no simple answer. This applies to virtually any longstanding Kentucky distillery today. While some producers, such as Heaven Hill, have more discernible lines of transition (pre-fire versus modern), most do not. Granted, Wild Turkey has a new high-tech distillery that’s produced bourbon and rye since 2011, but that whiskey just found its way into the single barrel program this year. It’s an event worthy of note moving forward, yet its introduction only applies to some expressions at present.

I could probably write at length on the nature and potential origins of vintage whiskey’s distinctive flavor. Thankfully, others more qualified than yours truly have already. One article worth noting is Michael Veach’s “Old Bottle Bourbon Flavor,” which was published in 2016. It covers various factors of profile origins from grain to bottling. Most, if not all of these factors, relate to Wild Turkey at some point in time.

Outside of the switch to a modern distillery, there are three commonly referenced contributors to dusty Wild Turkey’s character: cypress fermentation tanks (now steel), a low barrel-entry proof (107 vs. today’s 115), and mature and/or choice whiskey in everyday batches. I’ve covered each in past posts, but a quick review of my Wild Turkey Timeline should guide you through these changes. Interestingly, none apply to the subject of today’s review, a 2015 Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit from Tyrone’s rickhouse T.

If rickhouse T sounds unfamiliar, that’s because it’s a fairly new construction. Much like last week’s rickhouse S Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection, “The S Files,” today’s rickhouse T Kentucky Spirit selection was likely relocated from Camp Nelson (or possibly McBrayer). It tastes nothing like The S Files, however. In fact, it tastes nothing like any modern Wild Turkey single barrel bottling I can think of.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit – selected by Anil Patel for Holmes Liquor, Dalton, GA – 101 proof KSBW – no age stated (rumored at least eight years) – bottled 3/31/2015 from barrel #872, warehouse T, rick #3 – distilled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rosy copper

Nose: (classic & dusty WT) National Distiller’s butterscotch, honey-maple, boozy caramel, musty & funky oak, herbal/floral spice, orange peel, cherry syrup, hints of brown sugar & nutmeg

Taste: (Armagnac-like) chocolate-covered raisins, vanilla bean, rich honey-maple, caramel chews, toasted oak, blood orange, clove chewing gum, leather & herbal spice

Finish: long, warm & flavorful – vanilla extract, grape soda, spicy maple-oak, molasses, dark holiday citrus, spiced gumdrops, cola, faint chewing tobacco

Overall: Folks, if this isn’t bullseye dusty-profile Wild Turkey, I don’t know what is. It’s incredible. I’ve tasted a lot of whiskeys over the years, but I’ve yet to taste a non-age-stated modern Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey with this high a level of in-your-face vintage funk. It’s “time machine bourbon.” It must be! I mean, what else could explain what I’m tasting?! Well, there may be one partial explanation as to why a 2015 barrel tastes so dusty (at least it lines up with one of Michael Veach’s points), and that’s barrel rotation. 

I’m not sure when Wild Turkey ended the practice of rotating barrels regularly, but I’d venture to guess several decades. That doesn’t mean that Wild Turkey doesn’t occasionally move barrels from one location to another. Take 2015’s Master’s Keep 17, for example. The barrels comprising it were moved from traditional wood/clad rickhouses to the stone rickhouses of the Old Taylor Distillery (now Castle & Key). Some years later those very same barrels were moved to wood/clad rickhouses once again. As a result, Eddie Russell frequently refers to Master’s Keep 17 as “the most unique Wild Turkey ever bottled.” He’s not wrong. With that said, right or wrong isn’t near as important is why it bears stating.

Just to clarify, I should stress that rotating or relocating barrels shouldn’t cause a whiskey to taste vintage. It simply changes a whiskey’s profile. Moving a barrel from one rickhouse floor to another – or – from one rickhouse to another (especially if miles apart) will affect the spirit’s interaction with oak. The end result could be minimal or significant relative to time. Ultimately, maturation in traditional rickhouses is a roll of the dice (and Mother Nature runs a crazy casino). In the case of Kentucky Spirit barrel #872 from 3/31/2015, I believe the move to Tyrone played a pivotal role in its flavor profile. It’s not the sole reason it tastes dusty, but I’m confident it’s a critical piece of the puzzle.

So there you have it – my take on the most mysterious Kentucky Spirit bottle I’ve tasted to date. Hell, it’s possibly the best Kentucky Spirit I’ve tasted to date, period. Well done, Anil Patel, Eddie Russell, and the folks at Holmes Liquor. And last but not least, special thanks to Adam and Brad for making this tasting a reality. Cheers all!

Rating: 4.5/5 🦃

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