Author Fred Minnick recently posted on his YouTube channel, “If I’m Wild Turkey, this list makes me nervous.” Overlooking the debatably clickbait title, the video goes on to list the top ten best-selling American whiskeys on Black Friday via Drizly (a popular online spirits retail service). Fred takes the position that Campari executives should be concerned that Wild Turkey didn’t make the list. But is this truly cause for alarm?

Point, Click, Booze

While I find the results interesting, I don’t consider Drizly’s sales reports the end-all, be-all guide rule for industry performance – especially a single-day snapshot. And as Fred himself noted, several well-loved household brands were also missing from their Black Friday list – Four Roses, Old Forester, Knob Creek, Elijah Craig, among others. Not to mention Blanton’s curious placement. Hell, Blanton’s is seldom found on retail shelves anywhere. When it is, it’s limited in stock and typically high in price.

But I’ll return to Fred’s premise – should Wild Turkey be nervous about Drizly’s Black Friday sales reports? I don’t think so. I doubt the vast majority of Wild Turkey’s consumer base uses Drizly (or even knows what it is). I’m not talking about bourbon geeks or tech-savvy customers. I’m talking about the Janes and Joes buying handles of 101 every other week. Besides, as of today only 26 states are eligible to use Drizly’s services. My home state of South Carolina and its neighboring state Georgia – both important markets for Wild Turkey – are ineligible.

Just for kicks I reached out to a local retailer to inquire which American straight whiskeys sell best by volume. The manager stated Wild Turkey 101 falls closely behind Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, Jim Beam White Label, and Evan Williams Black Label – especially when it comes to larger bottles. Not surprising; certainly not concerning. This is how it’s been for years and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon (if ever). After all, Wild Turkey has long suffered from an undeserved roughneck stigma.

The “Kickin’ Chicken”

Though opinions have changed over the last decade, particularly among whiskey enthusiasts, the average American still views Wild Turkey as the consummate booze for getting smashed. Case in point, this recent Tweet by author, photographer, and comedy writer Matt Oswalt (I highly recommend his book, Liquor Stores and Detours, by the way). Yes, mixing bourbon with a wine cooler is a recipe for disaster; it’s very much the stereotypical “Wild Turkey experience” as well. Many of us share similar events, most of them from our youth. We carry these with us like badges of glorious dishonor, and arguably more so with Wild Turkey than any other brand. I mean, who wants to hear your Zima or peach schnapps story?

To increase sales, Wild Turkey should continue building the buzz that their product is top quality (because it is). Unsurprisingly, the trends that start in the whiskey hobby inevitably trickle down to the Janes and Joes of the general public. Take Pappy Van Winkle, for example. Produced by Buffalo Trace since 2002, it seems virtually any straight whiskey released by the distillery now – Pappy or not – is a hot commodity. Yet as Fred Minnick can attest, while Buffalo Trace makes exceptional whiskey, their expressions fall short in blind tastings just as often as Jack Daniel, Jim Beam, Evan Williams, and Wild Turkey. There’s no discernible magic – no supernatural quality or substance that makes Buffalo Trace products innately deserving of the attention they receive. It’s all word of mouth backed by a reliable product with high-class packaging. That’s it.

If Wild Turkey, or more importantly, Campari, should be nervous about anything, it’s how they’re perceived by the bourbon community. Maybe I’m just so hunkered down into this hobby that I see things with tunnel vision. If that’s a valid fault, so be it. But I’m going to put this out there openly and earnestly with hopes that Campari understands, or at least entertains, this point of view: They’re not there yet. In fact, I’d say they have a ways to go.

Granted, Campari has improved the Wild Turkey brand immensely since its purchase from Pernod Ricard in 2009. That’s indisputable and I’ll defend it on all fronts. Yet, there’s a distance – a gap between the global corporation and the heart of the bourbon world. At present, this gap is successfully bridged by Jimmy and Eddie Russell, though at limited capacity. Bruce, JoAnn, Benny, Bo, and numerous Wild Turkey and Campari ambassadors assist in immeasurable ways. Yet, I fear … Is it enough? What would Wild Turkey be without Jimmy or Eddie? Have you ever stopped to think about that? I have, and it’s pretty damn scary. 

To Be Continued …

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. As I once told my colleague, Malt Review’s Taylor Cope, I strive to end my posts on a positive note. That said, if I’m Wild Turkey, there’s surely things to be nervous about. Drizly’s Black Friday sales aren’t one of them. We desire a sense of the future. I’m not talking about promising numbers or projections on a shareholders’ report. I’m talking about bourbon. I’m talking about Lawrenceburg, Kentucky – Wild Turkey’s heritage, and what’s to come of it.

Maybe Campari has a plan and we’re simply not privy to it. Maybe we’ll soon find out. As for now, I hope they continue their focus on improving and cultivating the reputation of the brand we love. Wild Turkey has world-class whiskey, and with few exceptions, high-class packaging. They have a legacy unmatched in the history of American distilling. Getting this information to the masses – erasing stereotypes – starts via connections with the bourbon community. Getting involved – not by relying on the shade of A-list celebrity, but rather tapping into the roots of faithful customers. I’ll do my part, as I’m sure many diehard fans, bloggers, and YouTubers will too. We’re here. Give us a call anytime.


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