Wild Turkey has done it again – yet another 101 label redesign. But before folks start lighting torches and grabbing pitchforks, let’s take a look at what came before, what we have now, and if it really even matters at all. I’ll go ahead and lay my cards out on the table. I like the new design (quite a lot). I also foresee it making a positive difference for the brand in the long run. But more on that later.
If we take a look at Wild Turkey 101’s various labels since the eight-year age statement was dropped, we have a grand total of five major changes (excluding export expressions). There was a brief minor change in 1992, with a label bearing no numeral 8 at all (in years, or as “Old No. 8”), but that iteration is extremely rare. (I’ve seen it only twice, once as a 50ml mini bottle.) With that factored in, I won’t be counting it among the five major changes.
The first significant label change was the sadly deceptive Wild Turkey 101 “Old No. 8,” which ran from 1992-1999. Next, came the “bird in profile,” the last label to prominently feature “Austin, Nichols.” Bottles touting this full-color, side-facing turkey lined shelves for over a decade (1999-2011). Third, was the “monochrome bird in profile” (2011-2015), the first 101 label revision under Campari’s direction. It was followed by the “sketched bird” in 2015, which is still in use today, save for 1.75 liters, more commonly known as “handles.” Which brings us to November 2020, when handle bottles showcasing the new “embossed Turkey” design were filled.
If you’re keeping count, that’s two major design changes in nineteen years under Pernod Ricard, and three major changes in eleven years under Campari. Looking at those numbers, it might appear that Campari is unsure about their brand’s direction. That’s a fair observation; however, it’s important to take the impact of bourbon’s increasing popularity into consideration.
The years between 1992 and 2010 were notably different from the last ten years – two entirely different worlds of bourbon, all things considered. The marketing strategy of the mid 2000s and early 2010s promoted Wild Turkey’s “bad boy” image. “Give ‘em the bird” was frequently used in advertising, along with commercials featuring road-weary bikers and stereotypical dive bars. We’d easily roll our eyes today at the cliché cheese emitting from these long lost rough-cut gems. (YouTube is your friend.) That’s not how you sell bourbon in 2021. Hell, that’s not how you sell bourbon in 2015, so I can see why Campari is rolling out another change.
What we have in 2021 is a healthy booming bourbon marketplace with seemingly no end in sight. Newly minted enthusiasts and casual weekend drinkers are looking for high quality whiskeys (or unknowingly, the illusion of high quality). They’re looking for brands of luxury and style. They’re looking for Weller and Blanton’s. Can Wild Turkey 101 compete aesthetically with a big ol’ Turkey head on a largely black and white label? It doesn’t bother middle-aged me, but I’d wager most millennials aren’t reaching for 101 without a hefty nudge from a trusted friend or influencer.
And then there’s the long-held fratboy booze stigma Wild Turkey inevitably bears. While the brand did little to help itself for many years, bringing Matthew McConaughey on board as a creative director in 2016 certainly redirected things. The commercials, promo videos, and print ads now focus on lifestyle and the brand’s Kentucky heritage. General-media advertisements carry a reflective, almost existential tone to broader audiences, while whiskey-centered media campaigns shine a light on Jimmy and Eddie Russell’s unmatched tenure and dedication to craft. The new Wild Turkey 101 minimalist bottle design serves both angles well – shifting visual focus away from the bird/label and placing it on the liquid. The turkey remains a part of the overall look, though embossed, much like the beloved Wild Turkey ½ gallon handle bottles of the 1970s. One could also draw connections to Longbranch’s minimalist embossed glass, though there’s stronger evidence showing inspiration from tequila. (McConaughey does love some tequila.)
At the end of the day, what matters most to you and me is the quality of the whiskey. Thankfully, I can report that no corners have been cut. This Wild Turkey 101 is just as good – if not better – than any bottle – of any size – that I opened in 2020. Period. It’s everything you expect from 101 and not a single tasting note less. And to those concerned that a new bottle is merely a mechanism for charging a higher price, I can happily report that no price increase is planned for 2021. At least, that’s what I’ve been told by brand representatives. Unfortunately, we’re still living in a global pandemic and prices for any goods cannot be guaranteed. It’s my hope that Campari understands that just as they’re transitioning their marketing, we as enthusiasts and fans are transitioning along with it. Toss in conspicuous changes in 101’s price or profile, and, well, torches and pitchforks.
Enjoy this blog? Please consider supporting it via Patreon. In return you’ll receive access to exclusive rewards and weekly whiskey content. Thank you! dj