Buckle up, folks. Wild Turkey is racing into new territory once again. And this time may be its most divisive.
I’m sure many of you are aware, but based on the insanity of last week it’s highly possible you missed the latest Wild Turkey label approved by the TTB, Master’s Keep ONE. (Is it “ONE” or “One?” Hell if I know. The TTB uses all caps exclusively.) Based on the filing, it’s a “toasted oak finish” Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, aged in rickhouse G, and bottled at the brand’s signature 101 proof. Sounds kind of … huh. I mean, I get it. Toasted barrel finishes are a popular thing, not necessarily something I go crazy for, but popular nonetheless. And rickhouse G … While I’m a huge fan of single barrels matured at rickhouse G, they’re not rare or difficult to find. 2016-2017 saw a great number of them, as did 2020. I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw even more G-aged barrels in 2021.
And so, with little else to go on we’re left to figure out what makes Master’s Keep ONE … well … “Master’s Keepy.” Every toasted-oak-finished whiskey I can think of is under $100 retail. Without an age statement we’re left guessing how/why this release, one that will likely be priced at $150 (or more), is special. Also, with a 101 bottling proof (from a 115 barrel-entry proof) we can safely assume a fair amount of dilution. While ONE could be incredibly tasty, many are left ONE-dering … Why Master’s Keep? Why not “Wild Turkey 101 Toasted?”
This is the part where I’ll speculate. Before I do, I should state that rushing to judgement on a whiskey untasted is never a wise practice. With that said, skepticism is a healthy attribute in the bourbon world. It doesn’t take a well-versed historian to find examples of tall tales, false marketing, and steaming mounds of corporate-cooked bullshit in the industry. Frankly, it’s everywhere. It’s sitting on retailers’ shelves this very minute. But don’t let skepticism close your mind or sway your interest. As with whiskey itself, balance is key. Critical eyes are best paired with open ears and a mindful palate.
Let’s start with the definitive attribute of Master’s Keep ONE, its toasted barrel finish. A traditional toasted barrel is merely an augmentation impacting whiskey’s aging process, and therefore, its flavor. A producer can have new oak staves/barrels toasted via cooking, or if they want to preserve a straight bourbon designation, they can lightly char the staves/barrels, essentially creating a toasted effect. Some producers toast and char their barrels. This isn’t intended for finishing, but rather a standard charring process for all barrels across product lines.
So what method is Wild Turkey employing with ONE? I honestly have no idea. Since they presently use a number 4 “alligator char” for all of their straight whiskey products, and with ONE being labeled as a straight bourbon whiskey, I’ll assume they’re using a very light char to achieve toasting. I feel that’s a pretty safe assumption. But the real question is, how long has the bourbon rested in those toasted barrels; moreover, how much of the whiskey is even finished? That’s right. Wild Turkey doesn’t have to finish 100% of the whiskey in toasted oak barrels, just some. Remember Knob Creek Quarter Oak? Per Jim Beam, only a “small amount” of the quarter-barrel-aged bourbon was used in those batches. The majority of the whiskey was standard Knob Creek. It could be that the toasted barrel bourbon Eddie is using in ONE’s batching process is minimal – a flavor element, if you will. Or it could be half, or all. And as for age, the sky’s the limit. While I doubt Eddie would risk dumping large volumes of choice well-aged bourbon in toasted barrels, he took the gamble in Sherry barrels for Master’s Keep Revival. That gamble paid off extremely well.
On to the rickhouse G element … It’s either essential or pure fluff. It’s commonly known that rickhouse G is a favorite of Eddie’s. And for good reason. Some of the most consistent and impressive single barrels I’ve tasted aged at G. It could be that Eddie personally earmarked these barrels at some point in their aging process, either in G, or elsewhere and later moved to G. It could also mean they just happened to be discovered there and the label needed an extra “thing.” I’d like to think the former over the latter.
Finally, it’s 101 proof with no mention of NCF. One could simply say, 101 is Wild Turkey’s hallmark, so that’s that. Could there be another reason ONE is bottled at 101 proof? Absolutely. Flavor. It’s possible – even likely – that Eddie preferred the taste of the final product at 101 proof. I’ve done that myself. Just a few months ago I selected a barrel and had it bottled as a Kentucky Spirit instead of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. Why? Because it tasted better at 101 proof. Granted, I was nervous how it would turn out after chill filtration, but in the end I was entirely thrilled. As for ONE’s lack of an NCF designation, I can’t think of a single modern Wild Turkey expression that’s NCF at 101 proof or lower. I presume that’s a Campari call.
Before I wrap up, like many of you I’m curious what “ONE” means. Three Dog Night, Metallica, or U2? Hard to say. But in all seriousness, it means something. One rickhouse? Seems plausible. One year of finishing? Possibly. One part toasted barrel, one part charred barrel combined as ONE? Ehh. Or, maybe one single toasted barrel? 🙂 Again, hard to say, but I’m going with Metallica.
In the end, tasting is believing. I encourage everyone to reserve judgement until Master’s Keep ONE is released. Remain skeptical if you must, but temper it with an open mind. Who knows? It could be amazing. Sherry-finished 101 twelve-year sure was. We could be in for a similar experience or better. Hang on tight. The ride is only beginning.
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This smacks of a Campari junior marketing associate looking for an emblem on their resume. 🙄
Glad you enjoyed it, Shorts. 😛
I meant the expression. Not your take. 😂
Aw, man. I wasn’t offended! 👊
Master’s Keep is such a quietly excellent series I have to admit this news left me scratching my head. One thing I will commend them on, however, is a willingness to experiment. Whether the aforementioned Revival or the rye Cornerstone, I appreciate that while this series is almost always stellar, it is also almost always a site for exploration. That those things tend to converge is a credit to Jimmy and Eddie’s mastery.
Well said. This is my least favorite *on paper* but we’ll soon find out. It could be a favorite.
I’m hopeful, and buy most of these master’s keep releases. In the end the Russell family has a lot of integrity, and often these MK bottles end up being ones I really miss when they’re gone. And more than any other distiller, both my lady and I end up enjoying these together, so sure I’ll bite.
Absolutely. I have faith in Eddie.
Very nice take. I like you am worried but also optimistic.
In regards to the straight bourbon designation, I didn’t think a toasted finish (but not charred) would affect that. I believe they can age in a new charred oak barrel, then put that into “toasted only” oak barrels for finishing. Looking at the Elijah Craig and Michter’s labels, both say Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Elijah Craig’s description specifically says that they use toasted but not charred barrels for finishing.
If you toast by using a light char you can call it straight. 👍
Eagerly anticipating this release!