Based on recent exchanges, it appears whiskey blends are a hot topic. It’s a subject I’ve covered before, though my posts to date involve various blends of products distilled exclusively by Wild Turkey.
Single-distillery whiskey blends are encouraging and fun, as it’s relatively hard to go wrong. You won’t always end up with a sum better than its parts, but at worst you’ll have a familiar brand-centered profile that’s drinkable. Throw in a whiskey from another distillery and things get tricky.
I’m sure many of you reading have tried these types of home blends before. You have two or three excellent bourbon or rye whiskeys you’re certain will work well together, then you give it a whirl only to realize they don’t. The aspects that made each whiskey special, once combined, change or disappear entirely.
I thought I’d share a few blends that step outside of the Turkey-exclusive box. Two are personal favorites, the other, an experiment that might provide some insight into the upcoming Master’s Keep ONE. If you’re missing any whiskeys composing these blends, don’t let that stop you from trying your own. Maybe one of the following will inspire you to fashion something even better. And if it does, please comment below and let me know.
Now, let’s get to blending!
Last May, I stumbled upon a few bottles of early-2017 High West Rendezvous Rye. What’s so special about 2017 (or earlier) Rendezvous Rye? It’s a blend of six-year MGP and sixteen-year Barton rye. As you likely know, MGP rye is cited as a 95/5 mash bill (rye/malted barley); Barton rye is reportedly a “high rye” recipe containing no corn (estimates range from 60/40 to 90/10). By 2018, High West phased out the sixteen-year Barton whiskey and changed the blend to a four- to seven-year MGP rye. Needless to say the original MGP-Barton Rendezvous Rye is a treat many realized too late, though it can still be found on retail shelves with a little luck.
About the time I acquired these bottles, I happened upon another chance discovery. Having nearly finished a glass of Rendezvous Rye one afternoon, I decided to cap it off with a little Wild Turkey 101. I wasn’t just surprised at the result – I was elated! The two whiskeys worked fabulously together, creating a unique bourye worthy of a scaled-up assembly. So, that’s precisely what I did.
To this day, a 50/50 blend of Wild Turkey 101 and 2017 Rendezvous Rye rests in my Aged & Ore travel decanter. It doesn’t stay full very long. I think that speaks to the appeal of a home blend – when you repeat a specific batch, especially one containing cherished whiskey no longer available. If you have these two expressions on hand, mix up an ounce of each in a 50/50 combination. You won’t be disappointed.
Turkey Creek 10
Maybe it’s just me, but I find Jim Beam bourbon – particularly Knob Creek – works well with Wild Turkey. And it should. The two mash bills are almost identical. Yes, they share proprietary yeasts and distillation/barrel proofs, but at their core they’re more similar than different. Expression and/or single barrel depending, they can sometimes mimic each other. But please don’t take my word for it. Set up a few blind tastings and you’ll see what I mean. Distinguishing the two whiskeys isn’t as easy as you might think.
Which brings me to my next blend. I’m a sucker for well-aged Wild Turkey. If there’s one vintage expression I miss more than any other it’s the twelve-year 101. From early 1980’s Beyond Duplication to the 2012 “blue 12 bird in profile” label, all Wild Turkey 101/12s are quality pours. To see Jim Beam release a twelve-year, 100-proof Knob Creek and make it a standard expression … it was a bittersweet pill to swallow. I mean, the Knob Creek fan in me was happy, but I’d rather have seen that “aged twelve years” with a bird on it.
Which got me thinking …
Twelve-year Wild Turkey isn’t easily found (nor affordable when it is), but Russell’s Reserve 10 … Hell, that stuff is everywhere! Why not try a 50/50 blend of Russell’s Reserve 10 and Knob Creek 12? So, I did (and it’s fantastic). The two bourbons compliment one another so well, it’s as if the blend is a bonafide expression all its own. There’s mature oak, dark cherry, vanilla bean, layered baking spice, tobacco, and leather. It’s also surprisingly oily and robust for 95 proof. If you’re looking for a complex oak-graced bourbon, give this Kentucky parley a try.
Today’s final blend arrived out of pure curiosity. Some of you might recall last month’s post about Master’s Keep ONE, which did little to quell or even quiet the online rants regarding the upcoming toasted oak limited edition (a whiskey few, if any, outside of the brand have tasted). Folks are entitled to their opinions, though it makes a lot more sense when those opinions are based on experience, not conjecture. Regardless, I’m a Turkey fan, not a Turkey custodian. Outside of pointing out faulty logic and appealing to patience, I can’t rightly defend a whiskey I’ve yet tasted myself. I can, however, tinker around a bit and see what direction Eddie Russell might be headed in.
I started my experiments by blending a ten-year Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection with 2020’s Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel. While flavorful, it didn’t feel “Master’s Keep” enough. That led me to my second attempt, a 50/50 blend of Master’s Keep Decades and Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel.
Believe it or not, Decades and Elijah Craig Toasted are far more cohesive than you’d imagine. The mature oak notes and citrus spice of Decades offset beautifully with the syrupy oak notes and dense baking spice of Elijah Craig Toasted. Neither outweigh the other in terms of identity. In other words, you’re not pulling out the parts. The blend noses and tastes like a singular whiskey with above-average qualities, which is promising in light of what lies ahead. I can’t assert this combination is anything like Master’s Keep ONE, but if it’s pointed this way I think we’re in good shape.
In closing, I should stress I’m not a whiskey expert. While a vocal fan and critic, I don’t claim to be an industry professional. I’m sure as hell no master blender. Hell, I even had to look up how to spell “sommelier” (another something I’m not). I just like learning and trying new things. Most of the time that involves buying new bottles, but not always. Sometimes all you have to do is gather up a few whiskeys, a jigger, and one or two empty glasses. If you walk away without a winning blend (the most likely outcome), at least you walk away knowing what doesn’t work. More often than not, that’s just as valuable as knowing what does.
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