Believe it or not, I’ve yet to cover Wild Turkey American Honey. Sure, it’s received a mention here and there, it’s also discussed in my book, American Spirit, but I’ve never dedicated a blog post to it. I suppose the primary reason (particularly in the early days of this blog) is the fact that it’s a bourbon-based liqueur and not a straight whiskey. Then again, I covered Wild Turkey Spiced in 2019. It’s a liqueur – a not-so-fabulous one at that. Regardless, bourbon liqueurs, while popular with the general public, aren’t something frequently talked about in whiskey enthusiast media. Based on the positive feedback from last week’s post, I felt it appropriate to follow up with something fun and atypical.
The 1970s weren’t prosperous times for bourbon. The New Age generation wanted their own libations – beverages that weren’t found in their parents’ or grandparents’ cabinets, namely, bourbon. It was in this era of rapid change that master distiller Jimmy Russell and the Austin, Nichols management team conceived an expression aimed at a more diverse audience, Wild Turkey Liqueur. With its stylistic (some might even call it “hip”) slender-neck bottle, the simplistic lower-proof blend of Kentucky bourbon and pure American honey was successful enough to stick around. It didn’t save bourbon, or even Wild Turkey, from the even harder times ahead, but it undoubtedly cushioned the blow. At the very least, it showed the potential of bourbon as a base spirit, as opposed to vodka (or GNS).
Decades later, there are countless bourbon-based liqueurs, but Wild Turkey Liqueur stands tall. Known as American Honey since 2006, the bourbon-honey combo is found in bars, restaurants, and liquor stores nationwide. Interestingly, it’s not found in many whiskey enthusiasts’ collections. Why is that? Well, it’s likely relative to why I haven’t covered American Honey until now – because it’s not a straight whiskey.
I think it’s past time I take an in-depth look at Jimmy Russell’s bourbon-based innovation. How does it fare as a neat sipper? How about on the rocks or as a mixer? Is it worth having in your rotation at all? Thankfully, I have a large variety of glasses. I’ll sure need them today.
Wild Turkey American Honey (2015 bottling) – “a liqueur blended with pure honey and bourbon whiskey” – 71 proof – no age stated – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn …
Tasting notes: fragrant orange, lemon-lime soda, hints of floral spice; orange creamsicle, honey, classic vanilla syrup; short & sticky-sweet “orange-honey” finish
Impression: Cloying – intensely sweet and syrupy. Not recommended as a neat sipper, unless of course, you enjoy eating raw honey and drinking concentrated orange juice in one sitting.
On the Rocks
While an improvement, thanks to the ice dulling the intense flavor and some additional dilution over a few minutes rest, American Honey on the rocks is still too sweet for me to truly appreciate. I should stress that it doesn’t taste bad or off putting. It’s just notably syrupy with a heavy sweetness uncommon to straight bourbon whiskey. One could argue it’s a “poor man’s cocktail,” but I don’t think so. Not just yet.
As a Highball
Now we’re talking. I find one part American Honey and three parts club soda over ice works perfectly. The cloying intensity is significantly reduced, though leaving enough sweetness behind to maintain a refreshing “whiskey-familiar” flavor. I’d consider this an easy “anytime cocktail” – one particularly suited for a post-lunch vacation sipper.
The American Sour
You honestly can’t go wrong with a whiskey sour. Few whiskeys fail at this task. The benefit of employing American Honey is its citrus-like sweetness allows for less simple syrup while introducing greater flavor. Additionally, a 1:1 ratio of American Honey and bourbon helps to keep the cocktail spirit-forward.
- 1 part Wild Turkey Longbranch
- 1 part Wild Turkey American Honey
- 1 part lemon juice
- 1/2 part simple syrup
In a shaker, combine all ingredients; add several ice cubes and shake well; strain into a large rocks glass loaded with ice; top off with club soda and garnish with a lemon slice.
The Sour is about as refreshing as a warm-weather cocktail gets. It’s essentially whiskey lemonade. Win, win.
As a Whiskey Blend Cocktail
An “ah-ha moment” for me … I’m surprised at the results of blending various bourbon and rye whiskeys with American Honey. The flavor possibilities are infinite and dependent on your chosen whiskey and its ratio with the liqueur. After numerous rounds, and on a whim of non-Turkey curiosity, I discovered a favorite, American Honey with Pursuit United. Throw in some ice and an expressed orange peel, and you have an easy, no-frills, all-business cocktail that’s sure to please.
- 1 part Wild Turkey American Honey
- 2 parts Pursuit United Bourbon
In a rocks glass, mix one part American Honey and two parts Pursuit United; add a large ice cube or sphere; express an orange peel and stir.
I love how this combination showcases the vibrant oak backbone of Pursuit United, but with enough syrupy sweetness to transform it into a cocktail of minimal elements. If you don’t have Pursuit United on hand, I recommend a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon private selection with similar vibrant woody qualities. I’d start with a 2020 Tyrone A barrel, or possibly an E, and work from there. The proof (110) is only two points away from Pursuit United (108), and the maturity, while different, should provide the desired oak foundation.
Even for the diehard whiskey enthusiast, Wild Turkey American Honey has purpose. Unless you avoid cocktails altogether, I encourage you to pick it up and give it a whirl. You don’t have to invest in a 750ml bottle. I’ve seen American Honey sold in convenient 375ml and 50ml minis. What’s key is viewing it as a drink component – a cocktail ingredient – much like you would Campari, vermouth, or aromatic bitters. And please, don’t consider this post the end-all, be-all of application. Plenty of folks love American Honey in their iced tea, ginger ale, and as the piece de resistance of a soothing hot toddy. The possibilities are limited only by your preference and imagination.
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Awesome ideas. I have used other liqueurs in the past as a substitute for sugar syrup in something like an Old Fashioned, so I may have to try that with this. Another favorite simple cocktail of mine is a Stingray: https://punchdrink.com/recipes/sting-rye/ which I find works especially well with a rye, like 101 Rye. Skål!
I’ll have to try that. Thanks Anders!
Hey, I noticed that twice you referred to this as being, in part, from the “Austin, Nichols” company. Is there a reason for the “comma” … I had always seen/heard it as just “Austin Nichols”?
Correct. It’s two individuals. Robert Austin and James Nichols. It’s on the bottle and most company materials with the comma. Good eyes, though!
I introduced my wife to bourbon with what I named an Orange Smash. 1.5 oz WT American Honey, 1 oz HH BIB, 1.5 oz orange juice. Mix, stir with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
I can report she has advanced now to Russell’s Reserve SiB/water as her beverage of choice.
Gateway spirit indeed.
Sounds delicious. I assume it’ll work about the same or better with WT 101?
Since my kids love this stuff I think an opportunity for Wild Turkey would be to try different types of honey in it – Clove, Apple, Dandelion, Acacia, etc – and see how the flavor changes. A marketing or gift set opportunity at the very least.
Different types of honey … now that’s an interesting idea!
A bottle of this lives in my fridge for use as a sweetener in bourbon cocktails. Always have one on hand just in case the mood strikes.
A little over a decade ago, it was also one of the main “gateway drinks” that brought my wife to being a bourbon lover (she has a much bigger sweet tooth than I do).
Never thought of keeping it in the fridge. That’s a great idea!
Great post. This liqueur is too sweet for my liking, even in cocktails. But the sting version gave it a nice kick in a sour!
I enjoy adding this to my morning coffee on the weekends. Delicious!
Good call, Burt!
Like David I find this one a little too sweet for sipping but it can be amazing in a cocktail. One of my favorites is LiberTea that we wrote about way back in 2012. Give it a try but make sure you don’t the entire pitcher like my wife and I did in just a few hours – when we made it a 2nd time. Dangerous stuff. 😉
Here’s the recipe if you’re interested: https://www.bourbonbanter.com/drink/cocktails/wild-turkey-american-honey-a-beautiful-redhead/#.YIxo8WSSm1c
Amen! Too amazingly easy sometimes. I’ll have look up that LiberTea.