This may sound strange (being late July), but prior to today I’ve reviewed only one other 2021 Wild Turkey single-barrel selection: a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon from McBrayer’s rickhouse B. Today, I’m returning to an onsite rickhouse, Tyrone F, but this time I’ll be tasting a Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit bottling. The differences between Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel and Kentucky Spirit private selections have been discussed on this blog at length, but the basics are as follows: 

Private SelectionRussell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
AgeStated per selection (typically 8-10 years)NAS (typically 8-10 years)
FiltrationNon-chill filteredChill filtered
PriceAbout $60About $65

Based on the specs above, it’s easy to see why many whiskey enthusiasts prefer Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel over Kentucky Spirit. But, that doesn’t mean Kentucky Spirit selections can’t impress or even outperform Russell’s Reserve selections. It’s not a common occurrence, though I wouldn’t consider it rare either. In fact, there are a handful of modern Kentucky Spirit bottles I consider exemplary. It all depends on the barrel and which proof shines best. That’s right – the addition of water can occasionally help a whiskey’s profile. I realize the “bourbon bro” crowd may not agree, but it’s true.

From 2014 to 2018, I struggled with a slow phase of disappointment with Kentucky Spirit. By the time the redesigned bottle hit retail shelves, I was all but checked out. But I didn’t. I kept the faith (somewhat begrudgingly) that the whiskey would, at the very least, be of similar quality to the preceding five years. To my surprise, it only seemed better. Thankfully, it’s continued that trajectory to the point where I’m just as excited to pop a cork of a Kentucky Spirit as I am a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon.

And speaking of Turkey that fares better at 101 proof over 110 proof, several 2020 Tyrone rickhouse E and S Kentucky Spirit selections reinforced that point. Will 2021 private selects follow that trend? Unfortunately, today’s tasting won’t provide a definitive answer. It’s only one barrel. Nevertheless, it’s a start – a wee dram of exploration, a notch on the gauge of potential.

One last thing before I fill my glass … I’d like to thank a generous bourbon amigo for this opportunity. Evan – cheers to you, sir!

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit (barrel #21-0526, warehouse F, rick 21) – selected by Colonial Wine & Spirits – 101-proof KSBW – bottled 5/18/2021 – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: amber

Nose: woody caramel, butter toffee, orange peel, Nilla wafer, sweet charred oak, brown sugar glaze, nutmeg

Taste: savory honey, English toffee, toasted caramel, baked apples & brown sugar, hints of leather & pepper

Finish: medium-long – vanilla spice, salted caramel, molasses, peppery oak, cinnamon, clove, faint sassafras & dark citrus

Overall: Not only does this Colonial Wine & Spirits Kentucky Spirit land where it should for the price, it lands precisely where it should for my taste in virtually every way. This is 101-proof, single-barrel Wild Turkey to be savored, though not so special that it couldn’t be enjoyed as a daily sipper (it can and should). I’m especially fond of this selection’s woody caramel and balanced oak notes. It’s as if the two were intertwined into a single glorious centerpiece – destined, inseparable companions of flavor. Its supporting notes, while not entirely diverse or complex, are deserving of attention. In other words, there’s just the right touch of spice and citrus to keep things interesting. Overall, an excellent Kentucky Spirit that maintains its quality and character from nose to finish.

Rating: 4/5  🦃

Kentucky Spirit is often referred to as “dressed up 101” or “101 in a tuxedo.” While those analogies make sense (I’m guilty of using them myself), they’re somewhat of an oversimplification. Kentucky Spirit can, and often is, far more than a basic Wild Turkey 101 upgrade. Immediately after tasting this Colonial Wine & Spirits selection from Tyrone F, I went back to my leftover barrel selection samples from earlier this year. I pulled two from Tyrone F – barrels I elected to have bottled as Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – and re-tasted them at 101 proof. After a thorough comparison, one had the profile I was seeking. I reached out to Wild Turkey to find out if my selections had been bottled in hopes of changing it to a Kentucky Spirit. Unfortunately (well, fortunately but) it had already been bottled.

The moral of the story being, don’t assume the highest proof single-barrel option is always the best option. More often than not, it will be, but that’s never guaranteed. If and when possible, taste your barrel selection samples with and without water added. Ideally, it would be nice to taste at full barrel proof, 110 proof, and 101 proof. While this may not be possible at the distillery (please don’t get too nerdy if you’re in rickhouse A with Eddie or Bruce), if you’re selecting a barrel via samples try taking the time. You might just be rewarded with an unexpected surprise. Worst case scenario, you roll with a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection and everyone’s happy. But maybe – just maybe if you’re lucky – a true gem will shine through at 101 proof. When that happens, you’ll know what to do. Just don’t forget about me when the bottles arrive.  😉



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