These days, life is everything but simple. Every time you turn on the TV, read the newspaper, or open your favorite social media app, the world seems to be flailing in chaos. The whiskey world isn’t much different – at least on the surface. There’s so many new and mysterious brands it’s hard to keep track of them all. As for quality, it’s out there, but navigating the “who made this, who made that” gets a little old, to be completely honest. Having something you can rely on time and time again is becoming more and more desirable, at least for me. And, to have that something remain affordable and available … that’s merely icing on the cake.
Wild Turkey 101 isn’t just a staple in my home, it’s a staple on this blog. I’ve written about it numerous times. From vintage bottlings of days past to the latest bottle design introduced at the turn of this year, you’ll be hard pressed to find me mum on Wild Turkey’s flagship offering. Granted, it’s no longer my daily bourbon of choice. At present, that role is filled by Russell’s Reserve Ten-Year, but it wasn’t always that way. For a considerable amount of time Wild Turkey 101 was my anchor. And in some ways, it still is. Were Russell’s Ten to vanish from the brand’s portfolio (let’s hope that never happens), I’d simply fall back on 101. Sure, I’d grumble a bit (a lot) over the loss of my new-found favorite, but those tears would likely dry up after a sip or two of Jimmy Russell’s venerable classic.
The history of Wild Turkey 101 has been covered ad nauseam – on this site and many others. I’ll avoid diving into its storied past today, but if there’s one thing worth noting it’s this – Wild Turkey 101 has always been the focus of the distillery, as well as the Russell family. It’s the heart, the foundation, the rock on which their respected house was built. Beam has their best-selling white label, Evan Williams their black label, but Wild Turkey’s legacy rests on three digits: 1-0-1.
There’s rarely a time when I visit a liquor store that I don’t witness an individual pick up a bottle (often handle bottles) of Wild Turkey 101. If you’re there long enough (I’m probably there more than long enough), you’ll see it – ladies and gents from all walks of life buying 101. I’ve seen blue-collar and white-collar, young and old, well-off and hard-working – all walking out with a brand that’s not for frat boys or rock stars, but people who put their trust in Jimmy Russell. They may not even know who Jimmy is, but they know the whiskey that bears his name is unquestionably worth their money.
As the new bottle design has slowly worked its way onto retail shelves over the last six months, I’ve heard some whiskey enthusiasts claim Wild Turkey 101’s flavor profile had changed along with it. That wasn’t my experience earlier this year, but with any non-aged-stated batched bourbon, the possibility is always there. To test these claims for myself, I purchased a bottle filled in June of this year and set out to compare it against a 101 bottled in 2017. The detailed results of that blind tasting can be found on Patreon, but the short of it is this – there are some minor differences between Wild Turkey 101 from 2017 and 2021. That being said, it still tastes like Wild Turkey and nothing at all warranting a gripe or complaint from a straight-from-the-source $25 Kentucky straight bourbon.
Find me a better whiskey for the same proof, price, and profile. I’ll wait.
In the meantime, if you’re curious how a mid-2021 Wild Turkey 101 bottling actually tastes, my notes follow. Enjoy! I sure did.
Wild Turkey 101 (June 2021) – KSBW at 50.5% ABV – no age stated (reportedly six to eight years) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: vanilla ice cream, toffee, almond cake frosting, warm baking spice, citrus zest
Taste: caramel candy, butter toffee, sweet oak, nutmeg, orange peel, faint cinnamon
Finish: medium-long – creme brulee, lightly charred oak, hints of sassafras & pepper
Overall: Sweeter, more “refined.” That’s the best way to describe 2021’s Wild Turkey 101. All of the signature 101 notes are here – vanilla, caramel, toffee, oak, baking spice, and a pinch of dessert-like nuttiness. It tastes like Wild Turkey should – nothing more, nothing less. It’s not Rare Breed or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. It’s not supposed to be. This is whiskey designed to check a gamut of boxes, from neat sipping to soda mixing, and it does so box by box without hesitation.
Rating: 3.5/5 🦃
I’m sure there are a few of you reading who aren’t satisfied by my synopsis. You want to know why you taste a difference from bottle to bottle. You demand an answer. My first response is that blind tastings don’t lie. If you really think your latest bottle of 101 tastes different from another bottle, compare the two blind; moreover, change your environment. You might detect differences, you might not. You might prefer one over the other, but you’ll never truly know unless you compare the two without bias. Even if you do, I highly doubt you’ll have a strong argument for $25 poorly spent.
As for why there can be differences, you must remember two things. First, Wild Turkey uses traditional wood/clad rickhouses for aging their whiskey and not all of them are in season year after year. If you’re experienced with the brand’s single-barrel offerings, you already know rickhouses play a significant role in an expression’s flavor profile. Those are the same range of barrels going into batched products.
Second, Wild Turkey utilizes a 115 barrel-entry proof. That means most barrels fall between 110 and 120 proof post maturation. Seeing as Wild Turkey 101 is 101 proof (of course), dilution is minimal compared to other flagship offerings from brands that utilize a more common 125 barrel-entry proof. In other words, it’s easier to replicate a profile when you’re adding more water. Less water means more flavor but at the expense of occasional variance. I’ll take more flavor, personally.
At the end of the day, for the proof, price, and profile (not to mention provenance), Wild Turkey 101 is still the best damn everyday bourbon out there. You’re welcome to disagree with me, but at best you’re sporting a very short list of arguably credible options. And, if you’re one who feels pre-2021 Wild Turkey 101 remains superior, go get it. There’s plenty of old-label bottles out there waiting for you.
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