After months of waiting, it’s finally here … Master’s Keep One. We’ve all heard the arguments: “toasted-barrel finishes are gimmicks,” “Wild Turkey must be running out of ideas,” etc. In all honesty, toasted-barrel finishes excite me as much as two fingers of Woodford Reserve. That’s not a dig on Woodford Reserve; it’s a fact. Yet, here we are. Master’s Keep One is finding its way to retailers across the country (albeit briefly), at a hefty $175, no less.
If you examine the span of domestic Master’s Keep releases by year, with the exception of a 2016 no-show, we’ve been presented with something relatively unique each time. Some carry considerable age statements, such as 2015 and 2020’s seventeen-year iterations, others built off Wild Turkey expressions of the past: Master’s Keep Revival was inspired by the export-exclusive Sherry Signature, while Cornerstone made history as Wild Turkey’s first limited-edition rye whiskey.
2021 is different.
Making Bread with Toast
Until Master’s Keep One, Wild Turkey ignored toasted-oak finishes. Perhaps there were experiments over the years. Hell, one might argue Longbranch is the product of additional wood influence, thanks to a proprietary mesquite and white oak refinement. But unless I’m severely behind on TTB regulations, that process doesn’t qualify as a secondary maturation. As for One, bourbons aged nine to fourteen years were batched then dumped into new toasted and charred oak barrels for additional aging in Tyrone’s rickhouse G (a personal favorite of Eddie Russell).
It’s important to note the finishing barrels were both toasted and charred, allowing the whiskey to maintain its straight bourbon designation. All the same, the bottle itself carries no age statement. Legally speaking, it’s four-year whiskey. Thankfully, I trust the Russells and remain confident the maturation info disclosed on One’s box is accurate. (Perhaps others feel differently, but when I see Jimmy or Eddie’s signature on a Wild Turkey expression, it means something.)
In consideration of the particulars, we’re left with the elephant in the room – price. While $175 isn’t a new high for Master’s Keep (both 2019’s Cornerstone and 2020’s Bottled in Bond were priced similarly), it’s a huge ask with One riding the wake of Russell’s Reserve Thirteen-Year at $69.
Is $175 justified? I’m a firm believer that specs and pricing should balance out, but fighting bourbon supply and demand in 2021 is an uphill battle. With past Master’s Keep releases being flipped on secondary whiskey outlets at two or three times their retail price, not to mention Russell’s Thirteen garnering a staggering six times its SRP (ridiculous, I might add), I can’t fault Campari for being mindful of profitability.
In the end, a whiskey’s taste should occupy the primary role of its valuation. Don’t believe me? Look at what vintage, or “dusty,” whiskeys sell for nowadays. Bottles that once cost $5, $10, or $15, now sell for hundreds – some for thousands. Vintage whiskey is a different ballpark, however, and price justification is no simple task. And let’s not forget, if those same vintage whiskeys tasted like garbage, they’d have negligible value.
To be clear, I’m not arguing taste as the sole factor of valuation; taste should be an individual’s primary motivator. Why pay a significant sum of money to sip a whiskey you find uninspiring? Even if a whiskey’s specs and provenance justify its cost, is it truly worth the expense? If you’re simply collecting sealed liquor bottles or desiring a one-time social media flex, maybe. But then, you wouldn’t be reading this blog if that’s all you cared about. You’re reading this review because Master’s Keep One is a bourbon you’re seriously considering.
Speaking of which, duty calls.
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One (2021, batch #0001) – 101 proof – “toasted oak finish” Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey – no age stated (box states nine to fourteen years) – distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: amber w/ faint rosy undertones
Nose: flame-singed caramel apple, oak char, orange honey, butterscotch, maraschino cherry, hints of dark chocolate & medicinal grape
Taste: English toffee, heavily seared crème brulée, sweet & savory vanilla, fruity nougat, dried orange peel, smoky oak, sweet tobacco
Finish: notably long w/ lingering, slightly tannic spice – toasted brown sugar, nutmeg, charred oak, cinnamon, lemon-pepper, leather
Overall: If you’re expecting a profile similar to popular toasted-oak bourbons, think again. Master’s Keep One is its own thing. The predictable roasted marshmallow, s’mores, and cloying syrup notes are virtually non-existent. Of course, taste is subjective and someone could find any note imaginable. But for me, One tastes very much like Wild Turkey should. The additional oak influence is noteworthy, but in such a way that it merely accents and shifts the inherent Turkey character. And fruit? The last thing I expect going into a toasted-oak bourbon are fruit notes. Yet they exist with Master’s Keep One. I’ll admit, I’m pleasantly surprised.
As for Master’s Keep One’s price, it’s expected. Does it taste like $175 whiskey? No. It does not. In fact, I wish this weren’t a Master’s Keep release at all. I appreciate the profile, as it approaches a spirit we know and love from a different angle. It just doesn’t stand as strong as its domestic predecessors. Were price a factor in my ratings, Master’s Keep One would suffer a loss of a half point – possibly even a whole point. I’ve never factored pricing into my ratings (another topic for another day); as much as it may seem warranted, I won’t be changing that practice today.
Bottom line: One is surely excellent, but in the same way a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selection can be excellent. And that’s that.
Rating: 4/5 🦃
Something to mention before closing up this post. One has a place in the Wild Turkey catalog. It’s just not Master’s Keep. In fact, were this an annual release, priced at $69 or so, I’d buy it regularly. Think about it. If Rare Breed is a batch of six- to twelve-year bourbon – at barrel strength – for $49, you’d think a batch of nine- to fourteen-year finished bourbon – at 101 proof – could be reasonably priced at a small premium. And why “One?” Why not “Wild Turkey 101 Toasted?” I mean, that’s basically what it is.
As much as I appreciate Master’s Keep One’s story, a combination of Jimmy and Eddie’s preferred profiles merged into one, I’m reminded of Australia’s Master’s Keep 1894. It just seems a bit forced – contrived even. Trust me, I have nothing but sincere respect for the Russells and love the direction Eddie has steered the brand, but I can’t help but feel as if One is a “try hard.” It’s the square in the Master’s Keep circle.
To Eddie and the folks at Campari, if you’re reading, please understand I enjoy Master’s Keep One. It’s impressive considering the angle and I’m glad you tried something new. It works – it just doesn’t work as a $175 LTO. Sure, they’ll sell. For that, I’ll give you the win. But for me, this bourbon has more potential as a semi-annual release. If you’re looking to expand your portfolio, consider this profile. It’s even possible it could work as a Longbranch extension. At the end of the day, you crafted a tasty toasted-oak bourbon that stands apart from the competition. Wouldn’t it be nice if more consumers had the opportunity to try it?
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