It’s that “most wonderful time of the year” again. So, what am I reaching for this holiday season? You guessed it – Wild Turkey 101 Rye.

My affection for Wild Turkey 101 Rye as a Christmastime pour is well documented. There’s just something magical about its sprightly simplicity – a sweet and spicy, well-balanced spirit – that seems to “click” with the many stimulating sights and scents of holiday festivities. And while I generally prefer 101 Rye neat, it’s a damn fine cocktail base. Be it an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or whatever whiskey-based libation you please, Wild Turkey 101 Rye can help craft a memory.

As stated earlier this year, I made it a goal to review each of Wild Turkey’s core expressions by the end of 2021. When I saw this liter of Wild Turkey 101 Rye at my local bottle shop, a liter bottle sporting the new “embossed Turkey” design, I knew it was time. It’s also December, so let’s just call that perfect timing.

Before going into this tasting, there’s a few things of note.

First, like the label preceding this latest design, Wild Turkey 101 Rye carries no age statement. It is, however, labeled as a straight Kentucky rye, and therefore, at least four years old. Reportedly, Wild Turkey 101 Rye is batched from rye whiskey aged four to six years, and reflecting on past experience, I’d agree with that estimate. But who knows? There could be older whiskey in the batch.

Second, based on Wild Turkey 101 Rye’s estimated maturation, the whiskey was produced at the new distillery (c. 2011). While this isn’t a unique characteristic for 2021 (the new distillate has likely played a significant role since 2017), it’s fascinating to study the rye profile’s progression annually. After all, “four to six” years is a little closer to new make than 101 Rye’s bourbon counterpart’s “six to eight” years. Should one venture an armchair judgment of Wild Turkey’s new state-of-the-art distillery, 101 Rye is a great place to start deliberating.

And with that, it’s time to dive in and discover what 2021’s Wild Turkey 101 Rye has to offer. I have little doubt it’ll fall outside of the profile maintained rather steadily over the last four years. But then, stranger things have happened.

Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (2021) – 101 proof – no age stated (reportedly four to six years) – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: amber

Nose: lemon-honey, tangerine peel, vanilla candy, light oak, fresh-baked pastry, frosted animal crackers, hints of mint

Taste: “fizzy” lemon-lime soda, sugar cookie, herbal spice, clove chewing gum, tea, waves of nutmeg & faint licorice

Finish: medium & well-balanced – “brisk” toffee, lemon-pepper, caramel drizzle, oak char, citrus zest, sweet basil, light sassafras

Overall: Simply delicious. As expected, this year’s Wild Turkey 101 Rye tastes as it should – a delightful combination of sweet and spicy “Kentucky rye” flavor. Most notable are its confectionery lemon-partnered notes. Truthfully, I find a plethora over those stated above. Lemon meringue pie? Check. Lemon frosting? Sure. Lemon squares? Of course. Though, if I listed them all I’d probably leave an impression that 101 Rye tastes like a lemon liqueur. It doesn’t. It’s just the right amount of vibrant citrus to offset the herbal, floral, and earthy notes.

Speaking of earthy notes, if there’s one factor setting this 2021 Wild Turkey 101 Rye apart from past bottlings, it’s a more pronounced “wisp” of dry earthy spice – licorice, sassafras, clove, and perhaps a pinch of oregano. They’re in no way forward notes, yet they exist and steady 101 Rye’s profile with a semi-stealthy dose of grit. Granted, the expression has carried a hint of earthiness for years. I’m just finding more of it this time around. It’s still very much Wild Turkey 101 Rye – bold, tasty, and ideal for any occasion (holiday or not).

Rating: 3.5/5 🦃

I had some closing thoughts to share about time and how life is much too short to stress over allocated whiskey. (‘Tis the season.) But after viewing the aftermath of Friday night’s devastating storms, particularly downtown Mayfield, Kentucky, a discussion on the pursuit of rare bottles feels almost absurd.

Instead, I decided to step outside. I brought along my glass of 101 Rye. And sat.

Peace … It seems like a guilty pleasure. How fortunate so many of us are to have it. My thoughts go out to those who are suffering – those who have lost and those without the comfort of knowing their family and friends are safe. As night falls here in South Carolina, I can only imagine the anguish hundreds of miles away. It’s not often I find myself at a loss for words, but tonight I can only stare at my glass and think.

How fragile we are.


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