Earlier this week, I came to the realization that I’ve yet to undertake a comparison of whiskeys aged at Wild Turkey’s three maturation campuses: Tyrone, Camp Nelson, and McBrayer. Considering I have newly acquired Kentucky Spirit bottles from each (two are private selections), I figured, why not give it a go? Three birds with one stone, right?
Before I begin, I should mention that much like my Tyrone Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel comparison (2020), my Patreon supporters may find some of these notes familiar. Each time I open a new Wild Turkey bottle, I share my first-pour thoughts on Patreon. But I’m not republishing content today. I’ve tasted each of these bourbons on multiple occasions over the last few weeks and months, as well as comparing them side by side specifically for this post. As a result, my notes have changed (for some more than others).
The first bourbon I’m tasting today spent eight years (possibly more) in Tyrone’s rickhouse E. For those unfamiliar, Tyrone is Wild Turkey’s main campus. It’s where you’ll find the distillery, bottling plant, and visitor center. The rickhouses sit high above the Kentucky River, some out in the open, like M, and others huddled closer together, like A and B. The elevation and distance from one rickhouse to another (among other factors) play a role in the flavor profiles curated over time, primarily due to airflow.
For reference, here are two maps of the Tyrone campus courtesy of Wild Turkey’s Brand Builder, Bo Garrett.
As illustrated in the first map, rickhouse E sits across from rickhouse F, though a little more by itself. It’s hard to say if that’s what gives E aged whiskey its unique fruity characteristics (particularly Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections from 2020), but for those inquiring, it’s a good place to start. Let’s see if this Kentucky Spirit showcases similar attributes.
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit – barrel #20-0165, warehouse E, rick 4 – selected by Eddie Russell for North Carolina – 101-proof KSBW – bottled 8/25/2020 – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn …
Tasting notes: vanilla Tootsie Roll, apple-butter, honey-wheat bread, herbal tea, fruit gumdrops; caramel drizzle, pear, sweet oak, singed lemon peel; medium-long finish w/ butter toffee, spiced orange peel, hints of Certs candy
Impression: A delicious candy-esque selection with creamy layers of sweet butter, white fruit, and complex citrus.
Next up is a curious new Kentucky Spirit from Camp Nelson C. Given that Kentucky Spirit labels typically provide only a single letter, I wasn’t sure if this barrel, labeled simply as “C,” aged at Tyrone, Camp Nelson, or McBrayer. For clarification, I reached out to Wild Turkey’s Bruce Russell. Bruce confirmed Camp Nelson C and explained that “quite a good bit” were now in distribution as Kentucky Spirit bottlings. So the next time you’re out shopping, be sure to check those Kentucky Spirit labels. You might just find a C. And if you do, odds are it’s Camp Nelson C.
Similar to Tyrone, the Camp Nelson campus borders the Kentucky River. And though a 45-minute drive from Wild Turkey Distillery in Anderson County, the environment in Jessamine County is comparable. So what accounts for Camp Nelson’s signature character? There’s no definitive answer. Like the majority of Tyrone’s rickhouses, they are of traditional wood/clad construction; however, they weren’t built by Wild Turkey.
While several producers used Camp Nelson’s rickhouses prior to their acquisition by Wild Turkey (Pernod Ricard) in the 1990s, they’re more commonly remembered for aging Canada Dry Bourbon. That’s right – the ginger ale brand (its name and logo remain faintly visible on rickhouses A and B). From my research, Canada Dry Bourbon was bottled under various labels from the 1950s to the 1970s. I’ll talk more about Canada Dry Bourbon in a future post, but for now, consider the connection to Wild Turkey an interesting factoid.
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit – barrel #3085, warehouse (CN)C, rick 1 – 101-proof KSBW – bottled 12/01/2021 – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn …
Tasting notes: ginger ale, orange spice drop, sweet & savory herbs, woody spice; fizzy cream soda, toffee, white pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon; medium-long finish w/ savory orange, caramel syrup, spicy oak, leather, faint tobacco
Impression: A unique, well-aged, woody-toned bourbon loaded with the unmistakable “Camp Nelson prickle” (I.e. fizzy spice).
Finally, we have a Kentucky Spirit from McBrayer’s rickhouse B. I wrote in detail about the McBrayer campus in July of last year, but the short of it is that the former Old Joe rickhouses were acquired by Austin, Nichols & Co. from Seagram’s in 1976. At present, there are three in use by Wild Turkey: A, B, and C. If you’ve ever visited Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, you’ve likely noticed their timeworn presence across the street.
The McBrayer campus is also noteworthy for aging the whiskey that would become Master’s Keep Decades (2017). Of course, I’m not expecting this Kentucky Spirit (or any modern Wild Turkey barrel) to compare to Master’s Keep Decades. After all, Decades was composed of bourbons aged ten to twenty years, all distilled at the old distillery, many at former (and lower) barrel-entry proofs (107 and 110). But that doesn’t mean this Stock Room Kentucky Spirit selection isn’t a quality pour; I can tell you for a fact that it is.
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit – barrel #21-001, warehouse (MC)B, rick 1 – selected by The Stock Room for GNS, Michael’s, and NBD – 101-proof KSBW – bottled 5/19/2021 – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn …
Tasting notes: candy apple, caramel drizzle, honey-roasted nuts, fresh-baked pastry; vanilla toffee, light oak char, confectioners sugar, orange-cinnamon frosting; medium finish w/ toasted honey, citrus, sweet oak, white pepper
Impression: A sweet, easy-sipping selection with an elegant “core Turkey” profile embellished with confectionery charm.
I’ll be the first to admit, painting a detailed picture of three maturation campuses with only one example from each is unrealistic. That being said, this comparison should, at the very least, provide a snapshot of what one might expect from recent Kentucky Spirit offerings. Of course, bourbon profiles can shift over time due to a variety of reasons, some of which are completely out of a distiller’s control. The key is to get out there and taste the range for yourself. And if you don’t like rolling the dice on multiple bottle purchases (it can be expensive), visit a bar or reach out to fellow whiskey enthusiasts. Chances are you’ll round up a few pours.
Special thanks to Bo Garrett for researching, designing, and providing his Wild Turkey campus maps for this post. I’d also like to thank Robert W., Ed B., and The Stock Room in Chicago for making these tastings possible. The whiskey community is a wonderful world of generous individuals sharing remarkable passion. I’m grateful to be a small part of it.
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