There was a time I was convinced I could review a Wild Turkey 101 bottling from every year. Well, maybe not every year. But from 1971 onward, sure. Things started well. Within the first three years of this blog, I managed to cover numerous releases from the 1970s through the 1990s, all without too much difficulty. But inevitably, as vintage bourbon soared in price (as well as the deserving buzz surrounding it), acquiring dusty bottles of Wild Turkey grew taxing. Lucky for me, my affection for modern Wild Turkey expressions grew alongside it. With plenty of quality whiskey around, I wasn’t losing any sleep.

That Was Then, This Is Now

As much as I cherish dusty Wild Turkey, I don’t miss it – at least not as much as I once thought I would. Okay, that’s probably a stretch. (Denial is an effective defense mechanism.) I miss it, I just don’t miss the expense and hassle tied to it. After all, it’s only a profile – a damn good profile – but a profile nonetheless. Fortunately, I have some incredibly generous bourbon friends who surprise me with dusty treats every now and then. Which brings me to the subject of today’s review, a 1990 Wild Turkey 101. (Thank you very much, Connor.)

I’ve reviewed both 1989 and 1991 Wild Turkey 101 bottlings, but until today, never a 1990. When it comes to dating Wild Turkey bottles from this era, you can sometimes find an exact date printed on the foil wrap around the neck. If the date is missing, as is often the case, one is left to fall back on the glass manufacturer’s two-digit date stamp. While not an accurate representation of a fill date, considering Wild Turkey’s standard production ebbs and flows in the 1990s, bottles were likely filled within twelve to eighteen months of manufacture. In the case of this particular Wild Turkey 101, the date was determined via glass stamp. As such, I’m expecting a profile close to the 1991 bottling I reviewed back in 2016.

Wild Turkey 101 – aged eight years – 50.5% ABV KSBW – “distilled in Kentucky,” bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rosy copper

Nose: (unmistakable dusty Turkey) rich butterscotch, honey-maple, funky oak, caramel, fermented orange, dense & dark herbal/floral spice

Taste: (oily mouthfeel) butterscotch, vanilla bean, English toffee, light maple syrup, brown sugar, cherry, Jordan almonds, candied orange peel

Finish: long & flavorful – vanilla extract, singed honey, sweet charred oak, pipe tobacco, antique leather, citrus, hints of lemongrass

Overall: Dusty Wild Turkey, right on the money (figuratively speaking). All the notes you expect, yet at the same time, no surprises. That’s not a knock on this 1990 bottling. I’m simply saying that I’ve had similar pours, but ones showcasing a boost in uniqueness. Nevertheless, this bourbon is undoubtedly drenched in creamy butterscotch, boozy toffee, and fermented fruit notes frequently found in late 1980’s and early 1990’s Wild Turkey 101. And the finish … Signature Jimmy Russell: long, warm, and flavorful.

Rating: 4.25/5 🦃

So how does this 1990 compare to the 1989 and 1991 Wild Turkey 101s I’ve enjoyed? It’s hard to say after so long, but from what I recall the 1989 was a bit more complex and the 1991 slightly more mature in profile. We’re talking about minor differences, and again, all of this is from memory (and mine sure isn’t perfect), but I stand by my assessment. Full disclosure, this bourbon was the last pour of the bottle. Some folks get uptight about oxidation and go to great lengths to avoid it (employing special corks, adding inert gas to the bottle, etc.). Not me. The way I figure it, if a bottle is running empty you’re doing something right.

I’m grateful for tasting experiences like today. They remind me that vintage whiskey deserves considerable praise, but not always considerable money. I know I’ve had more than my fair share, and I don’t want this to sound negative, but I must again stress that it’s only a profile. Given the right occasion and company (or even by your lonesome), it will transport you back to a time when everyday bourbon was very much a batch-by-batch, “use what’s available” craft, and less of a precise, technology-driven science. But if uniqueness is what you’re searching for, you can find it in single-barrel offerings like Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon and modern-day Kentucky Spirit. They won’t taste like dusty Turkey (well, not usually) but they can scratch the complexity itch in comparable, sometimes extraordinary, ways.

I’d like to say thanks again to Connor and every single bourbon friend who’s ever shared a vintage Wild Turkey expression with me. Your kindness is what makes whiskey enthusiasm special. Here’s to the hope that sentiment never fades or folds in the years ahead – for any of us. Cheers!


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