Last week, a TTB filing for Master’s Keep Voyage, a straight bourbon finished in ex Jamaican rum casks, appeared on the COLA registry. Almost immediately, reactions from the bourbon community were swift and divided, ranging from shouts of enthusiastic approval, to eyerolls, grumbles, and the neo-proverbial “jumped the shark” commentary.
Look, I get it. Some folks are burned out with finished American whiskey as “a thing.” It’s everywhere. Hell, I’ve complained about it a time or two myself. But the reality is, there’s great finished whiskey and there’s not-so-great finished whiskey. Truth be told, there’s horrible finished whiskey. But to presume an upcoming (untasted) Master’s Keep product isn’t high quality is a misstep.
From the start, Master’s Keep has been a vehicle for experimentation and the exploration of unique expressions. It’s Eddie Russell’s baby. Anyone arguing Wild Turkey is simply riding trends or catering to hipsters in 2022 should reflect on the breadth of the series. Take 2018’s Master’s Keep Revival, for example. It’s possibly the best of the lineup to date and it’s finished whiskey. It’s also a nod to 2004’s Sherry Signature, for those who think Wild Turkey is just now dabbling in finishes.
And let’s not gloss over Eddie’s role in the development of these one-off expressions. To say the Kentucky Bourbon Hall-of-Famer knows what he’s doing is an understatement. Sure, some of Eddie’s whiskeys have garnered more attention and praise than others. And if we pretend Wild Turkey Spiced never existed, they’ve all been top quality. (Sorry, Eddie. Had to do it.) But seriously, the list of distillers with Eddie Russell’s batting average is markedly short. It shouldn’t require a leap of faith to accept that the next Master’s Keep might be special.
Which brings me to the subject of today’s review, Master’s Keep Unforgotten. Much like the aforementioned Revival, Unforgotten is a nod to a past expression, in this case, 2013-2014’s Wild Turkey Forgiven. For those unfamiliar, Forgiven was the brand’s first bourbon and rye blend, or “bourye,” as they’re sometimes called. Steeped in legend (which I believe to be true), it came and went in the blink of an eye. Nearly a decade later, 2022’s Master’s Keep touts itself as an “extra-aged variation” of the “harmonious blend of bourbon and rye” which inspired Wild Turkey Forgiven, hence the name, Unforgotten. (“Master’s Keep Forgiven” would’ve rolled off the tongue easier, but that’s just me.)
It’s also worth noting that the batched whiskey composing Unforgotten matured in ex-rye barrels for an unstated period of time (I’m assuming a few months). Some whiskey enthusiasts have criticized this secondary process as gimmicky, but I strongly disagree. Marrying whiskey in steel tanks is a rather sterile process. It’s arguably no different than blending whiskey in an empty bottle at home. But marrying whiskey in oak barrels – there’s a push and pull there. The whiskeys not only mingle, they mingle in and out of the wood together. There’s also residual whiskey, in this case rye, saturating the oak. To what degree it affects the flavor profile of the finished product depends on many factors (time, temperature, etc.), but it affects it nonetheless.
Of all the Master’s Keep releases, Unforgotten may be Eddie’s biggest gamble. Blends of straights are tricky by nature – particularly bourbon and rye. If you venture too far in one direction, you run the risk of abandoning the other. The goal is creating a whiskey with its own unique identity. More often than not, ending up with something that tastes like a spicy bourbon or a corn-heavy rye is the lackluster outcome.
Where will Unforgotten land on the profile spectrum? Will it taste like a bourbon? A rye? Or by chance, something extraordinary? Let’s find out.
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Unforgotten (2022, batch #0001) – 105 proof – straight bourbon and rye whiskeys finished in ex-rye barrels, bottled NCF – no age stated (the box states the bourbon as thirteen years and the rye as eight & nine years) – distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (citrus-forward) tangerine peel, vanilla cake frosting, lemon zest, spiced apple, fragrant oak, honey-wheat toast, faint maraschino cherry
Taste: (silky, vibrant) dense caramel drizzle, boozy sugar cookie, orange-honey, butter toffee, zesty charred oak, orchard fruit, white pepper
Finish: long, sweet & savory w/ vanilla spice, brown sugar glaze, dry cream soda, lemon-pepper, spiced gumdrops, waves of clove & leather
Overall: Impressive, not only because Unforgotten is a remarkable blend of straights, but because it’s a remarkable whiskey. Period. There’s no cheap gimmicks or fluff, no spin on an everyday bourbon or rye, only excellence throughout. Master’s Keep Unforgotten showcases everything I love about Wild Turkey’s rye – zesty vanilla, vibrant citrus, and sweet & savory spice – but with the fragrant and rich oak backbone of a well-aged bourbon. More importantly, it does so without fully revealing its magic.
I suppose “harmonious” is more than box liner note lingo after all, as I can’t think of another blend of bourbon and rye whiskey as melodic as Master’s Keep Unforgotten. From nose to finish it croons an alluring song of sweetness, accompanied by a clever countermelody of well-placed spice. It’s almost perfect, particularly in regard to balance, but with just enough up-tempo flare to remind you that you’re sipping Wild Turkey.
I don’t know how you do it, Eddie, but you damn sure did it again. In fact, Unforgotten is one of my favorites in the Master’s Keep series – right behind Revival and the seventeen-year Bottled in Bond. Now I just need to find another bottle.
Rating: 4.75/5 🦃
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