Not too long after I started writing about whiskey, a challenge circulated on the popular bourbon blogs of the time: building a whiskey bar for $100. While technically doable in 2023, if you want to assemble a range of high-quality whiskeys that excel in wide-ranging applications it’ll take more than a Benjamin. With that in mind, I’ve decided to tackle a home whiskey bar for $200 … using only Wild Turkey.
Wild Turkey 101 – $40
My first choice is probably the most obvious, Wild Turkey 101. While it would be easy to tack this one onto the list with minimal financial impact (as 101 is available in virtually every volume), I’m opting for a 1.75 liter bottle at $40. Why? Because every bar needs a well bourbon and I can’t think of one more appropriate than Wild Turkey 101. Be it neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, 101 is arguably the most versatile Kentucky straight bourbon on the market today. The proof is high enough to handle ice, yet low enough to keep it a comfortable sipper, and at 1.75 liters, you’ll get well over twice the bourbon you’d get in a standard 750ml bottle.
Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon – $40
Who doesn’t love an easy-sipping bourbon? Make that a 10-year-old bourbon from two living legends and you have an authentic crowd pleaser that’s backed by the best in the business. For the last five years, Russell’s 10 has stayed my trusty companion. Sure, its profile has changed slightly, but its quality and value have not. At 10 years and 90 proof, you’ll get depth of flavor without significant potency. As one who writes and prefers to maintain a clear head, I’ve learned to appreciate lower-proof options. Sadly, a majority of low-ABV whiskeys are thin and youthful. Russell’s 10 is one of the few double-digit, age-stated bourbons from a heritage distillery; moreover, it’s well under $50 and found practically everywhere. For those seeking a casual neat pour that doesn’t cut corners or hide behind a mystery, look no further than Russell’s Reserve 10-Year.
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon – $60
Back in 2013, then Associate Master Distiller Eddie Russell introduced an expression that changed the perception of Wild Turkey for whiskey enthusiasts nationwide, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon. Since the introduction of Blanton’s in 1984, the popularity of premium, single-barrel American whiskey has skyrocketed. Wild Turkey first threw their hat in the game in 1994 with Kentucky Spirit, a 101-proof expression bottled from a single choice barrel. It was Jimmy Russell’s baby and remains a favorite of loyal Wild Turkey fans.
But times had changed by the early 2010s. Whiskey enthusiasts were looking for more robust and flavorful options. Wild Turkey had long had Rare Breed as a barrel-proof expression, though save for a single travel-retail offering in 1997 with Kentucky Legend (a/k/a “Donut”), single-barrel releases never exceeded 101 proof. At 110 proof and non-chill filtered, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel provided a new sipping experience. Enthusiasts could enjoy a more nuanced bourbon showcasing unique traits imparted by one of Wild Turkey’s storied rickhouses.
While $60 is a considerable purchase, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon isn’t what I would call expensive or cost-prohibitive, making it perfect for this list. You’ll get a bourbon that’s best enjoyed neat, but plays extremely well with ice and can rock a cocktail if you so venture. It can also be found as private barrel selections, showcasing even more flavor variety with the added bonus of fully disclosed specifications (age, rickhouse, and floor). Simply put, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another single-barrel bourbon with so much to offer at retail price, not to mention, patrons of your home bar will be pleased.
Rare Breed Rye – $60
Every home bar needs a rye whiskey. Hell, every home bar needs multiple rye whiskeys if you ask me. In selecting one that could perform proficiently in multiple tasks, I decided on Rare Breed Rye. Granted, it was a tough call. With options like Wild Turkey 101 Rye at $40 (for a liter) and the age-stated Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye at the same price, there was much to consider. Nevertheless, Rare Breed Rye occupies a special place on the shelf. There are very few Kentucky straight rye whiskeys bottled unfiltered at full barrel strength – even fewer from a heritage distillery.
With Rare Breed Rye, you’ll have a well-balanced sweet and spicy profile that takes its character from a combination of four-, six-, and eight-year straight rye whiskeys. The younger whiskey gives the profile vibrancy and punch – perfect for an assortment of cocktails – while the older whiskey rounds the edges, allowing for a pleasant neat sipping experience. And let’s not forget complexity. When it comes to Kentucky rye, which is typically low in rye grain content, profiles lean bourbon-esque. Wild Turkey is no stranger to this phenomenon; however, Rare Breed Rye is an exception. Whether it’s the lack of dilution or brilliant combination of well-aged barrels, Rare Breed Rye packs a punch akin to whiskeys with higher rye content.
There’s a lot of directions one can go when building a home whiskey bar on a $200 budget. Some might desire as many 750ml bottles as possible, others might go for a bottle of Russell’s Reserve 13 and a liter of Wild Turkey 101 Rye. At the end of the day, the choice is yours. What’s most important is having a versatile selection of whiskeys suitable for a range of tasks and guests. If two expressions get you there, mission accomplished. For me, these four whiskeys check the boxes I require. I’m sure given enough time this list will change. Expressions come and go and one never knows what the future holds. But for today, this is it.
Now, I’m curious what you, the reader, might choose if presented with a similar challenge. Should you decide to take it on, shoot me an email or comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Until then, cheers!
Enjoy this blog? Please consider supporting it via Patreon. In return you’ll receive access to exclusive rewards and weekly whiskey content. Thank you! dj