Since I’ll soon be covering the Generations release event (and my thoughts on tasting Generations that evening), I thought it would be nice for Frank to share his opinion on this very special release. Take it away, Frank! dj
Wild Turkey is bursting with a rich family history that no other brand can mimic, try as they may. While it isn’t family owned, there’s no debating the notion that Wild Turkey is a brand shaped by the influence of the Russell family. Since September 10, 1954 (a little longer if you count Joretta Russell’s involvement), Wild Turkey has employed a member of the Russell family. In that span a wildly successful transformation has taken place. What started as the house brand for grocer Austin, Nichols & Co. soon became a force in the American whiskey landscape, and Jimmy Russell is the spoke in the wheel.
Stewarding Wild Turkey through the tumultuous “Glut Era” years, introducing innovative products, and becoming the longest-tenured master distiller in the entire world are just a few of Jimmy Russell’s accolades. To state it plainly, the man is a Kentucky legend. Not only has he left a litany of award-winning whiskeys in his wake, but he’s also raised three children along the way, one of whom became his successor as master distiller at Wild Turkey. Of course, that I’m talking about Eddie Russell.
Eddie Russell, like his father before him, has been in charge of nearly every facet of production since starting as a relief operator in 1981. During his tenure, he’s had a hand in crafting some of the greatest expressions to come out of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. By spearheading the introduction of Wild Turkey Master’s Keep, various Russell’s Reserve releases, and Rare Breed Rye (among others), Eddie’s integral input influenced not only Wild Turkey but the entire American whiskey market. The latter of those creations is a credit both to Eddie Russell’s prescient understanding of the landscape and the precociousness of his son, Bruce Russell.
Bruce Russell, associate blender at Wild Turkey, is commonly referred to as “Russell’s Rye Guy.” That’s because, unlike his grandfather, Bruce has a preference for rye whiskey. It’s thanks in part to his enthusiasm for the less-heralded category that Wild Turkey released their first-ever limited edition rye whiskey, Master’s Keep Cornerstone, in 2019. Since that time, Wild Turkey has introduced the aforementioned Rare Breed Rye and there are rumblings that there will be more news concerning their rye portfolio moving forward. Working day to day in the single barrel program, and having previously served as Wild Turkey’s national ambassador, it’s clear that Bruce’s impact on the brand – already looming large – will surely grow in the future.
Few brands in the American whiskey space can boast of such a storied family history contributing to their success, and that’s a distinction that Wild Turkey doesn’t take lightly. To honor that special connection Wild Turkey has tapped the respective talents of Jimmy, Eddie, and Bruce to create a once-in-a-lifetime whiskey which I’ll be reviewing today: Wild Turkey Generations. From the bottle itself, “Generations is a tribute to the passion that a father recognizes and unlocks in his son. It’s an appreciation of the moment that the connection between a parent and child shifts from hierarchy to colleagues, the moment when a mentor sees his hard work pay off. The bourbon in this bottle is the product of three generations working as one team.”
This distinctive expression is a blend of 9-, 12-, 14-, and 15-year-old whiskey that was hand-selected by the Russells. What makes Wild Turkey Generations even more remarkable is the fact that it’s the highest-proofed whiskey ever released under the Wild Turkey brand. Non-chill filtered, barrel-proof whiskey from Lawrenceburg is in high demand as independent releases like Pride of Anderson County and the Single Cask Nation Wild Turkey bottlings have shown. For Campari and Wild Turkey to take the initiative to release such a coveted expression themselves is cause enough for celebration.
Wild Turkey has long been a champion for the common consumer, with a rugged but refined reputation and affordable price point winning over bourbon enthusiasts for decades. On the heels of a more recent pivot toward premiumization, a turn they had stubbornly, if admirably, resisted, it seems the brand’s popularity has only grown. With more adoring admirers than ever, it should come as no surprise that Wild Turkey seems to be more willing to experiment and give that segment of their consumer base what they want.
There are a lot of folks who appreciate the brand’s willingness to explore cask finishing, rye releases, and higher-proof expressions, and others who pine for the days when Wild Turkey was overlooked, readily available, and easily affordable. It’s a thin line between love and hate. And while Wild Turkey still produces some of the very best consumer-friendly whiskeys on the market, their portfolio of premium releases has been rapidly expanding. First, there was grumbling over Russell’s Reserve 13’s price increase – easily explained away as the secondary market gobbled up its incredible value. Then there were the invectives hurled after the price hike we saw with Master’s Keep Voyage – this time excused by the attention and effort it took to craft such a whiskey in concert with a partner abroad. Now, we have a limited-edition Wild Turkey release in Generations priced at $450.
I’ll spare you the trite excuses often deployed when justifying price, such as the fact that the cost of practically everything is rising, with “limited-edition” bourbon being but one example. Simply put, the asking price for Wild Turkey Generations is prohibitive at best and exorbitant at worst. I’m as enchanted by the fact that all three generations of the legendary Russell family had their hand in crafting this project, as any Wild Turkey fan worth his salt would be, but is there any aspect of Generations’ production that warrants such a high valuation? Without knowing the answer to that question I can only comment on whether the liquid in the bottle is superlative or not and assess its price after the fact. To that end, let’s commence with the tasting!
Wild Turkey Generations
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: A blend of 9-, 12-, 14-, and 15-year-old bourbon
Misc.: Distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: Rich copper
Nose: (dense and sweet) Orange peel, black cherry syrup, vanilla ice cream, menthol, black pepper, candied ginger, baked pear, and crème brûlée.
Taste: Butterscotch, candied ginger, black pepper, and orange peel take the lead. Over time there’s cayenne, honey, and black cherry along with more crème brûlée.
Finish: Long w/ vanilla custard, baking spices, honeyed graham cracker, and barrel char lingering along with a satisfyingly high dose of ethanol.
Impression: This is an absolutely fabulous whiskey, but it must be said upfront – this ain’t your daddy’s Wild Turkey. Generations is deft on the tongue, neither veering into an overly viscous texture nor coming across the palate as lean and quotidian. It’s densely packed with complex and harmonious flavor plus an immediately enchanting assortment of aromas. It has a fantastic sweet finish that all but seeps into your tongue and remains present long after your last sip. There are, however, a few nits to pick – the foremost being its profound uniqueness.
I truly can’t think of another Wild Turkey release that’s analogous to this one. It doesn’t have a big pop of baking spice or a burly undercurrent of black cherry, though those notes are indeed part of the medley. Neither does it come across as funky like dusty Turkey or robust bordering on brooding like the similarly aged Russell’s 13.
To circle back to the harmony I mentioned above, Wild Turkey Generations tastes like a case of the sum being greater than the parts, as this whiskey picks up the best qualities of each of its components to create something altogether new. As much as I enjoy that Generations is a family portrait – artfully blending three different whiskey-making philosophies – it’s a release that requires you to recalibrate your expectations. You simply can’t go into this whiskey expecting it to take like any other Wild Turkey you’ve recently had.
Which brings me to the second obstacle when it comes to assessing this whiskey: Is being so wildly different a good thing? I’d say it is. Wild Turkey has been on a hot streak lately and not only does this release match the incredibly high bar set by Russell’s 13 and Single Rickhouse Camp Nelson F, but unlike those expressions it showcases the strength of the Russell’s blending prowess more than the beauty of the base liquids. That’s damn impressive.
The last hurdle I find myself facing with Wild Turkey Generations is its suggested retail price. I’ll come right out and say that $450 for a Wild Turkey release is disheartening. I appreciate the uniqueness of the undertaking and highly commend the quality of the end result, but at that price this should be one of the best expressions that Wild Turkey has ever bottled. It’s simply not up to that task.
To its credit this is a remarkable blend deserving of considerably high praise – and I’ll score it accordingly. No one who tries Wild Turkey Generations will be left in doubt of its superlative quality, confounding though it may be at first; however, I think it deserves to be graded on a curve given the asking price. When taking cost into account you’d be forgiven for licking your wounds with that off-profile Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel you’ve got tucked away for a rainy day.
Will Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel prove as impressive as Wild Turkey Generations? Gosh, no. This is a singular release – the expression with the highest proof and the highest asking price in Wild Turkey history – unlikely to ever be replicated and a fitting tribute to the men responsible for it. But every whiskey enthusiast knows all too well that the best whiskey in the world is the one in your glass. If different is what you seek, the Russell’s Reserve lineup has it in spades. Just like Generations, it’s a fitting (and affordable) tribute to the men responsible for it.
Rating: 4.25/5 🦃
Photo by Frank Dobbins.
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