I had the pleasure to be led through Wild Turkey’s six whiskeys, courtesy of an online tasting with Jimmy Russell (of “Russell’s Reserve” fame) and his son Eddie Russell, the two men responsible for distilling Wild Turkey today at Austin Nichols distillery.
Both of the new Russell’s Reserve whiskeys have been re-released in new packaging (silkscreened bottles without paper labels (and with clearer age statements), which makes the color of the whiskey look lighter, though that’s just an illusion), but otherwise this lineup hasn’t changed much in years — particularly “the 101,” classic Wild Turkey with no frills allowed.
Thoughts on the six whiskeys we tasted follow.
Wild Turkey 101 – The classic. Hot with a lot of alcohol, to be sure, but warming and smooth underneath. Surprisingly clean and easy, with lots of rye in the mix and applewood undernotes. There’s a great amount of vanilla here, and it all works well together. Not a terribly complicated whiskey, but this is a stellar standby — and one I’ve come to appreciate over time. Prior, relatively naive review here. A- / $19
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel – The single barrel version of standard Wild Turkey, with individual barrels picked by Jimmy Russell himself. 101 proof, just like standard Wild Turkey, but so much more intriguing. Really amazing spiciness, and great interplay between the grain and the wood, with tons of orange peel and cinnamon, and a long, soothing finish. Easily my favorite Wild Turkey expression of the event. (Bottled 4/15/09, barrel 95, warehouse F, rick 25) A / $50
Russell’s Reserve Bourbon 10 Year Old – Lots of citrus character, and not quite over-oaked, but awfully close. Though just 90 proof, it somehow feels hotter than the 101. Some caramel, some hazelnut in the mix, but not overly sweet. A slight astringency on the finish. Looking over my old notes, I obviously liked this in this tasting much more than last time out — and putting the two bottles side by side, I believe the recipe has evolved a bit, turning in a smoother, more straightforward whiskey. That’s good. A- / $30 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Wild Turkey Rare Breed – A small batch bourbon, bottled at a whopping 108.2 proof, cask strength versions of a collection of 6-, 8-, and 12-year old bourbons. It doesn’t come across as hot. Eddie talks about dark chocolate in this one, but I don’t get that flavor much here. It’s more of a vanilla note — quite sweet at that –and you need to add a good bit of water to get it down to a place where those flavors come out. It’s good but doesn’t hold a candle to Kentucky Spirit, in my mind. (Batch WT-03RB) B+ / $36 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Russell’s Reserve Rye 6 Year Old – Not as flavorful as many modern rye whiskeys, Russell’s is not as “big” as the dynamic duo would have us believe. Interesting cherry notes here, but relatively mild in comparison to the rest of the lineup. I actually gave this a better rating last time out; tasted both with no discernible differences. 90 proof. B+ / $30 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur – Wild Turkey’s liqueur. Intense honey notes, with light orange flower undertones. Not as cloying as so many of these honeyed whiskey liqueurs, and after all the regular whiskey, this is a winner of a digestif. Old review here, before this category took off. 71 proof. A- / $20