Review: New Riff Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon

Review: New Riff Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon

When it first hit the whiskey scene, Kentucky’s New Riff Distillery promised a “new riff” on tried-and-true Kentucky whiskey-making tradition. And boy have they started delivering recently. On the heels of their 100% malted rye release earlier this year, the whiskey tinkerers from Newport are adding another innovation to their lineup with Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon. I’ll let co-founder Jay Erisman explain what the heck that means.

“Just like heirloom tomatoes, heirloom grains offer flavors and aromas that are distinct from — and often simply better than — modern hybridized grain varieties,” said co-founder Jay Erisman. “We enjoy helping to preserve these old grains, but the real reason we do it is for the flavor in the glass. We wondered what wheated bourbon would’ve tasted like 100 years ago, before modern agriculture bred so much flavor out of wheat in exchange for ever-increasing yields and ease of transport and storage.”

Erisman said Red Turkey has more protein and less starch than modern wheats, decreasing yield but offering a far wider and richer depth of flavors. “To our knowledge, this is the only Kentucky sour mash wheated bourbon produced in modern times from Red Turkey Wheat,” he said. “Wheated bourbon is very popular these days, but with few exceptions it all uses modern hybrid wheat varieties.”

To source this unusual ingredient, New Riff turned to Blue Oven Bakery, a local artisan bread-maker fond of using heirloom grains. The final recipe for the whiskey included 25% Red Turkey Wheat from Ohio, along with New Riff’s standard supply of non-GMO corn (70%) and malted barley (5%). It’s bottled-in-bond, aged at least five years. This is not New Riff’s first foray into heirloom grains. We sampled, but unfortunately didn’t get to review, their Balboa Rye release from 2020 which was a particularly delicious representation of the rare flavor that comes from unique grains. Let’s see how Red Turkey Wheat stacks up!

The nose is gritty and savory with yeasty rolls and crusty bread. It’s all tied together well with a doughy sweetness and subtle notes of dried orange peel and caramel apple. On the palate, that same balance between sweet and savory is on display with an initial rush of buttery caramel sauce. Underneath that is quite a lot of orchard fruit, mostly apples but some pear and cherry even, especially as things open up. Those dry grain notes keep a good bit of spice in the mix well into the finish which lingers with more fruit and a rich brown sugar sweetness, like cold apple pie. Great stuff. Thanks to New Riff, and a few others, I think I’m really starting to buy into this whole heirloom grain thing.

100 proof.

A- / $50 /

New Riff Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon




Drew Beard is assistant editor for Drinkhacker and winner of several booze-related merit badges, including Certified Specialist in Spirits and Executive Bourbon Steward. A former federal employee turned hotelier and spirits journalist, he looks forward to his next midlife crisis.

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