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Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon Review

Well known for their 101 proof bourbon (SMM rating: 9.0), the folks from Wild Turkey apparently wanted to confuse the hell out consumers even further with another 80-something proof bourbon in their namesake whiskey lineup. Let’s try to get this straightened out. The Wild Turkey Bourbon line has the classic 101. They also have an 80 proof. Did the new Wild Turkey 81 take the place of the 80? Not exactly.

The 80 proof whiskey still exists. The 81 proof bourbon came about because Wild Turkey wanted to offer consumers a bolder, spicier bourbon than the 80 proof, yet one that was not quite as full flavored as the 101. Like Goldilocks it appears they were going for “just right”. In order to accomplish this, 81 is made from barrels between 6-8 years old that have a bolder flavor profile than the original 80.

How does Wild Turkey 81 fare?

Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon, 40.5% abv (81 Proof), $18
Wild Turkey 81 has a very straightforward and familiar nose at first. Flavors of caramel and vanilla intermingle with fragrant corn. There’s a good punch of cinnamon red hot candy that livens up the experience. On the palate this whiskey shines a bit brighter. It is only moderately sweet with a solid balance of oak and spice character. Light caramel hits first at the front of the mouth before drying quickly. Cinnamon spice takes over from mid palate on through to a dry, clean finish that’s fairly lively with some heat, toasted oak, vanilla, and strong black tea. This is not overly complex stuff, but honest and straight forward with its delivery.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: (8.0 Very Good/Excellent)

Frankly, in my opinion this release probably comes off as sort of unnecessary to some. Please don’t mistake me. It’s quite good. Considering the price it’s a great value and something you can reach for when mixing drinks or neat sipping. Does it accomplish Wild Turkey’s goal? Yes it does. That said, I’m afraid they may have muddied their Wild Turkey Bourbon line a little bit in the process. However, if you are a WT fan and want something with a little more oomph in the 80 proof range – this is a good place to start.

22 Comments

  1. JWC says:

    to me, this bottling was not aimed at the enthusiast but rather the non-enthusiasts. accordingly, no real reason for an enthusiast to buy this bottle rather than the 101.

    i wish they’d bring back the 12 yo for the u.s. market. i recently had a sip of the export version. it is damn good. and the price is fantastic to boot!

  2. JWC, you are correct. I don’t feel it’s aimed at the enthusiast market. Wild Turkey has said as much in not so many words. It was crafted for cocktails so the flavors wouldn’t get lost.

  3. Eric S. says:

    I suppose it’s fine if you just want a more demure offering than the 101, but I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just buy the 101 and water it down to your liking?

  4. sam k says:

    I’ll never forget the time I wanted to celebrate a special occasion with a friend. We were at our local, and he ordered a Maker’s Mark and I a Wild Turkey. That whiskey hit my tongue and I immediately thought “What IS this crap?” It was WT 80, and I’d naturally expected 101, which is what I’ll stick with, thank you very much.

    I’ve never understood the weak-whiskey-in-mixed-drinks concept. Hey, we’re going to dilute our whiskey in a cocktail, so let’s use weak whiskey! Logic would seem to dictate the exact opposite, where one could actually use less product to achieve the same result.

    Whatever. Rare Breed is on sale in PA this month for $28. Time to stock up!

  5. theBitterFig says:

    To play devil’s advocate for a moment and argue for lower-proof whiskies in mixed drinks. Let’s say you want a whisky and cola with a final strength of around 10% abv. To get there with 80 or 81, you’d need 4 parts cola to 1 part whisky. To get there with 101, it’d take 5 parts cola, which might throw the flavor off. It’d probably be fine if you’re just using club soda, but with something strongly flavored there’s clearly going to be an effect from the increased amount of cola. It might also hold true with other mixed drinks and cocktails where using a higher-proof spirit would either result in a final drink with a higher abv than desired, or a higher ratio of diluting agent than desired. I’m convinced of this, but just writing hypothetically.

    Anyhow, my basic view on 81 is that if it’s simply a brand extension and they do indeed keep 80 going forward, it’s kind of pointless. If WT does what many people expect and phase out the old 80 proof in favor of this more-aged version, then that’s purely a good thing. Everything I’ve read indicates that the new 81 is better than the old 80, and even if it’s aimed at the small segment of the market that wants mixing or intro whiskies, it’s still a victory for the world of good bourbon.

    Particularly since it’s Wild Turkey. It sort of feels like it was a somewhat premium bourbon, but at least in terms of presentation and pizazz it has been left behind amid the Woodfords, Maker’s, Buffalo Trace, and the various premium Beam variants. It’s been mostly what it’s always been, but the market has changed around it, and it’s easy to see it on the shelf and think it’s a bottom shelf bourbon with a higher-than-average price. Just seems like a whisky that deserves a higher profile, and the re-branding will hopefully help with that.

  6. Texas says:

    In the end, all I want is for whoever owns Wild Turkey these days not to mess with Wild Turkey 101. It is to me, the best whisk(e)y value in the world.

  7. Texas, I agree – it’s a superb value.

    TheBitterFig, thanks for the comment. You are probably correct that a phase out of the 80 is to follow. And it is absolutely better than the 80.

  8. Eric and Sam – I concur on the 101. I’m not sure why a 90 proofer wouldn’t be in line here as a good middle ground. It’s sort of weird but the 81 definitely has more character than the 80.

  9. B N says:

    I actually visited the Wild Turkey distillery over the summer and I’m pretty sure the 81 is meant to be a replacement and an image management thing on their part.

    I had mentioned the 81 was a lot better than the 80 (which was not present in the sampling room, but I had tried earlier). He seemed to agree and the impression that I got was that the 80 was kind of the bastard child of the line that they were kind of distancing themselves from (e.g. not even available to sample). In particular, the 80 was under-aged: it had at least 2 years less aging than any of their other lines (probably part of why it tasted so bad).

    So, uhm… stock up on 80 while you can? NOT. Avoid 80 like plague until it blissfully disappears from the shelves. On another side note, I tried the Rye Whiskey they’re making there and it was wonderful- spicy and unique. It’s going to be the next bottle I pick up when I can find one.

  10. BN, thanks for the information on 81. Makes sense. Cheers!

  11. Bmac says:

    I was wondering if you’d ever tried the Wild Turkey American Spirit limited release. It was a 15yr at 100 proof, mimicking a “Bottled in Bond” experience. The reviews I have read were 50/50, and almost all of them said it was worth trying. There is a dusty box of American Spirit for 60 dollars (which originally sold for 80+) that I can get. Is it worth the purchase as there is only about 15,000 made in the US?

  12. Many Deers says:

    Folks who mix Wild Turkey or any other premium whisky with cola or other such mixers are just throwing their money away — might as well be drinking a much cheaper brand. Not really any difference than using Grey Goose vodka in a Bloody Mary — complete waste. The only proper way to test, compare or review bourbon is neat, on the rocks or with a splash of good water…

  13. Paul says:

    As a Pittsburgh’er, I have been sipping Wild Turkey 80 with a craft beer on the side for decades – I am now 62. Hence, I am “under” the control of the (corrupt and poorly-managed) Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. They have removed all 80 from the shelves and replaced it with 81 – I tried the 81, and in my opinion, it is not near as good a sippin’ bourbon. Of course, at my age, PLCB-forced change of any kind does not sit well, especially when I live within 2-3 miles of the spark of the Whiskey Rebellion. Bottom line: I have stocked up abut 6 years worth of 80, brought in from Maryland – illegally in the trunk of my car.

  14. Paul – I like it man. We do what we have to do right? Cheers!

  15. Johnathan says:

    Jason, any plans to do a review of Wild Turkey’s 101 Rye? I think it’s outstanding.

    I really like your site and the videos are a really cool feature. I’ve learned a lot from you and I appreciate your honesty and lack of snootiness.

  16. Johnathan – doing WT 101 Rye very soon. Thanks for checking in.

  17. michael johnson says:

    Years ago Wild Turkey made an 86 proof bourbon which was my go-to drink over ice. Straight 101 was/is just a little too tart but the 86 was just right. I regretted extremely when they quit the 86 and went to 80, though the 80 without ice was/is good backed up with a Guinness. These days, since I am older, I mix with a little carbonated water; the effervescence is very pleasing. You have a very nice website and I congratulate you for it.

  18. Gratom says:

    Many Deers, you are so wrong. I would venture to say that you are also in the minority by a big margin. Think about it…the more flavor a certain product has…the less it is going to be affected by dilution. So that is the reason for buying good quality, full flavored products. I get no pleasure from straight Whisky, Bourbon or whatever, and also almost none of the people I have associated with over my 63 years have either.

  19. Michael, thanks for the comment. Drink your whiskey any way you like. I hear the same comments a lot about the 101 for folks that prefer to sip their whiskey neat or on ice. Just a bit more oomph in that one. Thanks for visiting.

  20. J. Sabin says:

    Speaking of Wild Turkey 101 rye, Where is it ? I’ve searched several counties in the Sarasota, FL. area and cannot find a btl. Did they run out ?

  21. J. Sabin, the 101 Rye is on tight supply right now. You can still find it, but they are running behind. They are releasing an 81 proof Rye that will probably get most of the 101 stock for a while until they can get enough in the queue for distribution.

  22. D. B. McKenzie says:

    Nothing compares to the original 80. Bring it back or tell me where I can find some again!