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Review: Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey

Two months ago I did a simultaneous review with two other bloggers, Steve Ury and Tim Read. Steve’s (or Sku as he goes by) website is Recent Eats and Tim’s is Scotch and Ice Cream. We had a little fun with the collaboration review of Rebel Yell and thought it might be time to do another. So here we are.

The subject of this review is Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey. Recently it surfaced that Wild Turkey was putting out Wild Turkey 81 Rye Whiskey. This lead some enthusiasts to conclude that the 101 Rye was being discontinued after certain control state product listings showed the 81 Rye hitting the shelves and the 101 leaving them. Chuck Cowdery posted a good bit of information on this subject. Apparently 101 Rye will not be discontinued, but like Rittenhouse and others before, it may be tough to find on store shelves for a while.

The Rye whiskey boom is well into it’s second year as far as I’m concerned. As folks learn to appreciate more flavorful whiskey, I believe rye will continue to grow as a category, and this is great for whiskey lovers. However, whiskey takes time to make properly. Predicting what will be in high demand 4+ years in the future is a difficult proposition. Focusing on 81 right now gives Wild Turkey a little breathing room. The fact that it’s 20 proof lower than the 101 will certainly help Wild Turkey meet demand while the company ramps up stock.

If Wild Turkey 101 Rye is a whiskey you love and keep on hand, then I’d recommend stocking up at least for the short term. If you are unsure or haven’t had it yet, then it’s perfect timing to read my thoughts.

Wild Turkey 101 Rye Whiskey, 50.5% abv (101 Proof), $22-25

Color: Medium Amber

Nose: The nose is sharp and bracing. Honeyed with a crisp rye grain quality, mint, sour apple, sandalwood, menthol, flint, and sun dried oak. There is also some rustic corn mash in there as well.

Palate: Much like the nose – the sip is sharp with a crisp, dry quality to it. Rye and mint are present all throughout the sip with apple and honey anchoring things to a degree. It’s all about the spicy rye with increasing warmth leading to the finish.

Finish: The finish is long, warm, and spicy. We get a bit more of a cinnamon and wood spice quality along with some oak grip.

Overall: Wild Turkey’s lesser expensive products, like the 101 Bourbon and this Rye, are some of the best American Whiskeys available in their respective price ranges. WT 101 Rye is loaded with sharp rye grain character, spice, and warmth, without a lot of the “green” notes that I associate with the very high rye, former LDI-based ryes (Bulleit, Templeton, Redemption, etc.). For a well stocked bar I’d recommend this one be in your arsenal. The versatility for neat sipping and a fantastic Manhattan are pretty tough to beat at this price.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)

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.

Single Barrel Bourbon Comparison: Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm, and Kentucky Spirit

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel Bourbon, 50.5% abv (101 Proof), $45-50
Background: Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit sits at the top of Wild Turkey Distillery’s (Lawrenceburg, KY) primary line of products. Not including some of their limited releases of course. The Wild Turkey hallmark is a spicy rye character that is quite prevalent (albeit in varying degrees) throughout the range. Jimmy Russell, a bourbon icon, and his son Eddie are the Master Distillers at Wild Turkey.
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Crushed rock, leather, and dry oak at the front with dried banana, vanilla, herbs, and rye to follow. Maple syrup increasingly more prevalent with air time.
Flavor: This one is almost dry and crisp throughout the sip. It starts spicy with peppery heat and a rye-heavy punch. Hard caramel candy sweetness struggles through just gripping oak takes it to the finish.
Finish: Long and spicy with a bit of corn and toasted, dry oak.
Overall: The nose is fantastic, bringing some aromas that don’t present themselves very often in other bourbons. On the palate it leans heavily towards dry and spicy, so if you are a fan of this type of flavor profile, Kentucky Spirit will please you.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.6 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon, 46.5% abv (93 Proof), $45-50
Background: Produced by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY, Blanton’s was the bourbon that started the single barrel craze in the early 1980’s. It’s disputed by some noted historians and industry figures as to whether it was the first Single Barrel, but nobody can dispute that it was the first to really achieve commercial success. Others took note and quickly followed. It’s named after Colonel Albert Bacon Blanton, a former George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) president. His favorite bourbon came from Warehouse H, which is where Blanton’s barrels are selected today. We owe Elmer T. Lee for getting Blanton’s released. At his urging, the distillery agreed to release this bourbon to the public in 1984. It is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Medium Amber
Nose: Corn, apples and apricots, cinnamon, rye, and a little caramel sweetness adds weight.
Flavor: Corn, orchard fruits (apples, peaches), bracing rye spice, and the bitterness of charred wood.
Finish: Baking spices, fruit, maple syrup, and barrel yield a moderate length finish.
Overall: Blanton’s is a wonderful expression of a rye recipe bourbon full of grain and barrel aromas and flavors. It is also accessible and relatively easy drinking. My only complaint is Blanton’s flattens a bit on the palate. I would love to see this at barrel proof as Colonel Blanton used to sip it. Buffalo Trace, are you listening?
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.7 (Very Good/Excellent)
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Rock Hill Farm Single Barrel Bourbon, 50% abv (100 Proof), $45-50
Background: Rock Hill Farm is a Single Barrel bourbon made by Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY. Like Blanton’s, Rock Hill Farm is made using Buffalo Trace’s mash bill #2.
Color: Deep Golden/Amber
Nose: Corn, honey, apple cider, a sprinkle of rye, mint, and wet oak. What a fantastic nose this is, and with fruit and corn prevailing and enough oak and spice character to keep it lively.
Flavor: Again we have corn right from the fore, loads of honey, rye, peppery bite, burned sugar, maple, and again that apple note.
Finish: Moderate length -fruity with caramel and peppery spice.
Overall: Rock Hill Farm is a tremendous bourbon that really doesn’t get its due. It has depth and layers of flavor that Blanton’s didn’t quite measure up to. More than anything I enjoyed the balance of grain and fruit that shines through.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Outstanding/Superb)

Wild Comparison: Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve vs. Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, 45% abv (90 Proof), $30/bottle

Russell’s Reserve is the gentle giant (only not TOO gentle) of the Wild Turkey lineup with a creamy, sweet nose of brown sugar, heaps of vanilla, toffee, custard, and dusty rye spice. Even some hints of black pepper. The nose is overall balanced, sweet, and moderately spiced. The flavor in the mouth echo’s much of the nose with brown sugar, toffee and vanilla flavors playing front and center. Added to that is rich maple syrup and rye spice warming around the mid palate through to the end. In the back of the mouth the dry, toasted oak takes over, leading to a finish of moderate length. Your left with a nice mix of oak, char, sweet toffee, and spice. Delicious, balanced, and just an excellent pour of bourbon. Highly recommended.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Excellent/Outstanding)

VS.

Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, 50.5% abv (101 Proof), $23/bottle

Few bourbon noses disguise what’s about to kick you in the mouth more than Wild Turkey 101. Scents of spiced honey, honey suckle, dried apricots, dusty rye notes, light vanilla, and faint char rush forward. Then you take a sip……….and this brooding monster hits your lips like a porcupine running at 60 MPH. Heavy rye and prickly spice start from palate entry on through mid palate, where that honey comes to your rescue, calming things down just enough. The honey and confectioners sugar sweetness really anchor the spice well in your mouth and are ever present. This is one beautifully crafted whiskey that’s thick in the mouth and finishes with spicy cinnamon candy and barrel char. What a value – highly recommended!

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Excellent/Outstanding)

Bourbon Style Comparison: Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Bourbon Whiskey has a vast range of styles. Here’s an example of two on opposite ends of the spectrum: Rare Breed with it’s rye-heavy and barrel proof offering and Maker’s Mark with it’s soft, younger, wheated style. There’s something out there for everyone – give ‘em a try.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky, 45% abv (90 Proof), $25/bottle

To many folks, Maker’s Mark IS bourbon whisk(e)y. Regardless of your stance on where it sits amongst its peers, Maker’s Mark is a well executed wheated bourbon made with a “forward” flavor profile in the mouth. The nose and sip mirror one another with chewy caramel, vanilla, nougat, toffee, toasted nuts, and light oak. Very minimal spice, moderate body in the mouth, and a clean finish that falls off sharply leaving little trace of warming heat or spice. A great “gateway” bourbon for those that are looking for some classic bourbon flavors without the burn and spice. But you sacrifice complexity, nuance, and finish mightily. Still, it’s well crafted and extremely easy to drink.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good/Solid)

AND

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon Whiskey, 54.1% abv (108.2 Proof), $40/bottle

Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a barrel proof, uncut, and rye-forward Bourbon Whiskey. The nose is almost savory with tobacco, leather, barrel, charred oak, sour dough bread, pancake batter, and maple syrup. There’s some rye spice lingering, ready to assert itself with that first sip. The flavors of this bourbon are somewhat bracing and hard with a leathery, resiny grip from the barrel, some maple syrup sweetness, and then a punch of rye spice that moves along the spine of your tongue. The finish is long and hot with plenty of spice. Unfortunately, bitter tannins assert themselves a bit too heavily on the mid-palate through finish. In lengthy tasting sessions with this bourbon I found it best straight up without any water added. The high proof seems to combat some of the bitterness. Diluting with water subdued the alcohol punch and sweetness, thus elevating the tannins. I can’t help but wonder how good this whiskey could be if it had more balance. Personally I find this whiskey very solid, if unspectacular, and a bit overrated. Still, it’s a good expression of barrel proof, rye-heavy bourbon.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.8 (Good/Solid)