Sunday, January 3, 2010

Review: Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon


Before I ever tasted bourbon, I associated that particular type of American whisky with a stream of images like: the Alamo, tumbleweed, cowboys and late night John Wayne westerns. Countless great, as well as utterly forgettable, westerns have actors like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood saddle up to the bar and order a bourbon that came in a little shooter glass. They would gulp it down and promptly wince in pain that would flash momentarily across their face.

Nick Passmore in an article entitled “The Kings of Bourbon” for Forbes magazine recounts the history of bourbon following the end of prohibition:

When repeal of Prohibition came in 1933, people could start drinking again (legally), and the distillers could start making whiskey again (legally). But it takes a long time to make good whiskey. In the interim, imported Scotch, imported gin and imported Canadian whiskey all came flooding in, and imbibers soon developed a taste for them.

As its customer base deserted it, bourbon struggled. Instead of trying to refine it, distillers were forced push their whiskey out the door as quickly and as cheaply as possible. And pretty awful whiskey it was too
.”

Given the above cultural mosaic that cluttered my spotted brain, coupled with the above checkered history of bourbon, it is understandable that I did not have an overly positive view of bourbon.

My opinion changed when I tried Jim Beam Black bourbon during a visit to the United States. I always make an effort to try the libations of the locals wherever I travel, and so I found myself, much like those cowboys in the western, sitting at the bar staring at amber liquid in a glass. Ahh, a legend in my own mind.

Besides Jim Beam Black, I have also reviewed Knob Creek. It get’s a big thumbs up too! So, when my brother showed up at my place at Christmas time with a bottle of Wild Turkey 101, as per my request, I knew I was in for a treat.













Wild Turkey 101

The ‘101’ in the name of this brand is an allusion to the 50.5% alcohol/volume or 101 proof! Not a trifling amount. Now, I know what you are thinking “. . . this is gonna taste like battery acid!” Not at all. You will be surprised if you give this Kentucky bourbon a taste.

At this point, I just have to tell you the quaint Norman Rockwellesque story of how the Wild Turkey 101 brand name came about.

In the 1940’s, Thomas McCarthy, the president of the Austin Nichols company (the company that owns this particular bourbon distillery), was going on a wild turkey hunting trip. He decided to select some choice 101 proof bourbon, from the company stocks, that would be shared with his friends during the trip. In subsequent years, McCarthy’s friends “always requested that Wild Turkey bourbon” and so a brand was born.

Nose (undiluted)
Classic bourbon bouquet of big time vanilla and sweet corn rising up from the bottom of my brandy snifter. The scent of red licorice also makes an appearance. I like this!

Palate (undiluted)
A rip roarin' entry of sweet corn and warm caramel, reminiscent of the hardened top surface of crème brûlée explodes across the palate. Mid-palate is where the spiciness of the rye says: “Hello!” or maybe “Whatcha doin’ there neighbor? C’mon over!” Besides the rye is that hickory wood smoke that is present, but not over-powering.

Mid-palate transitions to dark French toast drizzled with maple syrup, some old-fashioned molasses, charcoal, oak and of course, lots of vanilla. While the initial entry upon the palate was distinctly sweet corn, the middle and final stages of the tasting are dry, concentrated layers of oak, vanilla and cigar smoke.

Finish (undiluted)
The longest lasting flavors left lingering are of spicy rye, uncrushed peppercorns and, to a much lesser extent, vanilla. The flavors hang upon the palate for a considerable amount of time, about as long a rodeo cowboy on a bucking bull.

General Impressions
Big bodied, concentrated, powerful. Somewhat smoother than Knob Creek, but don’t worry, this is by no means a Plain Jane whisky. Plenty of flavors kick that palate into high gear. Please note, I am not saying Knob Creek bourbon is rough, but rather a more robust flavor profile than Wild Turkey 101.

Wild Turkey 101 delivers a robust, challenging bourbon to the palate that must be savored in small sips if consumed neat. In a nutshell, you will enjoy flavors of oak, vanilla and charcoal. Wild Turkey is among the most powerful bourbons, as opposed to the very delicate, ethereal ones like Four Roses and Basil Hayden’s.

As much as I like it, I would not recommend it to someone who is not familiar with bourbon. This is a big drink with a lot of punch. At the very least, if someone was interested in trying this as their first venture in the bourbon world, I would strongly recommend trying it with two big ice cubes in a tumbler, wait two to three minutes and then sip. The ice will tame the wild aspects of the flavors that roll into the palate like a Mac truck.

I am astounded that it is 50.5% alcohol/volume, and at the same time delivers an enjoyable taste without a nasty bite of alcohol. Matter of fact, you do not taste any alcohol. No need to add water in order to tame the flavor profile. If you prefer to add ice, it will be a beautiful marriage that you just arranged!

Value for Money?
Uh huh, you betcha pardner . . .” The price is very reasonable. Good value for your dollar spent. Wild Turkey 101 can be purchased for as little as $19.99. It does not come in a fancy, cardboard sleeve like many whiskies or scotches (i.e. Johnnie Walker Black), and so it does not carry the cachet or snob appeal of those others. The marketing of this bourbon no doubt is like the philosophy of many Americans of Kentucky, unpretentious, honest and to the point.

Cheers!

Jason Debly

© Jason Debly, 2010. All rights reserved.

43 comments:

  1. Ok I think you've inspired me to go buy a bottle of this and try sipping it. A friend of mine in the Navy intro'd me to wild turkey back in the 90's but we used to do it, including the 101, as shots. My interest has been pegged to try it in a more "proper" manner now since I always enjoyed it before even though we were basically chugging it.

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    1. An added bonus: it is one of only 2 bourbons in the US made with non GMO corn (the other is Four Roses).

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  2. Charles, glad to hear you will give the ol' 101 another go. Try it first with some ice and then see what happens.

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  3. Hey Jason -
    I almost bought WT101 over the holiday, but went with a scotch blend instead - Ballantine's Finest - which was just 17.99 for 750ml. I read it was a good one for mixing and it is quite fine with just a splash of sour mix (which is apparently how I like my whiskey sours). I've got to say I think I like it better than Makers Mark or Knob Creek in my version of a whiskey sour - but I haven't tried them side-by-side. There is a light whiff of smoke (a surprise) which made the drink all the more interesting. I'll give it a try in my snifter sometime soon and let you know how it stacks up (in my obviously warped sense of taste)- but I'm afraid the Highland Park 12 has ruined my ability to be objective since nothing has compared to it...so far

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  4. Hello! Ripley, Ballantines Finest is a great value blend. You will enjoy it anyway you choose to have it.

    WT101 and Ballantines are very different and great for different reasons. You gotta try WT101 sometime though. Super low price but great flavors.

    Between Makers Mark and Wild Turkey, I prefer the latter. Makers Mark is nice, pleasant, gentle, but if you want a bit of a fight, a challenge, something that might shock ans awe you initially but in the end is more rewarding, well that would be Wild Turkey 101.

    As for the Highland Park 12, you think it's the best now . . . but just wait will you try the 15 and 18yr bottlings by this distiller. The 18yr is the 12yr old on steroids! I also like the 15 a lot, but the 18 is the best of the three with respect to the most pronounced flavor profile. The most subtle of the three is the 15yr old.

    Lemme know how the tastings go, and thanks for posting!

    Cheers!

    Jason

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  5. This blog is awesome!

    I like Wild Turkey 101 just for it's name. I'll try it tonight!

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  6. Glad you like the blog. Remember, start with tiny sips, WT is big dog bourbon!

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  7. I just got this as a gift from one of my patients. I read your blog and look forward to trying it. I'll be back with my impression.

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  8. Hi Anonymous! I look forward to your impressions!

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  9. Thanks so much! I am a new bartender and will be learning a lot from your blog.

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  10. Vain, drop by anytime and don't hesitate to comment!

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  11. My new favorite drink: Wild Turkey 101 Manhattan, 2.5:1 whisky/sweet vermouth, 2 dashes of bitters, and a cherry on top, served cold. After much experimenting with different whiskies, this combo is a winner that I plan on going to for the next 5-6 decades :)

    The WT101 really makes this cocktail stand up, versus using Beam or another 80 proof bourbon. Its a winner....

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  12. Art,

    Sounds like a great cocktail! I'll try it out.

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  13. why do people assume proofs 101 and up the harder to drink. no its go into be easy. bookers, 101, easier to drink then some 37% bourbons from beams (yeah they cut it further here) WT standard, and markers mark. i hate a rough bach finish. unsure if this is the water cutting or what they do?

    I dont recall seeing Clint Eastwood drinking wild turkery in his movies? I too want to drink same stuff i see in old movies too. they seen be having great time. Id like to know what bourbons they drank? probaly stuff the you can't get anymore.

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  14. Truth be told, most whiskies made before 1900 were sold by distillers by cask, typically small casks and barrels, and aged very little more than transport required. Statute which governed what we consider modern production processes (ingredients, aging, labeling) simply didn't exist until the the in the U.S., let alone what could be called true enforcement activity. I suspect that today's Wild Turkey 101 represents a level of whiskey refinement, drink-ability, consistency and flavor that one rarely saw in the real "olde West." A shot or two of Double Eagle was probably fairly fiery stuff.

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    1. I would agree with you that Wild Turkey 101 is a lot more palatable and sophisticated when compared with the stuff a century ago. Great comment.

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  15. wild turkey 101 is well worth the price.if you realy like bourbon just remember its the real deal not koolaid this is from a real kentucyian

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    1. Heh, heh, agreed! Koolaid it is not!

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  16. Hello Jason,

    WT 101 was my first bourbon and, as matter of fact, my first spirit. It was quite powerful, but good enough to draw me in!

    Your tasting notes are right on. "Dark french toast drizzled in maple syrup" is right on the mark. This is one exceptionally spicy drink. Probably the spiciest I've had! It's very good, but I think I may prefer Jim Beam Black 8yrs over this. It's just easier drinking, and not so spicy. Small sips are a must, as you said. Still, WT 101 is amazing, because it's 101 proof yet tastes so good.

    Where I am at you can get a real deal on this bourbon. You can pay $19.99 for a 750mL bottle, but you can get the 1.75L bottle for $26.99. What a value!

    I'm glad you take the time to review bourbon along with scotch. Not sure how much you want to diversify, but if you like brandy/cognac/armagnac, I'd be interested in your reviews of those kind of spirits as well.

    Cheers!

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  17. Outstanding notes.

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  18. THERE IS ONE BIG COMPLAINT TO AUSTIN NICHOLS. HAVING ESTABLISHED THE WT101 BRAND THEY THEN SNUCK IN A 87% PROOF. SO IF YOU ARE A WT101 MAN YOU HAVE TO CHECK WITH THE BARTENDER WHETHER HE HAS THE 101 OR NOT. THE POINT IS THE WT101 IN AN OLD FASHIONED GIVES YOU THE REAL BOURBON TAASTE AND FLAVOR

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  19. I remember siphoning off my fathers bottle of WT 101 into a tiny Mason jar in 1980. I was a kid but the brand at that time had a good reputation and I enjoyed sneaking off to sip the strong stuff. I remember from then that it had a nice flavor. My dad is now gone but tonight I bought my own bottle to try. Wish I could have a drink with my dad. We'll see how good it is. I wonder if the product is unchanged from those days. Your review makes it sound like I remember

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    1. I think you will enjoy it. WT 101 has been remarkably consistent over the years. Thanks for your memories of your Dad. Great way to invoke some kind thoughts of him by having one of his old drams. Cheers!

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  20. Wow, I did not expect that this product would be this good. If you put this in a super-premium brand bottle, I would believe it and pay twice the price. You have to try this.

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  21. Howdy Damnit. That tells you what part of Texas I'm from. I'll admit, as soon as I saw "Alamo" (God bless you Col Travis, Bowie, Davy) you just plain pissed me off. I decided to continue reading about my favorite "whiky". I was very pleased and honored that a Brit would take the time to do what you did. Thank you, not only for taking the time but also putting it in terms of what I was experiencing and when. If you're ever coming through Texas, honk and I'll open the gate. There's nine beds in the bunk room so everyone's welcome. Give me 12 hours notice and I'll have a beef in the pit. Respectfully, 3L Ranch - Crabb's prairie. Tx

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    1. Always good to read some validation from a reader! If I ever get to Texas again I just may have to look you up!

      Cheers!

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  22. Jason .... I'm somewhat on the negative... I got vanilla and oak. Was given a sample from a work mate. I found it very hard to get anything else. Coke and ice might be my only solution.
    Recently bought a bottle of 'Old Virginia 12yr. 43%. Best I've tasted by a country mile! Vanilla, toffee, Oak.. Weird thing is ... It's sent to France for bottling. Great looking bottle though. Can't warm to this WT 101 mate. I've had scotches the same abv and were awesome. Sorry mate, I'll have to pass.
    AL (from OZ)

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    1. Maybe try Basil Hayden's or Four Roses for an easier going bourbon.

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  23. I'm actually tempted to try the the George Dickel Superior No. 12. Tried this one ? Similar price to the WT 101. And a larger bottle as well....
    AL

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    1. I really like anything from George Dickel including the No. 12. Much different flavor profile than WT and I think you will like it.

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  24. Ta mate.
    I'll have a crack at it.
    AL

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  25. So, I'm new to the whiskey and bourbon game as far as trying to drink it straight. I've been drinking it as a shot or in drinks for years, but I want to try to get to drinking it straight. I have a bottle of WT 101 but the two times I've tried it neat or with a little water it hits me like a brick wall and I end up just downing it like a shot because I can't enjoy the taste. What can I do to get more used to it? Or what should I drink instead to get a better feel for whiskey?

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    1. Hi! Wild Turkey is not the whisky for someone new to whisky to try and learn to enjoy straight. it is far too strong. You need to start with a much gentler bourbon like Basil Hayden's. I reviewed it here:

      http://jason-scotchreviews.blogspot.ca/2010/01/basil-haydens-8-yr-old-kentucky.html

      Basil Hayden's is a gentle bourbon that I think you can appreciate neat because it is not so strong. That being said, you still have to remember to imagine and attempt to sip the equivalent of a 1/4 of a teaspoon of this whisky and just hold it for a moment before swallowing. The big rookie mistake of many is to take a big sip and swallow quickly. Doing that will cause anyone to basically gag. It's called sippin' whisky for a reason. Take tiny sips!

      Cheers!

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  26. WT is my go to bourbon. As a scotch drinker, I wanted something cheaper, but still tasty. All other inexpensive bourbons are nowhere near the taste profile of this bourbon.

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  27. Must be me but all I get is bland watered down whiskey. I'd like to try this at cask strength before it got brought down to 101abv with water.

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    1. Steve, there is nothing bland or watered down about Wild Turkey 101. Maybe you had a flawed bottle or someone put water in it, because it is one of the strongest bourbons out there.

      Nevertheless, thank you for commenting!

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  28. I'm a total novice when it comes to whiskies...rum and vodka mixed drinks most of my 75 years, and not you'd call a regular drinker by any means. Started trying spirits in coffee including rum, crown royal, Kahlua, Bailey's, frangelico, grand marinier etc. Then thought why not try a whiskey. That's where I am now. I bought a bottle of WT101, but haven't tried it yet. Thought I'd do some research which led me to this blog. Thanks for all of the information provided by the various contributors, especially the advice of 'taking tiny sips'. I do like the taste, but have no clue how other whiskies may compare, and frankly do not care to find out since this is adequately palatable. (I also bought a bottle of Jack Daniels which I haven't tried yet). Thanks again.

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    1. Wild Turkey 101 is very powerful spirit for a guy who doesnt drink whisky regularly. You certainly can enjoy it, but tiny sips are indeed a must.

      Also, I think you will really like Jack Daniels Old No. 7 because it is quite different in style and a lot softer.

      Welcome to the blog!

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  29. No 101 down here. Though the 81 proof taste lighter and very smooth... Cheers

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  30. And these advices of yours made me rediscover uisghe beata. Thank you for this...

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  31. I've been enjoying the Bulleit 10 yr for a while now... and contemplating others....let me ask you.... the Russells Reserve 10... how does that compare to the 101 ?
    AL (from OZ)

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    1. Haven't had the Russells in a long time. So, cant really give any guidance there.

      The 101 has the most kick of them all and best bang for the buck.

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