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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
© Jason Debly, 2010. All rights reserved.