Wild Turkey might be both the best and worst-kept secret in the bourbon industry. Spend any length of time watching videos, reading reviews, or partaking in online discussions and you’re bound to notice several folks sing high praise for the brand and its many expressions. The last two years added a considerable boost to the collective interest in Wild Turkey, between the prestigious Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond and One, the long-awaited Rare Breed Rye, and the coveted Russell’s Reserve 13-Year. Yet the long-established lineup remains on shelves, oftentimes passed up in favor of fancier, more limited bottlings.
This is in contrast to the direction bourbon has gone as America’s celebrated spirit seems to gain more and more popularity with each passing day. At the same time, this very scenario seems to reaffirm the seemingly archaic view that the best whiskey is the one you can reliably find and afford. In the case of Wild Turkey 101, the distillery’s flagship and self-proclaimed “time-honored icon,” many argue that few whiskeys (if any) can compete when all factors are considered. This review has been a long time coming, so let’s get into it:
Nose: Baking spice-forward with some light brown sugars and a touch of vanilla cream. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and a nice sprinkling of white pepper. Seasoned oak is the description that springs to mind.
Palate: Moderate mouthfeel. Allspice backbone with pepper and brown sugar. Caramel and nut butter soon work their way in, elevating the overall level of sweetness.
Finish: Good length. Caramel residuals linger and give way to cardamom and a bit of pepper that perseveres—comes across a touch savory.
As with many drinkers, I wasn’t too fond of Wild Turkey on my first go. I’ve come to enjoy the likes of Rare Breed bourbon, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, and even the oft-maligned Longbranch. 101, however, just never stuck the landing for me. As a result, I put it off with the secret hope that an inevitable revisit might make me “see the light.” After all, 101 boasts many appealing qualities: its barrel entry proof is below the required limit at 115, it’s aged 6-8 years, is widely available, and carries a wallet-friendly price tag of $20-$25. With all those factors considered, it’d be easy to go into the final product and ask, “what’s the catch?” For me, 101 always came across as spicy and difficult to fully enjoy, unless combined with a nice helping of Coke (which 101 is my favorite option for). So what do I think of 101 now, having revisited it neat?
I can confidently say it’s grown on me, especially in the wake of other expressions helping me acclimate to Wild Turkey’s more spice-forward personality. The first sip feels like an alarm clock for the palate thanks to the allspice and pepper notes, which get dialed back just a bit over the course of subsequent sips. This is when sweeter notes come into the picture and ultimately balance things out. It isn’t quite to the point that I’d say the two achieve equilibrium, which I think is part of the reason I struggled to fully warm up to 101 in the first place. This is still true, but it’s to a far lesser extent. I finally find myself enjoying the pour and even getting glimpses into the bourbon’s greater potential, which bottlings such as the aforementioned Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, and Master’s Keep can (and often do) achieve. The same can’t always be said of other entry-level bourbons.
I’ve previously used the word “balance” to describe whiskeys that feel well composed but lack a defining characteristic or personality. Wild Turkey 101 isn’t one of those examples. Instead, this is a bourbon intended for those who favor whiskey with a louder, more confident edge, all while fitting well within the budget. Even if it’s not my favorite bottle in the Wild Turkey lineup, I struggle to think of any other bourbon that delivers this good of an experience while effectively checking every single box.