Wild Turkey is seldom the first brand to come to mind when discussing rye whiskey. Perhaps it’s befitting, since Master Distiller Jimmy Russell rarely engaged with the category as a whole. Even so, rye continues to benefit from the bourbon boom since the two are frequently lumped together. One reason is the existence of “barely legal” ryes, referring to whiskeys that just barely meet the mash bill requirement of 51% rye (or a couple percentage points higher). These are often recommended to bourbon fans looking to branch out, since barely legal ryes tend to utilize corn for the secondary grain, making them a good transitional option.
This is exactly the case with Wild Turkey 101 Rye, effectively a sibling to the celebrated 101 Bourbon. Unlike its more popular counterpart, 101 Rye hasn’t enjoyed as much acclaim, partially due to its spotty availability. That appears to be changing, however, since bottles of it have started popping up in more areas locally, even before the most recent design overhaul. Between my current bottle getting low and the fact I recently reviewed 101 Bourbon, I’d say now is the right time to give this rye whiskey its due diligence:
Nose: Slightly dry. Heavily honeyed and herbal tea with notes of basil, anise, and clove. Thin layer of caramel, soft orange, and a dusty nut presence throughout. Maybe a touch of black pepper.
Palate: Medium mouthfeel with some nice silkiness. All-in on that honeyed tea flavor upfront, along with mint and licorice. Mid to back palates are drier, boasting a mild combination of orange peel and pepper, complemented by a nice hug.
Finish: Slightly drying and effervescent. Breezes of lemon, pepper, light brown sugar, and mint. Somewhat anticlimactic.
Have to say I’m rather impressed—101 Rye makes for a stellar pour, one that all but begs to be integrated into cocktails. The barely-dominant rye grain grants the whiskey a slightly herbal quality to go hand-in-hand with the dry, somewhat nutty profile that most Wild Turkey fans are accustomed to. 101 Rye does lack the benefit of aging that its sibling reaps, but I’d argue that the rye-based notes are a better complement to the qualities that make Wild Turkey what it is.
If it isn’t obvious by now, I’ll just say it: I prefer 101 Rye to 101 Bourbon. I find it an easier pour, both with regards to pulling out individual flavors and deriving overall enjoyment. The cherry on top is that availability seems to be growing while pricing is practically interchangeable with its corny counterpart. This is even more surprising to me since I wasn’t the biggest fan of Rare Breed Rye. Could it be a sign that I prefer certain Wild Turkey expressions at a not-quite-cask-strength proof point? Jury’s still out on that. What I can say with almost complete certainty is that I’ve found a new favorite as far as strong, affordable rye whiskey goes.