Producing whiskey is often a balancing act. Questions are considered at damn-near every step of the process, from the grains used in the mash bill to the final bottling proof and everything in-between (spoiler: it’s a lot). Simply making a bourbon can be an involved process, but as soon as we factor in the wildcard that is finishing, a whole other dimension comes into play. Many distillers have noticed and continue to embrace this extra, sometimes contentious step. Why is finishing contentious? A number of individuals believe that finishing is often used to mask an otherwise subpar base. There’s seemingly no shortage of casks that previously held flavorful alcohol to go around, so if they can influence a whiskey in a way that softens out the rough edges, then why not go for it?
To be clear, finished whiskey has been embraced not just by producers, but by consumers. It’s a big reason why we continue to see so much of it. And if you have any doubts, might I direct your attention to the new Boss Hog by Whistlepig? Releases like that take the idea of finished whiskey and sprint forth with intent. And depending on who you ask, the very prospect is either exciting or bewildering. Or both.
If we wind the clocks back to just four years ago, one of the most bizarre ideas brought to market was a little release curated by Eddie Russell. Revival, the third entry in the Master’s Keep line by Wild Turkey, was a bourbon finished in Oloroso sherry casks. That’s the short version. To be more precise, Revival takes its name from being the second Wild Turkey release finished in sherry casks—the first was Sherry Signature from 2000, which Jimmy Russell oversaw. Part of what made both Sherry Signature and Revival so significant was that the finishing casks held sherry for 20 years. Most sherry casks are said to be aged for single-digit years. Couple this with a bourbon aged 12-15 years and you have the recipe for an expression that made many a whiskey drinker scratch their heads upon release.
Since then, Revival has seen a slight resurgence in acclaim from those who’ve tried it, including enthusiast extraordinaire David Jennings (aka Rarebird101). Part of this can almost certainly be credited to the sheer ubiquity of finished whiskeys these days, with varieties of sherry being among the more popular. Speaking personally, I find most finished bourbons to be less than compelling. This is especially so with the more unusual casks, which seem to clash with the base spirit and lead to either shrugging or head-scratching. As a result, I’d consider myself a skeptic. So the idea of using nicely aged bourbon with especially well aged sherry had me apprehensive, if nothing else. Yet the reality?
Nose: Initially bourbon-forward, but the sherry quickly makes its presence known. Big time black currant with a slightly musty, vague tobacco undertone. Accents of orange peel and almond; fruitcake-like but far richer. Combines the soul of perfectly aged bourbon (vanilla, toffee notes) with the uniquely appropriate flair of sherry (raisins). Layered and intriguing. I could smell this for an hour and not get bored.
Palate: Rich, flavorful, and super viscous. Checks so many boxes at once. Bit of bright fruit and brown sugar upfront swiftly followed by vanilla cream, dark fruit basket (emphasis on raspberries and currant), and toffee. Perfect presence of oak in a way that the tannins are noticeable without registering as tannic. A degree of almond butter and chocolate dessert; imagine warm, melting vanilla ice cream on top of a fudgy brownie with tons of dark, drippy fruits and some toffee for good measure.
Finish: Long, flavorful, and gradually closes out in a way that feels natural and fulfilling. Fruit notes feel a bit brighter and more tangible compared to the symphony of flavor that is the palate. Lingering black currant and caramel complemented by luxardo cherry, raisin, vanilla, and brown sugar. Tangible but far from overbearing dry sensation.
The reality is that this stuff is magical. I generally don’t place much weight into the notion that bottles of whiskey “open up,” even those that I’ve held onto for a couple or so years. Yet Revival has proven to be a gleaming exception, and I’m so glad it is. Initial pours made the base whiskey and its finishing component feel like they were at ends with each other, as if they were fighting for the spotlight. So I shelved it while exploring more whiskeys, including (but not limited to) scotch and Irish. I should also point out that when I purchased Revival, I was still iffy on sherry-influenced products, since I often got sulfuric notes on them (looking at you, Lasanta). Since then, however, I’ve greatly warmed up to sherry casks. It’s to the point that sherry is now my preferred maturation cask for world whisky.
To say that this growing fondness has led to a subsequent appreciation and enjoyment of Revival would almost certainly be an understatement. Now each time I return to this Master’s Keep I find myself utterly won over. The nose serves as an appropriate appetize for the overall experience, indicating the distinct layers contained within. Yet like a good film trailer, it doesn’t overshare the details. Then the first sip comes. Remember how I said whiskey is often a balancing act? Revival, for my palate, is balanced to perfection. So much richness comes in swinging without ever slipping into the realm of overindulgence. Bourbon’s innately sweet profile combined with Oloroso sherry might sound like a recipe for sensory overload, but I think somewhere between the elevated aging and Eddie’s proven tasting prowess, a delicate line was seized. Part of me wishes this was more common in other whiskeys, but the fact it isn’t means Revival stands out that much more.
Unique, layered, deep, complex, and absolutely delightful in every facet, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival is peak treasure bottle material. An absolute must-try for anyone even remotely interested in a whiskey of this nature.