Wild Turkey 101: Blue Collar Hellfire or Sophisticated Gem in Hiding?


Wild Turkey is a bourbon that comes to mind when you think of hillbillies in Kentucky getting into a bar fight over who wins the cousin’s hand in marriage. It’s the kind of brand that you reminisce about when you see dive bars, underage drinking, and smoke filled billiard rooms full of bikers and Marlboro reds. It’s the kind of bourbon that people post videos of on youtube trying to light it on fire (apparently .5% more ABV than standard bottled in bond makes a bourbon pure gasoline, I read it on the internet so it’s definitely true.) It’s the kind of bourbon that the gruff, slightly racist, outdoorsy/redneck anti-hero swigs straight from the bottle before sacrificing himself for the rest of the group. It’s the kind of bourbon you find in a deer hunter’s flask at 4 am on a cold, foggy morning.

Despite all of the imagery associated with Wild Turkey, what WT101 is more than anything is a master crafted, affordable luxury. It’s a brand that never gave up who it was, because unlike others in the industry it remembered what it was. Wild Turkey 101 is Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and unapologetically so. Wild Turkey is handcrafted product, shaped and guided for over half a century by the same master distiller: Jimmy Russell. It is aged in barrels with “alligator” char: intense heavy charring that adds to the depth and flavor of the whiskey. It is a bourbon that Hunter S. Thompson preferred, a staple of Kentucky culture, and a uniquely American treasure. When Red Dawn happens, I’m going out with the only gun I still own, a Mosin-Nagant from WWII and a bottle of Wild Turkey (chances are that will be a quick exit).

Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
101 Proof (50.5% abv)

Tasting Notes:

Deep and spicy, almost reminiscent of Texas pit BBQ spices, tangy and sweet, soft corn, black pepper, faint vanilla, warm white sugar

Spicy but comfortable nose, the pit spices dominate, but not unpleasantly so This sets the stage for a unique pour. The label states, “Real Kentucky”, the nose is, “Real Wild Turkey”. Unmistakeable.

Very smooth vanilla on the front palate, sticky syrup. Give it only a moment before the spices take hold, Wild Turkey blazes across your palate like a tiny prickly army charging across your tongue. Hot, sweet, and savory with lingering burn. The alligator char really gives this bourbon character. The Texas pit spices from the nose anchor themselves at the back of the tongue and make your mouth water as they flex their muscle and fade to cinnamon.

Red pepper flakes and black pepper coat the tongue and glow like Christmas lights. Barrel char, dry oak, prickly sweetness, oily with beautiful lingering spice.

This is a rye forward, heavily charred masterpiece. It’s completely and uniquely bourbon at its purest. Despite the role this brand has played in popular culture, this is anything but a rough neck’s delight. Wild Turkey 101 is a blast to sip, a masterful execution of exactly what great bourbon should be. I commend Jimmy and Eddie on a truly superior mid-shelf product.

9.2 (Excellent)

“Maybe there is no Heaven. Or maybe this is all pure gibberish—a product of the demented imagination of a lazy drunken hillbilly with a heart full of hate who has found a way to live out where the real winds blow—to sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whisky, and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind except falling in love and not getting arrested . . . Res ipsa loquitur. Let the good times roll.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80’s

Until next time, drink up, you have the bridge.