Wild Turkey Longbranch, 101 & Rare Breed
It's bourbon time here on CCWR, a whisky territory not often reviewed here and so I felt it was time to correct that. It's not that I have anything against bourbon per se, I mean good aul Uncle Jack (don't judge me...we all have to start somewhere) did lead me down this whisky wormhole, but I have felt that bourbons are very much a variation on a theme. Overly sweet, wood driven and spicy, bourbons definitely just never feel as complex as single malts or single pot stills (cue the Bourbon Pitchfork Brigade!).
Of course I'm open to being proved wrong on this sweeping generalisation of mine so I'm going to try and broaden my bourbon and rye horizons over the next while and see if there is anything out there that really will float my boat. And there are always exceptions to the rule such as an incredible Buffalo Trace I got to try from The Last Drop Distillers.
For today's review we are looking at a trio from Wild Turkey. Based in Lawrenceberg, Kentucky, there has been a distillery on WIld Turkey Hill since 1869. The bourbon though apparently wasn't named Wild Turkey until 1940 when a distillery executive shared his bourbon with friends on an annual hunting trip....and of course they were hunting wild turkey.
Wild Turkey are famous for their father and son Master Distilling team of Jimmy and Eddie Russell, Jimmy being known as 'the Buddha of Bourbon' given his 60 year career at Wild Turkey. Starting off sweeping floors he learned his craft under the guiding eyes of Bill Hughes and Ernest W Ripy Jr, Wild Turkey's second Master Distiller. Eddie joined Wild Turkey in 1981 and like Jimmy started with very menial jobs before working his way to production supervisor, warehouse supervisor and eventually Master Distiller in 2015. There are no short cuts it seems at Wild Turkey.
Wild Turkey are unusual in the bourbon world in that they only use one mash bill for all their products. 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% malted barley. Apparently they also bring their spirit off the stills at a low proof which allows the casks to impart more barrel flavours during aging.
The first of the expressions we'll look at is the Longbranch. In 2016 Matthew McConaughey joined the Wild Turkey team as Creative Director and in 2018 Longbranch was released. What differentiates it from other WT releases is the charcoal filtration. It's a two step process, first using charcoal made from American white oak and then second, using charcoal made from Texas mesquite wood. It's bottled at a relatively low proof of 86 or 43% abv. Although it has no age statement it is apparently 8 years old. It's widely available for around £42 a bottle.
Next up is the flagship bourbon from Wild Turkey, the 101. This comes out of the barrel at 109 proof, so while not exactly a barrel proof whisky it doesn't require much watering down to get to the desired proof. They also only use level 4 charred casks to help create the colour and flavour profile they desire. This is a vatting of 6 - 8 year old bourbons. Again this is widely available for around £35.
Finally we'll try the Rare Breed. Introduced in 1991 this was one of the first barrel proof bourbons to enter the market. This is a vatting of 6 year old, 8 year old and 12 year old bourbons and there have been over 11 batches releases since it's inception. They used to have batch numbers but now the batch can be ascertained by the individual proof. This batch is the 116.8 proof or 58.4% abv expression and can be found for around £55.
Wild Turkey Longbranch 43%
Nose: A very sweet nose - caramel, vanilla, fudge. Then sweet cinnamon and nutmeg plus rich oak. There's a vegetal note here too alongside cherry, menthol and orange peel.
Palate: Quite light on arrival - cream soda and root beer, caramel, orange zest and a little rye spice of clove and cinnamon. Charred oak and some orchard fruit.
Finish: A decent length with oak, cask char, warming spices and sweet caramel.
Score: 5 out of 10
|picture courtesy of Master of Malt|
Wild Turkey 101 50.5% abv
Nose: Peppermint, rye, vanilla, caramel. A little alcohol gives way to toasted oak, fennel and shoe polish. Some cherry alongside cinnamon and new leather.
Palate: Surprisingly gentle for a 50% abv dram. A nice oily texture that presents corn syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and woody oak notes with mild peppery spice and peppermint.
Finish: A little on the short side with the rye spice lingering and then vanilla and drying oak.
Score: 6 out of 10
Wild Turkey Rare Breed 58.4%
Nose: This smells sweet, dark and intense. Vanilla fudge, cinnamon and nutmeg. Red apples, glace cherries, liquorice, toasted oak and leather. A cigar box too. Time brings a little apple brandy note and dark chocolate.
Palate: Again a viscous, oily texture but at first sip that Abv is pretty apparent. Sweet & spicy - burnt caramel, rye spice, leather and butter cream. Savoury & bready with some liquorice and orange zest. Cask char and ripe red apples build with each sip.
Finish: Plenty of oak tannins, citrus peel and sweet cinnamon
Score: 7 out of 10
Overall: Well this has been an enjoyable romp through the Wild Turkey core range with at least two of these that I will buy again. It also highlights that bourbon isn't always bore-bon.
The Longbranch would be a good starting point for those new to bourbon with the low-ish abv making it very approachable. It's pretty well balanced, sweet, fresh and just enough spice to make it worth going back for another sip. However, it's up against Buffalo Trace that can be had for nearly half the price and would probably be my go to over this.
The Wild Turkey 101 definitely brings more to the table. It's punchy enough with plenty of spice without over powering the palate. The short finish let's it down a little but for the money there is little to complain about here.
Of the three expressions, for me the Rare Breed is where it's at. This is a cracking bourbon. Oily, rich and feels a little decadent this is a whisky that is superb value for money in my eyes and a bottle that I will definitely buy again.
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