A friend recently shared a pour of a hard-to-find whiskey – Wild Turkey 101 Rye. Following some scarcity about a decade ago, and afterwards a distillery-find only, this great rendition is beginning to return to store shelves.
If you can believe it, prior to Prohibition, rye whiskey outsold bourbon throughout the United States. Much of what was made during those days came from Pennsylvania and many great distilleries ceased operations in the dark days of whiskey during the 1970s and 1980s. Going back to the days of pioneers, when crops would be turned into liquid currency for easier shipping, farmers made whiskey with what grew well in local markets. Hence, Kentucky made corn-based whiskey and Pennsylvania made rye whiskey. To this day, you’ll find that several Pennsylvania and Ohio bourbons and whiskeys, while primarily corn, often trend towards a higher rye content, reflecting the local palate profile.
Pre- and post-Prohibition, only a handful of distilleries have consistently produced rye whiskeys – Jim Beam (Jim Beam Rye, Old Overholt, Knob Creek Rye), Heaven Hill (Rittenhouse and Pikesville), Sazerac (Sazerac Rye) and Wild Turkey. We’d be remiss not to mention some outstanding ryes made by MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, George Dickel Rye). In the past few years, Brown-Forman has added ryes to its Woodford Reserve and Old Forester brands. Today, Wild Turkey produces 3 ryes – Wild Turkey 81 Rye, Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Rye, and Wild Turkey 101 Rye.
While Wild Turkey’s other ryes are somewhat tame at 81 proof (Wild Turkey 81) and 90 proof (Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Rye), this expression is a hearty 101 proof. The mash bill is 52% rye, 35% corn, and 12% malted barley. It is generally thought to be a blend of 4-5-year-old rye whiskeys.
Eye: Amber Copper
Nose: Vanilla and nutmeg spice. A very traditional rye nose. There was a trace of mint and lemon, as well.
Palate: Vanilla with more nutmeg and pepper spice. This is surprisingly good, but it doesn’t seem to have the sweetness and vanilla-forwardness of some other recently introduced ryes, such as Old Forester Rye.
Finish: Smooth with dry, oaky spice. This is warming with char, pepper, and lemon zest.
Overall: I’ve said it before – I’m a reluctant rye guy. That being said – I’ve typically enjoyed one once I’ve poured it. Typically, it’s not the first thing I reach for, but for a change of pace, this is an excellent rye whiskey if you can find this on the shelf. Wild Turkey 81 is readily found, but I’d lean towards the Russell’s 6 Year Rye for additional proof that will hold up to ice or an Old Fashioned. If you come across this rare bird, grab one to enjoy and impress your friends with stories of liquid currency used by farmers in ages past.