30 Days of Wild Turkey: Day 1 (Wild Turkey 80 Review)

Chapter 1, Part 1:

Over the month of November 2017, Flight Club will be bringing you “30 Turkeys in 30 days.”  Each day, we will post a review of a different Wild Turkey product.  Throughout that journey, we will provide you with background information on the company, the products, and the people behind the products, all of which we hope create a better understanding of what Wild Turkey brings to the world of bourbon.  A table of contents for each of these posts can be found here.

In this first chapter, we bring you some background information on the company and the distillery, along with the evolution of the standard offering 80/81/101 proof products.   In this Chapter 1, Part 1, we will also bring you review of a circa 2003 bottling of Wild Turkey 80 proof.

Company Background:

Distillation at or near the current Wild Turkey distillery site (official now called The Wild Turkey Distilling Co., a division of Campari Group) began as early as the 1850’s, when the Old Moore distillery was built.  However, the lineage from today’s Wild Turkey to that facility is limited to geography alone.   The real origins of Wild Turkey begin with Thomas B. Ripy, who would build his own distillery, the Clover Bottom Distillery, nearby the Old Moore distillery in around 1881.  Then, in 1888, Thomas B. Ripy would buy the Old Moore Distillery.  Ripy would demolish the Old Moore Distillery in around 1891, and in its place he built the Old Hickory Springs Distillery.

Ripy would grow his whiskey empire with additional distillery acquisitions.  However, Ripy would die in 1902, and his distillery assets would be placed into a corporation, The Kentucky Distillers and Warehouse Co.   Prohibition would soon hit, nearly shutting the company down (but for some limited medicinal production, which would be sold through the Austin, Nichols company, a wholesale grocer and liquor supplier).

Fast forward to the repeal of Prohibition, when The Kentucky Distillers and Warehouse Co. would rehabilitate and modernize the distillery on the current site (the site where the Old Moore and Old Hickory Springs distilleries once sat), and would name it the Ripy Brothers Distillery.  The company primarily produced whiskey products that would be sold to distributors, who would bottle under their own brands.  One of those brands would be the “Old Ripy Bros.” whiskey that will be featured in a later chapter.

The name “Wild Turkey” originates from in the 1940’s and is instrumental in the company’s development to the current day.   Austin, Nichols (the above referenced wholesale grocer and liquor distributor, who in the late 1930’s abandoned all but the liquor business) distributed Ripy Brothers Distillery product.   During an annual turkey hunt, one of Austin, Nichol’s executives (Thomas McCarthy) served friends some undiluted 101 proof whiskey pulled from the Ripy Brothers Distillery.  The friends started calling it the “wild turkey” and would soon insist upon more of the product.  With that, the Austin, Nichols company created the Wild Turkey brand and started marketing the product (more on that product below).

The Ripy family would be bought out from the distillery in 1949, but would continue to supply Austin, Nichols with Wild Turkey product (Austin, Nichols in fact sourced the Wild Turkey product from many distilleries over the years, but the Ripy Brothers Distillery was always a primary source).  In the early 1970’s Austin, Nichols would buy the distillery.  It had been again renamed as the Boulevard Distillery, but the Austin, Nichols company would rename it after Wild Turkey.

In 1980, the Austin, Nichols company and distilley were purchased by Pernod Ricard.  In 2009, Pernod Ricard sold those assets to the Campari Group.

In 2011, a new distillery was built near the site of the existing facility.  Over a period from around 2000 until 2013, all bottling would take place off site.

[Author’s Note:  A special thanks to Whiskey ID and The Rare Bird for the helpful resources.]

Wild Turkey 80

The Wild Turkey 80, 81 and 101 proof products.

The original “Wild Turkey” product created after the aforementioned Austin Nichols’ executives’ turkey hunt was the Wild Turkey 101.  It was officially launched in 1942.

Sometime prior to 1973, Wild Turkey had launched an 86.8 proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  In 1974, that product was discontinued in favor of an 80 proof product.  In 2011, that 80 proof whiskey would be abandoned, in favor of an 81 proof product.  Many sources point to the 80 proof product having been a blend of 4-year bourbons, while the newer 81 proof is a blend of 6-8 year bourbons.  It is suspected by most that the current 81 proof is simply further diluted Wild Turkey 101.

Over the decades since its introduction, the 101 proof product has evolved to include 12 year bottlings, 8 year bottlings and the current (domestically released) non-age stated bottlings.  Other products have been released as well (such as a currently available 13 year release).  1992 was the last year of 8-year age stated Wild Turkey 101 in the U.S. (It is still sold as an 8-year age stated bourbon in some international markets).  For the next 7 years, the U.S. release would be called the “Old No. 8 Brand.”  That practice ceased n 1999.  The 12-year domestic Wild Turkey release would be discontinued in around 1999 (it would be fully discontinued in 2013).  Today, only the 101 proof non-age stated bottle is available in the U.S.  It is said to be a blend of 6-8 year bourbons.

Wild Turkey 80 Review (circa 2002) (Sampled by Scott Hill and Stephen Netherton)

Wild Turkey 80

Nose:  Immediately there is a whiff of alcohol that comes across as much stronger than a mere 80 proof.  It isn’t all an offensive acetone (although there is a hint there), but the heat is nonetheless prevalent.  Behind the initial burn, the dusty/musty dry oak comes forward – reminding us of sawdust from an old tree, combined with a freshly opened bag of potting soil.  Once the pour opened up with a little time, rich butterscotch/caramel and dried tangerine appear.  At just 80 proof you do have to hunt to find some of these enjoyable notes.  (3.5/5)

Palate:  Not as flavorful as the nose would imply.  Initially the palate is cool and muted, but black and red pepper appear mid-palate, with grainy rye spice trailing.  This begs for a heavier body.  (2/5)

Finish:  Blink and you missed it.  Tannic.  Chemical flavors, like wood vanish.  Some redeeming apricot fruit leather. (1.5/5)

Overall:  This is one where we are glad we don’t simply average the scores from the nose, palate and  finish to arrive at an overall score.  While the palate and the finish on the Wild Turkey 80 (circa 2002) are disappointing, the nose is quite pleasing.  Recognizing the utility of an 80 proof pour and the rich butterscotch and musty dry oak on the nose, this is one I would happily pick up again.  (3/5)

Value: This is a discontinued bottle, and we don’t have a clue what it sold for when originally released.  We picked it up for $22 locally in the past year.  Given the pleasing nose and discontinued status, we are satisfied with the purchase. (4/5)

“While the palate and the finish on the Wild Turkey 80 (circa 2002) are disappointing, the nose is quite pleasing.  Recognizing the utility of an 80 proof pour and the rich butterscotch and musty dry oak on the nose, this is one I would happily pick up again.”

Scott Hill

Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.

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