30 Days of Wild Turkey: Day 31 (Wild Turkey Rye 101 (2017))

Wild Turkey

Chapter 7, Part 1:

For the second consecutive year, over the month of November, 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 and rye whiskey.  A table of contents for each of these posts can be found here.

We pick up where we left off in 2017. In Chapter 1 last year, we talked about the history of Wild Turkey, dating back to the Old Moore Distillery, through the days of Ripy Brothers Distillery, to the Austin Nichols days, to the current Campari owned Wild Turkey.  Today, we take a closer look at that history with a focus on Wild Turkey Rye.  In this seventh chapter, we will share reviews of current Wild Turkey 101 Rye along with two prior vintages.

Much of what we know and love about Wild Turkey relates to their storied history of bourbon. But the brand’s Rye itself dates back to the 1950’s. In the early days, the Rye (like the bourbon) was sourced, initially from Maryland sources, then later from Pennsylvania sources (like Michter’s, for instance), along with  Illinois. This continued through the late 1970’s. In 1974, Wild Turkey moved distillation of rye to Kentucky. From the late 1970’s and on, the Wild Turkey Ryes we enjoy should be directly produced by Wild Turkey using the current 51% rye, 37% corn, 12% barley mash bill. 

We are not overly familiar with the pre-Austin Nichols distilled rye products. But starting in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, Austin Nichols “Straight Rye” was a non-age stated, 101-proof bottling, distributed with a green and red label. Those early bottling were known as “Christmas Ryes” because of their label colors. This scheme continued at least through the early 1990’s.

The years 2004 and 2006 are as important for the rye as they were for the bourbon. In those years, Wild Turkey raised the barrel entry proof from 107 proof to 110 proof to 115 proof, for both the bourbons and the ryes.

Wild Turkey moved production in 2011.   The current bottling, aged 4-6 years, is now likely all produced at the new Lawrenceburg, Kentucky facility.  Versions from around 2015 and prior are likely all distilled at the old facility.  Anecdotally, our 2015 bottling that we will  review in Chapter 7, Part 2 only refers to production as “Bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, U.S.A.,” while the current bottling refers to “Distilled and Bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Co. Lawrenceburg, KY.”

The year 2012 is a key year in the Wild Turkey Rye line. In 2012, with an increase in rye demand, Wild Turkey ran low on rye product, and so it decided to limit/allocate the Wild Turkey 101 rye product. Since that time, through about 2017, Wild Turkey Rye was nearly impossible to find, at least in this market. In around 2017, the supply seemed to increase.

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

Wild Turkey Rye

Wild Turkey Rye 101 (2017) (Sampled by Scott Hill)

Nose: Initially herbal (dill and mint) and lightly floral, with rye and white pepper spice, along with some ginger; lemon citrus; red apple; caramel and vanilla; light cornbread; baking spice; some sugary sweetness; dry oak; a bit of ethanol burn. Compared to the 2015 bottling we will review tomorrow, this comes across younger and sweeter. (2.5/5)

Palate: Sharp herbal and rye spice; caramel and white sugar; chewy lemon bar; vanilla; black pepper; light orchard fruit; some decent baking spice. The proof starts to creep in on the end of the palate, giving your tongue a nice tingle. (3/5)

Finish: Continued sweet lemon flavors with a return of dill and mint; light leaf tobacco; vanilla; red apple. (3/5)

Overall: This competes nicely with mid $20 ryes, and the standard offering Wild Turkey 101 bourbon. Like the bourbon, this is solid and reliable. I’d say this lacks a little age, but overall I’m satisfied and would happily pour another. (3/5)

Value: Unfortunately, this isn’t priced as a mid $20 rye. I bought a 1 liter, but paid a bit more than $38. I’d like to see this priced about $10 cheaper (2/5)

“This competes nicely with mid $20 ryes, and the standard offering Wild Turkey 101 bourbon.”

Wild Turkey Rye

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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