Back in 2012, Wild Turkey and parent company Campari announced that stocks of the beloved, high-quality, low-cost Wild Turkey 101 Rye were running low and the expression was to be heavily allocated. Predictably, it didn’t take long for pretty much all of the 101 Rye to disappear. I have first hand knowledge of this because I spent the first 2/3 of 2012 preoccupied with a cross-country move, and the last 1/3 of 2012 discovering that there was no more Wild Turkey 101 Rye anywhere in the vicinity of Minneapolis, MN.
While the 101 rye took a few deep breaths and pulled itself together, Wild Turkey and Campari released the Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey to help fill the void. This one reportedly uses the same minimum rye mashbill as the 101 does, but what that mashbill is exactly, isn’t exactly public knowledge. Some online sources claim the recipe is 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% barley, whereas Gaz and Mardee Regan’s 1995 tome, The Book of Bourbon, lists a 65% rye, 23% corn, 12% barley mashbill. A few years ago, Chuck Cowdery received confirmation from Eddie Russell and Wild Turkey that their rye mashbill contained more than 51% rye, but nothing more specific than that. So who knows, and possibly more importantly, who really cares? It is also, as far as I know, matured in barrels made with a very Wild Turkey-esque #4 char, the highest standard char in the industry. Before it flew off the shelves in 2012, the 101 Rye was on shelves at the obscenely good price of around $20-$25. It has since returned to the shelves, but is now clocking in around $40, proving to everyone that Campari and Wild Turkey have mastered the technique of disappearing an expression, slotting in a new, lesser expression at the same price to take its place, and then reintroducing a revamped version of the original expression with a price double what it once was.
The Nose: Quite sweet and more than a little sharp. There’s generic honey , vanilla syrup, and Kosher orange slice candies initially, but there’s also a good amount of inadvertently fermented apple cider. The rye is subtle to such an extent that I wonder if I’m actually drinking a rye whiskey – just a faint, toasty spiciness and hint of pickled ginger. Behind that, sturdy oak notes with cinnamon and ground pepper. Unfortunately, there’s also a hot whiff of solvent that floats over it all.
The Palate: Hot-ish and sharp, but much better than the nose. Still fairly sweet with honey, vanilla syrup, and juicy orange. The rye is more pronounced, peppery and sharp with hints of well-toasted bread. Quite a bit of oak for what I’m assuming is a younger whiskey. There’s edgy, grippy tannins, crushed peppercorns, raw ginger, cinnamon, and a bit of barrel char towards the end.
The Finish: Hot, spicy, and astringent. Citrus and honey fade quickly leaving cinnamon, tannic oak, vanilla extract, and barely there hints of rye.
Thoughts: Pretty disappointing, really. This is a rye that’s dominated not by rye, but by harsh youth, sweetness, and oak. The nose is just too full of solvent-y notes to make me think more highly of the whiskey. The palate is ok, perhaps a little over-oaked and a little underwhelming, but ok…sadly, you have to get past the nose first. For that reason, I would not recommend this as a sipper. It works alright in cocktails, but it’s both edgy and a little dull – there are definitely better, more expressive bourbons and ryes in this price range ($20-$25). Hell, Old Overcoat…er, Overholt Rye comes across as more smooth, and balanced than this one for around $8 less a bottle. Fairly (or barely) average stuff.
- Cowdery, Chuck. “Wild Turkey 101 Rye Is Back, Sort Of.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog, 26 Nov. 2013, chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2013/11/wild-turkey-101-rye-is-back-sort-of.html. Accessed Sept. 2017.
- Cowdery, Chuck. “Secret Mash Bills Are Stupid.” The Chuck Cowdery Blog, 14 May 2014, chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2014/05/secret-mash-bills-are-stupid.html. Accessed 1 Sept. 2017.
- Regan, Gary, and Mardee Haidin Regan. The Book of Bourbon and Other Fine American Whiskeys. Shelburne, VT: Chapters Pub., 1995. Print.