By S.D. Peters
Hunter S. Thompson, native son of Kentucky and an original voice of journalism (and mildly exaggerated reason) in the latter 20th Century, enjoyed Wild Turkey. Is there a better advocate for the brand? Wild Turkey 101 Straight Rye, is not the Bourbon that Thompson enjoyed, but I think it would easily make top shelf in Duke Raoul’s library. There’s just something about it….
Wild Turkey, a product of the Austin Nichols distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY, is a moderate newcomer among the established and well-heeled whiskey brands. It’s origins are in a 1940 hunting trip, as you’ll learn from the blurb on the back of every bottle of Wild Turkey Bourbon. The brand’s first expression, it’s 80 Proof Bourbon, was introduced in in the tender year of 1974 – almost 40 years ago, true, but 40 years for most whiskeys is mere 1o or 20 batches of aged product. The 101 Rye is a newer entry but by now quite familiar entry in the Wild Turkey brand.
I’m partial to the taste of 100% rye, which tends to the perfect natural blend of spicy and sweet that always tips toward the spicy. Getting to that reward, however, often involves getting past the sometimes too distinct floral notes in the 100% rye nose. Ryes with a touch of corn tend to mellow or remove the floral essence. The trade-off is, corn-cut Ryes lean sweeter. With a mashbill of about 65% rye, 23% corn, and 12% barley, Wild Turkey 101 Rye finds a proper balance of grain: a respectful measure of spice, tempered by sweetness and sensibility. The 50.5 ABV content strikes the correct balance between spicy and sweet in the nose, on the palate, and well through the finish.
The 101 Rye is a rich brown-amber, redolent with peppercorn, spices, bitter chocolate, black raspberries, and a hint of mango. The higher ABV means “nose with care,” but it also tends to enhance the pleasures behind it. There’s a moderate burn, which a splash of water can ease, if you don’t mind dampening the spirit. Rather than numb the tongue, however, the burn infuses it with an earthy mix of spices, leather, grass, oak, and berries. The bitter chocolate nudges its way back in near the end, and lingers into a mildly biting but long, satisfying finish, where hints of white pepper, black raspberry, and blackberry wrapped in a light oak bark relax in the sunset.
Unfortunately, Wild Turkey 101 Straight Rye is absent from store shelves now.* In part to appeal to cocktail drinkers who are driving the Rye trend (much to the chagrin of neat Rye drinkers like me), Austin-Nichols “tamed” its Wild Turkey Straight Rye into an 81 Proof expression, and that’s the one you’ll find on the shelf these days. In the absence of the 101 Rye in stores, Austin-Nichols’ Russell’s Reserve Rye, at 96 Proof, is a better choice than reduced-proof Wild Turkey Straight Rye. The 101 can still be found, albeit in limited availability, through some online retailers. The price can still range from $15-$25, much as it did in brick and mortar stores.
* Wild Turkey Rye was withdrawn in 2012 and reintroduced in 2014, once the company’s supply had caught up with demand.