By Richard Thomas
This year whenever one speaks to someone from Wild Turkey or sees an item in the news about the brand there is often some reference to “The Year of Jimmy,” this being Master Distiller Jimmy Russell’s 60th year at the Austin Nichols Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. To celebrate Wild Turkey released their Diamond Edition bourbon, which paradoxically celebrates Russell by departing from his signature style.
Much of what Wild Turkey does represents Russell’s personal taste in bourbon: middle aged, but not actually old, and high proof, but not so high as to be “cask strength.” Just look at the flagship, Wild Turkey 101.
Bottled at 91 proof (45.5% abv), this bourbon is several alcohol points below what I would call the Turkey standard. Also, the bourbon is a blend of 13 to 16 year olds, whereas Russell himself draws the line at 12 years. A creation of Jimmy’s son and deputy Eddie, Wild Turkey Diamond is a definitely Wild Turkey, but a very different creature from the distillery’s norm.
The lower proof shows right off the bat, because for a reasonably aged bourbon Wild Turkey Diamond isn’t deep, dark amber. In the glass it has a bright, light copper appearance. This is the second departure from what one might have been expecting, and that trend keeps on going from there.
For an older bourbon, the nose is surprisingly un-oaky. The wood is there, but only a trace of it, and in the Wild Turkey style, its at least as cedary as it is oaky. Instead, the scent is predominately floral and sweet, seasoned with vanilla and rye spices.
On the palate the whiskey has a silky texture, but the flavor is spicy and even peppery on the top, with a current of citrus sweetness underneath. The cedar and oak are still there and have become much more noticeable, but are still very much part of the supporting cast. The finish is long and warm, but curiously light. It is in the finish that the woody side finally comes to the fore, leaving a dry, toasty wood aftertaste.
The Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary bourbon has met with a full range of responses from the drinks community these last several months. For the reviewers who panned it, I think the problem is either that the reviewer isn’t really a whiskey drinker or that they expected this bourbon to come out as something like Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year Old.
If you take the bourbon on its own merits, what you have is the oldest thing Wild Turkey has ever put out, and rendered in a lighter style. If you like your premium bourbon done light, say like Basil Hayden, this is definitely the thing for you.
Wild Turkey Diamond is technically a limited edition, although a big one of about 14,000 cases shipped between the U.S. and international markets. Since the official release was this month, there should be plenty available for some time to come. The suggested retail price is $125.