Wild Turkey 81 (Kentucky Straight Bourbon)
Review: Wild Turkey 81 (Kentucky Straight Bourbon) 86.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Published September 03, 2015
Wild Turkey produces their bourbon from a mash bill which includes three grains: corn, barley, and rye. This mashbill is said to have a relatively high proportion of rye which gives the whiskey brand its signature spicy kick. The new flagbearer for the brand, Wild Turkey 81 (Kentucky Straight Bourbon) has recently replaced Austin Nichols Wild Turkey Bourbon in the Wild Turkey line-up here in Alberta. This bourbon spirit, rather than being bottled at the regular 40 % alcohol by volume is instead bottled at a slightly higher proof, 40.5% alcohol by volume or 81 proof hence the name Wild Turkey 81.
According to the Wild Turkey website, this flagship whiskey is meant to be a mixing spirit. In fact the website describes Wild Turkey 81 as,
“an everyday whiskey that can stand up to any mixer or in any cocktail with the bold, in-your-face taste that is distinctively Wild Turkey.”
Although the spirit carries no age statement, the producer’s website informs us that this Kentucky Straight Bourbon is aged for approximately six to eight years in what the company refers to as their ‘famous #4 alligator char‘ American Oak barrels.
In the Bottle 4/5
The Austin Nichols Wild Turkey Bourbon arrives in a standard bar-room whisky bottle shown to the left. These bottles are meant to be easy to grab, easy to hold, and most importantly, easy to pour. The label with its iconic ‘Wild Turkey’ logo makes the whiskey easy to recognize on the barshelf, and to add touch of class, the bottle is sealed with a plastic topped cork closure.
My only major quibble is with the faded orange on beige colour scheme which seems to lack ‘pop’.
In the Glass 9/10
In the glass, the Wild Turkey 81 bourbon when poured shows us a colour which has just started to turn that corner from a golden straw colour towards a darker amber. When I tilt my glass and give it a slow twirl I see some of the whiskey falling back quickly into the bottom of the glass along thickened legs, and I also see some more stubborn leglets which form. thick droplets which crawl more slowly back down.
The initial breezes above the glass bring forward a sweetened butterscotch note wrapped in oak and cedar spice. Scents of vanilla and honeycomb come forward mingling in the air with the fine wood spices creating an impression of light toffee. The spices grow in intensity and begin to throw off dry rye-like scents of ginger. There is also a dry graininess which reminds me of ripened grain fields. I like the rye-forward nose. It is assertive and seems to promise all the goodness of spicy rye tempered by just the right amount of butterscotch sweetness.
In the Glass 52/60
The Wild Turkey whiskey crosses the palate with a swat of spicy oak and bitter rye. There is a touch of butterscotch sweetness; but not nearly as much as what the nose promised. Although the whiskey is rye-forward, I also taste a strong presence of corn meandering alongside. The corn is not aggressive, however its presence is firm. Underneath I taste some hay-like grassiness, hints of poplar sap, and bits of dry tobacco. My impression at this point is that the whiskey will indeed fulfill the promise of the company website, and be a most satisfactory mixer. I would suggest however, that the whiskey (with perhaps a bit of ice added) also serves well as a satisfying (although somewhat dry and spicy) sipper. On a cool fall day, I can certainly see myself enjoying some Wild Turkey 81 on the rocks as I watch the leaves turn and fall from backyard trees as I enjoy myself on my back deck.
In the Throat 12.5/15
The exit is crisp and spicy featuring sap-like flavours settling into the lightly sweet butterscotch. This leaves little trails of baking spice (cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) glowing upon the palate and in the back of the throat. It’s quite nice, although I suspect the spiciness will be too strong for some as builds in intensity from sip to sip. That same spiciness however bodes well for cocktails.
The Afterburn 9/10
I am a huge fan of Canadian Rye Whisky, and so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I have found a lot to like in the rye-forward Wild Turkey 81 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Although the rye (and the wood spice) is dominant, there is a firm corn presence as well. I believe this corn presence has softened the whiskey just enough to make it approachable. I found I liked to sip the bourbon especially on cool nights; however it also fulfills the promise of the producer serving extremely well as a mixer in both short and tall cocktails (see my recipe below).
You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.
Here is a tall refreshing deck drink suitable for summer evenings with friends and family.
Honeylemon Ginger Julep
2 oz Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon
1 oz Wild Turkey Honey
1 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz sugar syrup (1:1 ratio)
a splash of ginger-ale to fill
Muddle 2 sprigs of mint with the sugar syrup in the bottom of a shaker
Add the Wild Turkey 81, the Wild Turkey Honey and the Lemon Juice
Shake over ice until the cocktail shaker frosts
Fine strain into a tall glass filled with ice
Complete with a splash of ginger-ale and stir
Garnish with another sprig of mint
Note: If you are interested in more of my original cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for more of my mixed drink recipes!
I am sometimes asked what my numbers actually mean. In order to provide clarification, you may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.
0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whiskey. Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.
Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and Bronze medal scale as follows:
70 – 79.5 Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5 Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95 Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+ Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)