Sunday, November 18, 2007

Last Night's Tipple

I write about Van Winkle whiskeys quite a bit, and they deserve to be written about. They've very good. If you look at what I buy and what I drink, you'll find that I buy a lot of Wild Turkey; and for good reason: they make some excellent whiskey, too. But until yesterday, I had never tried the flagship product, the standard 101 proof bottling.

What is now the Wild Turkey Distillery traces its heritage back to the Ripy family, which first distilled whiskey in Anderson County, Kentucky, in 1869. After the repeal of Prohibition, the Ripys revived their distillery. Some of their whiskey was bottled under the label of the Austin Nichols Company, a food and beverage distributer. In 1940, the president of the company, Thomas McCarthy, took some Ripy whiskey that he selected from the warehouse with him on a wild turkey hunt in South Carolina. His fellow hunters liked it so much that they requested him to bring more of that "wild turkey" Bourbon with him the next year. The Wild Turkey brand was introduced in 1942, and the Austin Nichols Company bought the distillery from the Ripys in 1970. Austin Nichols later became part of the Pernod Ricard wine and spirits empire, and Wild Turkey remains an important part of that empire. I would wager that it is the most widely-known of all Bourbon brands after Jim Beam.

In many ways, Wild Turkey was the one of the original modern premium Bourbons; and a premium Bourbon it remains. Whiskey enthusiasts complain incessantly that Jack Daniel's isn't what it used to be and that Jim Beam is watered-down crap. They don't complain about Wild Turkey. It is now what it has always been: big, bold, and unapologetic. Wild Turkey's mashbill is rye-heavy, and they use a #4 char (the heaviest char available) on the barrels that they age their Bourbon in. It's distinctive and delicious in the other bottlings that I have tried. It's younger and wilder, but still delicious in the standard 101 proof bottling. It's very much a young whiskey -- I can't really describe what that means other than to say that there it has fresh, sweet aroma, tastes a bit grainy, and is slightly rough. But it is very tasty. With some time in the glass, it betrays the same cinnamon bread pudding aromas and flavors that I associate with the other Wild Turkey bottlings that I have tried. I like it.

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