Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Revival

WILD TURKEY MASTER’S KEEP REVIVAL
Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks (2018)

MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley

PROOF – 101

AGE – blend of 12-to-15-year bourbons

DISTILLERY – Wild Turkey Distillery

PRICE – $142

BUY AGAIN? – Not likely, only due to $$$ and not taste

In recognition of the 101st anniversary of the 18th Amendment’s ratification getting certified, a bonus post this week!

Though the 18th Amendment was officially certified on January 29, 1919, Prohibition didn’t go into effect until nearly a year later, on January 17, 1920. So, Prohibition just celebrated its 100th, which I toasted with some Old Forester 1920. And for the 101st anniversary of the 18th’s certification I thought something 101 proof would be fitting. And when I think 101 proof, I think Wild Turkey. In addition to the classic standard Wild Turkey 101, there have been a few other 101 proof offerings from Wild Turkey over the years, among them this 2018 Revival, the third in their annual Master’s Keep series.

My first experience with the Master’s Keep series was actually their second release, the 2017 Decades, a blend of 10-to-20-year bourbons bottled unfiltered at 104 proof. I found it to be exceptionally balanced. The nose was all cooked cherry, cinnamon, and clove. The taste carried over those flavors, adding very nicely refined oak and a satisfying dryness, ending with a crisp but easy peppery bite. The long finish then moved on from the taste’s final bite into a lovely warmth, redolent of rich, comforting baking spices. Overall I found Decades to be elegant and sophisticated, and yet quite relaxed and no-nonsense—very Wild Turkey.

As I got down to that bottle’s final few ounces, I found myself greatly appreciating the subtle cherry flavors, the bready baking spices and soft pepper, and the seemingly effortless integration of the whole. This was the Wild Turkey offering that fully clued me in to the brand’s signature triumvirate of quality, consistency, and balance—a rare and lasting achievement in whiskey credited to two of the bourbon world’s great master distillers, father and son Jimmy and Eddie Russell.

The irony of this achievement, however, is a feeling that the experience of these high-end Wild Turkey releases doesn’t justify their cost. They are never spectacular in the sense of providing flavor-fireworks or stunning curveball surprises. Instead, what Wild Turkey products always deliver is a solid, well-curated experience. Eddie Russell’s mastery of blending well-aged stock is so refined as to not call attention to itself. That isn’t at all easy to pull off. There is a deep, subtle complexity to his blends that make them as zen and as dependable as the Russells themselves.

When I pay a high price for a whiskey, I do tend toward expecting a spectacular show for my money. But the depth and level of integration that Eddie Russell’s Master’s Keep editions offer demand long and careful parsing to fully appreciate. They do not—as a typical spectacular Broadway show does—hustle to do all the work for you. In fact, all Wild Turkey blends—whether the standard 101 bottling or these Master’s Keep special releases—ask the drinker to lean forward and contemplate. But they do it in such an undemanding way that it is just as easy to lean back and thoroughly enjoy them without scrutiny. This makes them perfectly suitable for the wide range of moods one might find oneself in, from quiet and contemplative to hearty and celebratory.

I’ve come to appreciate this quality very much. And though my conclusion about Decades was that despite its pleasures it wasn’t worth picking up a second bottle, after tasting this 2018 Revival and finding it similarly satisfying, when I then happened upon an old bottle of Decades gathering dust for a good price I snapped it up. So, now all four Master’s Keep releases sit together on my home shelf. I’ve already made note of the 2019 Cornerstone Rye here on the blog. And a bottle of the 2015 inaugural Master’s Keep (aged 17 years and bottled at its natural 89 proof) patiently awaits uncorking.

So here now are some notes on Revival, taken a few days after uncorking and already about halfway through the bottle. I tasted it alternating between a brandy glass and an antique tumbler.

COLOR – a rich russet copper

NOSE – baking spices and rich caramel, cinnamon, vanilla, smooth oak with a fine layer of dust, faint dark dried fruits

TASTE – caramel, dark dried fruits like thick apricots and figs, baking spices, a dusting of dark cinnamon

FINISH – warm, long, with fleshy dried plumcots, the caramel, oak, a lingering and fine peppery tingle

OVERALL – yet another excellent blend of mature bourbons from Eddie Russell

Unlike most sherry or wine cask finished bourbons I’ve had, Revival is so well integrated I’d likely not have thought to attribute its juicy dark fruit flavors to the Spanish Oloroso sherry cask if I hadn’t known it was in the mix.

I had uncorked this bottle at a family gathering and sipped it over a few nights from a Rauk tumbler, which brightened the flavor profile a bit. These few days later, and alternating now between a brandy glass and an antique tumbler, I miss the extra layer of flavor brought out by that brightness. But now I’m noticing more the dark dried fruits amidst the baking spices, caramel, and oak. As I write these notes I continue to nose the empty glasses. Even the slowly drying residue is ripe with those fruits, the caramel, and that familiar and always pleasingly rich and complex assortment of Wild Turkey baking spices. 

For the reasons stated in the introduction up above, I understand why someone might not want to spend the money Wild Turkey is asking for these Master Keep bottlings. The excellent Cornerstone Rye, for example, was far too like the standard Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye to justify its cost. I don’t doubt I will never go for another bottle of the Cornerstone. But at a good price I can see myself picking up another Revival in a few years should I happen upon one. And I don’t doubt that might happen. After all, Decades was released in 2017 and can still be readily found for $160, and occasionally for $130 or even $120. That’s still not cheap. But if one is hunting for a special bottle that balances broad appeal with a connoisseur-level of interest, both Decades and Revival will deliver. 

I am loathe to use that whiskey slang, “shelf turd,” in relation to these Master’s Keep offerings. They do indeed gather dust on shelves, and without doubt will continue to be available years after their release dates. But despite their penchant for sitting where they’re put, they are not remotely turds in terms of quality and taste. In that regard, the term would be more aptly slung at any number of the ~12-year MGP-sourced bottlings for which non-distilling bottlers regularly charge $100 to $200. No disrespect to MGP, which makes excellent bourbons. But just recently, for example, I came across a bottle of something called Lone Whisker, a 12-year MGP-sourced bottle, sheathed in a nifty burlap bag, with an attractive old-timey label carefully designed to look authentically faded with history. Turns out Lone Whisker is the relatively recent side project of a pair of Napa Valley winemakers who got the itch to bottle some bourbon during a trip through Kentucky. Really, anyone with enough capital and connections can do that. And the shop I was in wanted $175 for it.

By sharp contrast, the similarly+ aged Master’s Keep Revival is made from start to finish by Wild Turkey and its taste is a result of Eddie Russell’s years of hands-on experience under the tutelage of Jimmy Russell’s keen sensibilities, themselves sharpened by now 65+ years on the job. That’s a far cry from scratching an itch.

This carefully crafted blend of 12-to-15-year bourbons, finished in hand-selected Oloroso Sherry casks, presented in a handsome and unique bottle with one among the heaviest corks around, and delivering a tasting experience not unique among the Wild Turkey flock but certainly unique to the cask-finished bourbon genre… Well, that I can stomach shelling out for now and then. It makes a great bottle for celebrations, especially among family or good friends—people with whom you share history. Any Wild Turkey bourbon is truly history in a bottle, after all.

Cheers!

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