Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17 Year (2015)

2015 release

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

PROOF – 86.8

AGE – 17 years

DISTILLERY – Wild Turkey

PRICE – $174 (that’s toward the high end)

BUY AGAIN? – No, but…

Not terribly original of me, I know. But how could I not offer a bonus post today, featuring good ol’ Wild Turkey?

In 2015, Wild Turkey released their first Master’s Keep, a series spearheaded by master distiller Eddie Russell. It was a 17-year bourbon aged in stone rickhouses formerly belonging to the Old Taylor Distillery, now Castle & Key. Those cold stone walls had a decisive impact on the barrels that went into this release, in particular its naturally low proof—originally 88.4, watered down just slightly to 86.8 for bottling.

The release was not a hit, as evidenced by the fact that one can still find bottles fairly easily five years later and at not too much higher a price than the original msrp. In those five years, four other Master’s Keep editions have been released—Decades (2017), Revival (2018), Cornerstone Rye (2019), and the 17-Year Bottled in Bond (2020). All of them remain fairly easily found. Why?

The answer is pretty simple. Wild Turkey is famous—and beloved by those who love it—for its consistency. No curveballs come flying out of Wild Turkey Distillery. Jimmy and Eddie Russell, the father and son team who have shepherded the brand for decades, have remained steadfastly dedicated to reliability and quality. And so even the younger Eddie’s “experiments,” like the annual Master’s Keep series, never stray too far from the Turkey trail his father, Jimmy, trod into being. And when you’re paying three digits for a bourbon, you hope for something unique. No Master’s Keep release I’ve tasted has been significantly unique. But each has been incredible in terms of quality and the depth of nuance to be derived from careful blending.

I already know I’ll not buy another bottle of this 2015 17-Year release. Not because it’s bad. It’s good—arguably “unique,” even, within the Wild Turkey flavor profile. But for the reasons noted above, I’d rather spend my next three digits on whatever Eddie Russell comes up with next.

That said, if a past Master’s Keep release showed up at a significant discount, I’d likely go for it. I’ve already picked up a second bottle of the 2017 Decades release, for example, when I found it for a price tantalizingly near two digits. I’d go for the 2018 Revival again, too, were I to find a bottle similarly marked down. The 2019 Cornerstone Rye I’d pass on at any price, given it was so comparable to the standard Russell’s Reserve Rye Single Barrel release, which goes for half the price. So, although not every Master’s Keep is created equal in terms of the question of second purchases, each has been worth going for at least once.

Wild Turkey products remain the best openly kept secret in bourbon. No matter how many bloggers and YouTubers reiterate this, the wider whiskey buying crowd doesn’t seem to believe it. Wild Turkey’s reputation as the has-been bourbon of grandparents and rough necks persists.

Fine! More—and more affordable—for those of us who understand its rare level of quality and who love it!

Okay. To the notes. These notes were taken about two weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in a simple brandy glass.

COLOR – pale but vibrant oranges and ambers, like a chilly autumn sunset

NOSE – bright, light baking spices, floral rye spices, rustic oak in the morning (the night’s mist still damp in the wood), a thin bright layer of caramel, cinnamon roll dough freshly and not overly baked, a whiff of sweet acorns (is that possible?)

TASTE – immediately bright all around the edges, with the floral rye and baking spices, the chewy cinnamon roll, vanilla, some cream, the oak and acorn notes now just a bit bitter but not overpowering, and a maraschino cherry note

FINISH – bright oak and cinnamon roll notes, a fine peppery tingle, the vanilla and cherry, and a surprising bay leaf note

OVERALL – a bright, old, classic Turkey, still spritely for its age and very chipper

This immediately struck me as singular among my past Wild Turkey experiences. It’s that brightness and lightness that pervades the experience from the color to the finish. It’s not at all lacking in substance. It’s simply got no darkness to it. A pure optimist!

Though this tasting confirms my initial feeling that it’s not a bourbon I’ll bunker a second bottle of, I’m also glad to have it. It most reminds me of the 2014 Diamond Anniversary release, a blend of 13 to 16-year bourbons that offered a similarly light and refreshing touch. That is also a bottle I don’t need a second of, but was glad to have had on the shelf.

More than any other brand, Wild Turkey reminds me that bunkering bottles is a bit of bunk. There will always be more bourbon to be had in the world, a constant stream of new releases offering interesting variations on previous releases. Sure, if something really blows me away I might want a second bottle so I can enjoy that experience again. But even then chances are some other whiskey will come along to blow me away. The whole concept of “Limited Edition” has come into question during the extended Bourbon Boom we’re living in, when not a month seems to go by without several “limited” releases. What does it even mean anymore?

For me, it means buying fewer of any one thing, and devoting my whiskey budget instead to variety of experiences. I’m here for the journey, not any single destination, and certainly no cul de sacs. When I first started, I was much more fearful that the wells I liked most would run dry. And not even those I “liked most”—anything I’d read I was supposed to like most!

It’s a tough habit to shake. Even as recently as 2018, for example, I somehow managed to collect seven bottles of the fabled Weller 12, at prices ranging from $40 to $65—prices now unheard of. But one fateful night, in a blind tasting of the basic Weller trio—Special Reserve, Antique 107, and 12 Year—I could barely distinguish between the Special Reserve and 12 Year. My ob$e$$ion with Weller 12 ended then and there. Of the seven bottles I’d amassed, I drank one, traded five off for other things I’ve since thoroughly enjoyed, and have one remaining for some future trade.

Among all my various whiskey purchases, Wild Turkey has remained an old faithful, a standby I can always go to for a guaranteed good time. No surprises. No curveballs. Just good, high quality, sometimes darker and richer, sometimes brighter and spritelier, old fashioned bourbon whiskey.


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