Wild Turkey Forgiven – Batch 302

WILD TURKEY FORGIVEN
Batch 302 (2013)

MASH BILL – Wild Turkey bourbon and rye mash bills

PROOF – 91

AGE – NAS (blend of 78% 6-year bourbon and 22% 4-year rye according to Rare Bird 101)

DISTILLERY – Wild Turkey

PRICE – $65

WORTH BUYING? – Oh for sure, all things considered.

Never underestimate a small town liquor store.

It was August 2020 when I stepped into Raymond’s Liquor on Broadway in Placerville, CA, a small town where people either reside forever or make a brief pitstop for gas en route up Highway 50 toward Tahoe.

I grew up in Placerville. When I was a kid, Raymond’s was a bait, tackle and hunting supply store. I went there for homemade venison jerky and the occasional new fishhook or archery arrow. Now Raymond’s is your basic liquor store. The jerky is there, only it’s beef and manufactured, and there aren’t any shotguns for sale to kill a deer that might go into homemade jerky.

Raymond’s selection has few surprises. However, stand and stare at a haphazardly packed liquor store shelf long enough and details slowly emerge, such as the unassuming faux-woodsy tube of a 2013 Wild Turkey Forgiven Batch 302, tucked in among the Jack Daniel’s and Fireball.

It went home with me.

Exactly a year later, in August 2021, I went back to Placerville to do some hiking and swimming in mountain lakes. Raymond’s looked the same as I drove by it, heading for the Highway 50 on-ramp. Most things in Placerville look the same as the years go by. It’s a town in no hurry to change. Occasionally one finds old signs still pointing to things long since gone.

As I continued up Highway 50, it became increasingly evident the fires that had recently started weren’t going to go out anytime soon. At a gas station near that old sign pointing into the past, the sky ahead looked like something Spielberg would ask his CGI team to render. Moments after this photo was taken, ashes began to fall around us like ominously gentle snow:

On the way back home I stopped into Raymond’s. The shelf looked just as I had left it the Summer before—lots of Fireball, Jack Daniel’s, Hennessy, 1.75L plastic bottles of Ancient Age, and the obligatory lone bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, a greying 3×5 card taped to its dusty box with $259.99 scrawled on it in habitually enthusiastic pink marker. But no new relics emerged from my patient staring.

Several more months have now passed since then. I visited my folks in Placerville again recently, their home still standing among the pine, oak, and manzanita, as it has done for fifty years. Many other families were not so lucky. The TV news vans have left, but those August 2021 fires will be felt by many for years to come.

Of course, to say Placerville never changes is not literally true. There is a Target where the K-Mart once was. The 1983 Placerville Cinema Four, which superseded the 1930 Empire Theatre, was itself superseded by the 1997 Regal Cinemas 8—still operating today but of course now largely superseded by Netflix.

But the small town soul of the place remains as ever, regardless of what new fangled amenities come and go. Today on Main Street, ubiquitous antique stores fill the shells of former glories like the Empire Theatre, or the old-school independent Clayland’s Ice Cream Parlor (featuring black licorice ice cream every Halloween!), or the classic any-household-nicknack-you-could-ever-need Ben Franklin’s Five & Dime. In its eternal blurring of past and present, Placerville is the perfect town to find something like a bottle of Wild Turkey Forgiven Batch 302.

This famous blip in the Wild Turkey oeuvre is widely considered a mediocre effort, with a small coterie of champions. Only two batches were released, 302 and 303. It is assumed 301 was the original in-house error that spawned the short-lived brand. As the story goes, an employee mistakenly poured a bit of rye into some bourbon, but when master distiller Eddie Russell tasted it he thought it wasn’t too bad. The employee was “forgiven,” and the blend was granted a pretty elaborate presentation, custom tube and all.

I’d had a pour of Batch 303 at a St. Louis bar back in 2018, while in town for a theater conference. It seemed fine. The nose was faint, with the familiar Wild Turkey spice profile. The taste struck me as a tame rendition of Wild Turkey 101, its kick more like a nudge. The finish was warm, with a dark grassy note like toasted hay. It didn’t compel me to hunt down a bottle. But I’d certainly take a pour if someone ever offered.

So I didn’t have high hopes for Batch 302, more of an historical interest. Since 2018 I’ve been exploring Wild Turkey much more attentively. I’ve been able to sample contemporary releases next to 2006 or 2001 releases, noting the differences wrought by the gradual tinkering with fermenting vats and entry proofs from the 1990s into the 2000s.

Forgiven Batch 302, having been released in 2013, has rye distilled in 2009 and bourbon from 2007—if Rare Bird 101’s age statements are correct. Wild Turkey’s final entry proof adjustment was made in 2006, from 110 up to the since-standard 115. Unless older bourbons were indeed mixed into this blend, it’s likely all 115-entry proof distillate. So Batch 302 is not full-on blast from the past Wild Turkey. But it’s still a rare bird.

I uncorked it very late one Wednesday night. The weather outside was clear skied but deeply dark and chilly. My partner was asleep, so the kitchen was lit only by a single amber lamp in the corner. I pulled the pudgy bowling-pin bottle out from its kitschy tube. The uncorking made a satisfying pop, air swooping into the whisky for the first time in 9 years. Immediately an odd aroma hit my nose, something like spoiled raw chicken meat. Oh no. I leaned in to smell it again, and the note had seemingly evaporated.

I poured a bit into a 5-ounce brandy glass, one of my favorite glasses for Wild Turkey. That rancid raw meat note amped back up quite a bit in the glass. I transferred the whiskey into a traditional Glencairn. Still the foul note. I set it aside…

About 10 minutes later I came back to it and gave it several swirls in the glass. The raw meat note had lifted. The nose now showed more of that Wild Turkey cherry, amidst a funky herbal mildew note, some cinnamon stick, cinnamon hard candies and gum. More waiting and swirling the glass…

The cherry-herbal-cinnamon trifecta continued on the nose. If I inhaled with some oomph I could still get a bit of that raw fowl note, so, easy goes it… Then the taste: Lovely dark cherries, some light baking spice. Much better than the nose, though not terribly complex and with a fairly thin texture at 91 proof. The finish was all black cherry syrup, fading with a soft warmth.

Overall, so long as that raw bird aroma eventually flies away entirely, I thought this could be a perfectly great sipper, thin but enjoyable, with especially good classic Wild Turkey cherry notes. But I could understand why the distillery let this release go after two rounds.

Now it’s been seven weeks since uncorking and I’m a handful of pours into the bottle. How’s it doing? These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a dusty late-Summer sunset amber that dips into deep dark waters in certain light and angles

NOSE – dark but sweet cherry; baked cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove; thick caramel; dense angel food cake with apricots; oak spice

TASTE – an oily texture around oak, dark cherry, and dark-toasted herbaceous rye spices

FINISH – the dark cherry beneath lots of oak and rye spices, all fading fairly quickly with a mild peppery prickle…

OVERALL – that raw meat thing has waned, thank goodness, leaving the cherry and oak notes to hold sway, though not with the kind of complexity I’d prefer…

After several weeks of airing out, this remains a funky pour. That awful raw fowl note has dissipated. I can sense its shadow among the dark cherry and funky herbal notes. But I don’t think I’d clock it were I not looking for it.

This is an interesting taste of Wild Turkey history for any fan of the brand. If its particular “funk” is anything akin to that ye olde 20th Century “Wild Turkey funk” I’ve read so much about, then I can’t see the appeal beyond novelty. In this bottling, it’s not great. The cherry notes work like a tease of what could be, but just isn’t quite. There is something flat about the sum-total experience, like a small idea that came about spontaneously but no one ever really ran with it.

Eddie Russell was right to let this one go. I can’t imagine his dad, Jimmy Russell—famous for his unyielding commitment to consistency—gave this more than a quiet shake of the head. Considering the depth of care put into Eddie Russell’s Master’s Keep series, maybe a blend of Wild Turkey bourbon and rye could be something special. (Apparently we’ll find out with the 2022 Master’s Keep release, awkwardly dubbed “Unforgotten.”) Of course, that’s me assuming a certain depth of care was not put into this release, which could be totally wrong. But Forgiven falls so far outside both the taste and quality experience I associate with Wild Turkey that I can’t help but think something of that employee’s mistake being a mistake carried over into the execution of this official release.

Wild Turkey is very much like a small hometown—consistent, comfortable, no nonsense, unchanging in its essence as the years pass. A departure like Forgiven comes and goes like a stranger who rolled into town, slowed down for a moment, and rolled on out. Locals remember the stranger like they do a freak spate of unseasonal weather—a curious aberration of little note.

All that said, it’s aired out decently in seven weeks. Maybe in seven more weeks it will be even better.

Cheers!

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