Bourbon Review: Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17-Year-Old

Wild Turkey Master's Keep hits stores in August for $150.
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep hits stores in August for $150.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17-Year-Old (Media Sample)

About this bourbon: Wild Turkey Master’s Keep hits stores in August with an MSRP of $150 and is 86.8 proof, which is this product’s barrel-proof. (Eddie Russell offers a proof explanation at GoBourbon.com.) At 17 years old, it’s the oldest Wild Turkey released to date.

Color: Light brownish amber. For a 17-year-old, I hope for it to be a little darker. 6 out of 10.

Aroma: The nose is beautiful with pronounced cherry blossoms, lilac and fresh spun cotton candy with hints of smoke and a whole lot of caramel and vanilla. Very vibrant! 39 out of 40.

Palate and Finish: The mouthcoating mouthfeel immediately surrounds the palate, dripping into every pocket, every crevice, delivering tickles of spice, caramel, roasted marshmallows, fig, praline and a crème brulle note that reminds me of the old school Wild Turkeys from the 1980s. The finish is long with an interesting hint of smoked corn. 45 out of 50.

Total: 90

More (Updated): For those who’ve been following Wild Turkey for awhile might recognize the 86.8 proof. I’ve got a few older bottles at home with this proof, and this really reminds me of those expressions but richer.  Of course, nowadays, folks want 90 proof and higher. I am normally in that camp, but there’s something to be said for bottling the whiskey at its perfect proof. If Wild Turkey cut this whiskey to 80 proof, its unique nuance would be gone. My only knock to Master’s Keep is its color. When compared to bourbons in this age range at barrel proof or at the same proof, Master’s Keep is several shades lighter. Why is that important? Color is an examination of how the bourbon faired in the new charred oak. The deeper the color, normally, the more rich and vibrant the character, while light color typically indicates a poor nose and palate. This appears to be the exception.

After this story published, several readers contacted me, asking about the unique barrel proof and issues I addressed in the above revision. I’ve reached out to Eddie Russell to discuss why this barrel-strength bourbon is 86.8 proof beyond what he told the Bourbon Review Magazine. He’s on vacation, but in a short email he replied proof-lowering happens always in the “Brick warehouse or bottom floors.”

It is not inconceivable that a barrel goes down in proof instead of going up. It happens in Scotland, and former Maker’s Mark master distiller Kevin Smith once told me it happens in bourbon, too. Russell told Bourbon Review that a lack of circulation inside the brick warehouses (formerly of the Old Crow Distillery) contributed to the proofs.

With that said, Master’s Keep is the first product to market this phenomenon in a time consumers have grown accustomed to barrel-strength proofs reaching the upwards of 140 proof. Whiskey consumers have also become irritated with questionable brand marketing.

When Wild Turkey released its Forgiven series, where rye and bourbon were accidentally mixed at the tank stage, I was skeptical and then legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell told me it happened. Russell is a legend, an honest man, who’s not known for spinning. If he says it, I believe him.

Here we are with Wild Turkey’s second unique product with a production-oriented backstory. This time, Jimmy’s son Eddie is in the spotlight. And the whiskey is damn good.

 

Fred Minnick is the author of Bourbon Curious and Whiskey Women.

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