Setting up for the blind tasting

My wife’s sister and her husband are fans of fine cuisine, high-end wines, and better booze. Through their generosity, we’ve enjoyed some incredible meals at Michelin-starred restaurants.

On a recent trip to their house, I noticed a bottle of Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit — a store pick from a Paducah, Kentucky store that looked interesting. From time to time, we have the opportunity to dog-sit for them when they travel, and knowing that bottle was there, I thought it might be interesting to do a blind tasting with it and a couple of other Wild Turkey expressions.

Combining the trip to Arkansas with an opportunity to check out liquor stores from a different area, I found and procured a bottle of Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. (Not that this is hard to find in my area, I just didn’t have the opportunity to grab it before I left Memphis.) That along with a “standard” Wild Turkey 101, I thought, would make an interesting blind test. The WT101 and the WTKS were both 101 proof. The Russell’s clocked in at 110°.

I prepared three glasses (the Libbey Master’s Reserve distilled spirits glass) and, as in the past, asked my wife to pour the three whiskeys and keep track of the identity without telling me what was what. Then I went to work.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel

My first note was on the appearance of the samples. All three appeared to be almost exactly the same in color and appearance. Okay, not that surprising, all are from Wild Turkey, and they really only use a single mashbill for all of their bourbons. Any difference would possibly be due to age and none of these were age stated.

Next, I nosed each of the glasses. Again, all were similar. I gave the samples a few more minutes to breathe, and then nosed again. This time, samples #2 and #3 came across with a little more assertiveness, but still, all three were fairly laid back. Hints of vanilla and spice were there along with some woodiness, but all were reserved. I started picking up a light, faint orange peel in sample #1, slight caramel in #2, and slightly more alcohol in #3.

Time to taste. Sample #1 was woody and warm with oak and char. Sample #2 had a warm/long finish — very similar to #1 I noted. Sample #3 maybe a little bit more woody. At this point I made a note that all three were close in taste and profile. All were excellent pours. They all had a typical, modern Wild Turkey profile; balanced, not sweet, but not bitter or tanic either. But I started to question if my wife had played a trick on me and put the same whiskey in all three glasses. I took a little sip of water and went back for another taste.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

On the second taste, I noted that caramel and vanilla were more present in glasses #2 and #3. I also noted that of the three, #1 was seemed to be less refined of the three and suspected it to be the “regular” Wild Turkey 101. I added a few drops of water to each sample, which brought out a little more sweetness and caramel; not the big caramel/maple syrup bombs that you see in some bourbons, but enough to let you know it was there. Again, the word “balanced” comes to mind.

As I started to wrap up my tasting, I still questioned my palate’s ability to pick up subtle differences as these were so close. I wondered if my taste buds were “off” from the spicy burger I had eaten at lunch. I made a mental note to re-sample these to confirm my notes.

Finishing up each glass, I made the following notes:

  • #1 – seems only average. Drinkable, good, would continue to buy and enjoy in the future
  • #2 – a little “lighter” although more complex in character from #1
  • #3 – slightly more complex than #2

Samples #2 and #3 were a near toss up. My ranking then came out with #3 on top, followed by #2 and then #1. With the decision made, I retrieved the “answer key” to reveal what was in each glass.

Here’s what the key revealed:

  • #3 – Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. This was a single barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey hand-selected by Roof Brothers Wine and Spirits in Paducah, KY. It was from warehouse B, rick #5, barrel #35, bottled on 04/06/2017 at 101°.
  • #2 – Russell’s Reserve. This was a single barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, non-chill filtered and bottled at 110°.
  • #1 – Wild Turkey 101. The “standard” Wild Turkey offering.

Closing thoughts:

Wild Turkey 101

First, I’m pleasantly surprised at how close the regular ole Wild Turkey 101 compares to the others. I do believe that this is one of the most underrated and overlooked bourbons out there. It is reasonably priced (around $25) and readily available. And for those that may think that most bourbon is too sweet, this one is well balanced and well rounded.

There is a step-up for the Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit and the Russell’s Reserve. Both have a creamier mouthfeel and a bit more complexity and depth. That being said, both of them come in at twice (or more) the price of the more common release. For special occasions this might be what you’re after, but for a regular sipper, the common WT stands up well.

Second, I’m somewhat disappointed in the omission of additional information such as age, bottling date, and warehouse location on the Russell’s Reserve. Sure, it adds nothing to the taste of the whiskey, and may actually increase production costs that are then passed along. But those who are into the hobby have come to appreciate those factoids. It may even make the “hunt” more fun or give rise to friendly arguments; are the bottles coming from warehouse B better than those from E?

Finally, and I’ve stated this elsewhere on the site, blind tastings can help you eliminate biases that you may have. Double blind tasting may even be better, i.e., not knowing anything about the whiskies that you are sampling, as there were times during this tasting that I was questioning my tastes as I knew that two of the samples “should have been better” than one.

Always remember, you are doing this to find out what you like, not what someone else is telling you that you should like. And in the end, if you find that the more common whiskey is more to your liking, then enjoy the fact that you’ll not only be able to find what you like easily, but that your wallet won’t hurt as much when you’re leaving the store.

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