Bourbon Industry

Wild Turkey bringing out two special releases and a rye

LAWRENCEBURG — Some bourbon distilleries come out with a new whiskey every season, a line extension every year. Wild Turkey isn't one of them.

The distillery, headed by master distillers Jimmy Russell and his son, Eddie, is thoughtful, cautious. Maybe even a bit old-fashioned, with only one bourbon mash bill and another for rye. Until the mid-1970s, it had only one bourbon — Wild Turkey 101 — on the market.

But there is nothing staid about three new releases that Wild Turkey plans for later this year.

Two, Master's Keep and Russell's Reserve 1998, will be pretty rare, but worth the effort to find, if you can.

One, Russell's Reserve Single-Barrel Rye, will be a permanent addition to the line-up.

The three new releases will be coming out in the fall, but Eddie and Jimmy Russell will be sharing samples on their Never Tamed Bourbon tour around the country. You can find the bus stops at Nevertamed.com/#the-tour.

At a recent tasting for journalists, Eddie Russell said he had worked long and hard to convince the suits at Campari, Wild Turkey's Italian corporate parent, that a single-barrel rye was a good idea.

Finally, they listened.

"The marketing people didn't think it would sell," Russell said. "But I told them there are going to be guns over this."

The 6-year-old rye has a fresh and minty greenness, along with the spicy pepper bite and tobacco notes, and will launch in September for $59.99 suggested retail price, at 104 proof.

It also will be available beginning in January to those who buy by the barrel. Private barrel selections are increasingly popular for bars, restaurants, whiskey clubs and even private citizens who just want something a little special, a whiskey they selected themselves.

Eddie Russell said that another rye blend product, the popular Forgiven, also will becoming back to the Wild Turkey lineup as a limited time offering.

Forgiven was born out of a mistake by a distillery worker, who accidentally dumped six months' worth of Wild Turkey's rare rye into a vat of bourbon. It took years for Russell to convince executives that the mistake, which tasted great, was marketable. Last year, the whiskey was a big hit with consumers, so much so that the blend of 78 percent 6-year-old bourbon and 22 percent 4-year-old rye has been made again on purpose and will be coming back every year, in limited supply, for about $50.

One of the most popular Wild Turkey line extensions in recent years has been Russell's Reserve, originally released to honor Jimmy Russell's 45th anniversary with the distillery.

Back then, they didn't know he would keep going for 15 more years and counting. But just in case, they held back a few barrels, Eddie Russell said.

"But we didn't save enough," he said ruefully. Last year, they decided the time had come to either use it or lose it to evaporation.

So they dumped the barrels and held onto the bourbon for a special release this year: Russell's Reserve 1998, named for the year it was put away.

This release, bottled at barrel strength, will be extremely limited — only about 400 cases in all, or about 2,400 bottles, priced at about $250 at retail.

But if Wild Turkey fans can't find that one, they might have a better shot at lucking into Master's Keep.

This is a bourbon with a story: In 1996, Wild Turkey was running out of space and decided to put 100,000 barrels in rented warehouses across from the Old Taylor distillery, in a set of old rickhouses that are now gone.

The warehouses were brick, and in good shape, "but Jimmy doesn't like brick warehouses," Eddie Russell said. His father prefers the metal-clad style that Wild Turkey uses. "So I had to keep a close eye on those barrels, tasting them often."

After a few years, the warehouses began to deteriorate and the barrels had to be moved to another brick warehouse. This one was down in a valley, again contrary to Jimmy Russell's preferences for hilltops.

In 2010, the remaining barrels finally were brought back to Wild Turkey, and the unusual aging and 200-mile round trip seems to have been a blessing.

The finished product, Master's Keep, is intense, creamy, fruity, a little woody with a bit of smokiness.

After almost 18 years in the barrel, only about 15 of the original 53 gallons in each barrel remained, so Master's Keep will be a limited, one-time release. About 7,000 cases will be available for a suggested retail price of $150 a bottle.

"This will be the oldest whiskey we've ever put out in the United States," Eddie Russell said. "I think it is some of the best whiskey we've ever put out."

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