Bottle #30: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

Bottle #30 is Austin Nichols Wild Turkey bourbon, bottled at 8 years old and 101 proof. It’s in a bottle that was manufactured in 1979 which usually means it was bottled within a year of that.

We’ve already had one Wild Turkey product on My Tiny Bottles – Bottle #9, Wild Turkey Liqueur, which was introduced right around the same time. While it was an attempt to change bourbon to be something they thought women would want to drink, this bottle of Wild Turkey is everything they thought would keep women away. Even today, Wild Turkey is known as a bit of a throwback, still made much the same way its been made since it began.

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So when did it begin? The name Wild Turkey was coined in 1940 when a company executive for Austin Nichols took some bourbon from the Ripy Distillery on a hunting trip for wild turkeys. His friends liked it so much that they kept asking him for “more of that wild turkey whiskey.” A brand name was born, with the first bottles released in 1942.

But the whiskey had obviously been around before then. Austin Nichols was a wholesale grocery company that, starting in the 1850s, bought wine and whiskey which they bottled and labeled with their own name, a practice that was very common at the time. Some of that whiskey was bourbon whiskey purchased from the Ripy distillery in Kentucky. The Ripy family had been making bourbon since 1869, and were good at it. In 1893 they even beat out 400 competitors for the right to have their bourbon represent America at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

After buying whiskey from them for decades, Austin Nichols bought the distillery in 1971, renamed it Wild Turkey distillery, and its location Wild Turkey Hill. Before that, in 1954, while it was called the Boulevard Distillery, the owners hired Jimmy Russell. He learned the distilling trade from then-master distiller Bill Hughes, as well as Ernest W. Ripy, son of the original distiller. In 1967 he became the company’s third master distiller, and still holds that position at Wild Turkey, sharing it with his son Eddie.

The Wild Turkey we drink today is very much a result of Jimmy Russell’s long vision. While the company has expanded and diversified, their core product – Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon – has purposefully tried to stay the same. (For instance, they have famously used their own special yeast strain for fermentation since the 1950s.) This was a hard line to take in the 1970s. As I talked about in Bottle #1 – Maker’s Mark, the 60s and 70s were a tough time for bourbon, as consumer tastes had changed. In 1976, vodka outsold whiskey for the first time, and just kept going from there. Many whiskey producers responded by lowering their proof, or switching to light whiskeys and blends they thought would be more appealing. Wild Turkey was not immune – they added a couple lower proof lines in the early 70s and released Wild Turkey liqueur – but they never dumbed down the 101 that was their standard bearer.

I’m excited to try this one. Before 1971, Austin Nichols sourced bourbon for Wild Turkey from a variety of distilleries, although most is thought to have been from the Boulevard Distillery where Jimmy started his tenure. My bottle is dated 1979 and the whiskey in it was aged for 8 years, so it should be the real deal. Old bottles of Wild Turkey are oft sought after by collectors, but don’t always rank highly in side-by-side match ups. So it should be an interesting exploration, and I’m hoping I can find someone especially fun to explore it with!

Watch me taste this bottle with Noah Rothbaum.

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Bottle #30: Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

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Bottle #30 is Austin Nichols Wild Turkey bourbon, bottled at 8 years old and 101 proof. It’s in a bottle that was manufactured in 1979 which usually means it was bottled within a year of that.

We’ve already had one Wild Turkey product on My Tiny Bottles – Bottle #9, Wild Turkey Liqueur, which was introduced right around the same time. While it was an attempt to change bourbon to be something they thought women would want to drink, this bottle of Wild Turkey is everything they thought would keep women away. Even today, Wild Turkey is known as a bit of a throwback, still made much the same way its been made since it began.

So when did it begin? The name Wild Turkey was coined in 1940 when a company executive for Austin Nichols took some bourbon from the Ripy Distillery on a hunting trip for wild turkeys. His friends liked it so much that they kept asking him for “more of that wild turkey whiskey.” A brand name was born, with the first bottles released in 1942.

But the whiskey had obviously been around before then. Austin Nichols was a wholesale grocery company that, starting in the 1850s, bought wine and whiskey which they bottled and labeled with their own name, a practice that was very common at the time. Some of that whiskey was bourbon whiskey purchased from the Ripy distillery in Kentucky. The Ripy family had been making bourbon since 1869, and were good at it. In 1893 they even beat out 400 competitors for the right to have their bourbon represent America at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

After buying whiskey from them for decades, Austin Nichols bought the distillery in 1971, renamed it Wild Turkey distillery, and its location Wild Turkey Hill. Before that, in 1954, while it was called the Boulevard Distillery, the owners hired Jimmy Russell. He learned the distilling trade from then-master distiller Bill Hughes, as well as Ernest W. Ripy, son of the original distiller. In 1967 he became the company’s third master distiller, and still holds that position at Wild Turkey, sharing it with his son Eddie.

The Wild Turkey we drink today is very much a result of Jimmy Russell’s long vision. While the company has expanded and diversified, their core product – Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon – has purposefully tried to stay the same. (For instance, they have famously used their own special yeast strain for fermentation since the 1950s.) This was a hard line to take in the 1970s. As I talked about in Bottle #1 – Maker’s Mark, the 60s and 70s were a tough time for bourbon, as consumer tastes had changed. In 1976, vodka outsold whiskey for the first time, and just kept going from there. Many whiskey producers responded by lowering their proof, or switching to light whiskeys and blends they thought would be more appealing. Wild Turkey was not immune – they added a couple lower proof lines in the early 70s and released Wild Turkey liqueur – but they never dumbed down the 101 that was their standard bearer.

I’m excited to try this one. Before 1971, Austin Nichols sourced bourbon for Wild Turkey from a variety of distilleries, although most is thought to have been from the Boulevard Distillery where Jimmy started his tenure. My bottle is dated 1979 and the whiskey in it was aged for 8 years, so it should be the real deal. Old bottles of Wild Turkey are oft sought after by collectors, but don’t always rank highly in side-by-side match ups. So it should be an interesting exploration, and I’m hoping I can find someone especially fun to explore it with!

Watch me taste this bottle with Noah Rothbaum.

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