Bottle #9: Wild Turkey Liqueur

Mar 1, 2023

Tiny bottle #9 is Wild Turkey Liqueur, complete with the original box. This is one of the bottles that I saw on that first day my dad brought me the bins. It’s also one of the bottles that really inspired me to start this project! At the time, I was reading Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara, and she had mentioned it there, so I knew that it marked an important turning point in the history of alcohol.

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While women have always drunk alcohol (and often been the main producers of it), for much of history it wasn’t exactly encouraged. Sometimes it was even banned. In the post-World War II period, things started to loosen up As cocktail mixing moved into the home, a good wife was expected to mix up a Martini or a Manhattan for her husband. And she could have one too, so long as she didn’t drink so much as to interfere with her domestic duties! But liquor ads of the time only ever showed women serving the drinks. No one in the US was particularly marketing booze to them as drinkers.

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, bourbon was really suffering in the 1960s and 70s. At the time, it was seen as an old man’s drink, and domestic sales were struggling against more hip spirits like gin and vodka. One bourbon distillery tried to tackle that issue by actually – OMG! – marketing something to women.

Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey’s long time master distiller, said the company came to him and asked him to come up with “something for the ladies,” because they thought bourbon was too strong and it might appeal to them if it had a “good bourbon taste to it, but be sweeter and all.” Jimmy took his inspiration from childhood memories of homemade cough syrup made from watered-down whiskey and honey, and created Wild Turkey Liqueur in 1976.

The bottle I have is from 1978 or thereabouts, based on the year embossed on the bottom. It’s an exceptionally attractive bottle, I have to say. Since they were trying to appeal to a new, non-bourbon-drinking market, they put it in a bottle very different from their regular bourbon. It has a long skinny neck and a hexagonal bottom, all the better to show it off in advertising from the time that compared it to international favorites like B&B, Cointreau and Drambuie. The marketing-to-women aspect shows up in full force with the inclusion of a recipe pamphlet, featuring desserts like the American Fruit Cup and Turkey Torte.

And while it wasn’t as strong as the brand’s standard 101 proof bottling it still packed a punch! The bottle I have is labeled at 80 proof, the same as most full-strength spirits, and even some other non-sweetened bourbons at the time. By 1997, it was down to 60 proof: very much in keeping with what I think of as the alcohol dark ages of the 1980s and 90s, when everything got less alcoholic, less flavorful and sweeter.

In 2006, Wild Turkey Liqueur was re-launched as American Honey, at 71 proof. When Jimmy Russell came up with Wild Turkey liqueur in 1976, flavored whiskey as a category pretty much didn’t exist. The 2006 re-launch kickstarted the flavored whiskey category, and now there are tons of honeyed-whiskey competitors, as well as other flavored whiskies like cinnamon Fireball and peanut butter Screwball.

And that whole idea that sweetening up the bourbon would appeal to women? Turns out men like sweet bourbon too, and in 2014 Jimmy Russell said that he thought more men were drinking American Honey than women.

I’m looking forward to trying this one next to its modern-day counterpart! If you want to taste along, vintage bottles do show up from time to time, like this one selling for $295 for a full size bottle of the later 60 proof offering.

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Bottle #9: Wild Turkey Liqueur

Mar 1, 2023 |

Tiny bottle #9 is Wild Turkey Liqueur, complete with the original box. This is one of the bottles that I saw on that first day my dad brought me the bins. It’s also one of the bottles that really inspired me to start this project! At the time, I was reading Girly Drinks: A World History of Women and Alcohol by Mallory O’Meara, and she had mentioned it there, so I knew that it marked an important turning point in the history of alcohol.

While women have always drunk alcohol (and often been the main producers of it), for much of history it wasn’t exactly encouraged. Sometimes it was even banned. In the post-World War II period, things started to loosen up As cocktail mixing moved into the home, a good wife was expected to mix up a Martini or a Manhattan for her husband. And she could have one too, so long as she didn’t drink so much as to interfere with her domestic duties! But liquor ads of the time only ever showed women serving the drinks. No one in the US was particularly marketing booze to them as drinkers.

As I’ve talked about elsewhere, bourbon was really suffering in the 1960s and 70s. At the time, it was seen as an old man’s drink, and domestic sales were struggling against more hip spirits like gin and vodka. One bourbon distillery tried to tackle that issue by actually – OMG! – marketing something to women.

Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey’s long time master distiller, said the company came to him and asked him to come up with “something for the ladies,” because they thought bourbon was too strong and it might appeal to them if it had a “good bourbon taste to it, but be sweeter and all.” Jimmy took his inspiration from childhood memories of homemade cough syrup made from watered-down whiskey and honey, and created Wild Turkey Liqueur in 1976.

The bottle I have is from 1978 or thereabouts, based on the year embossed on the bottom. It’s an exceptionally attractive bottle, I have to say. Since they were trying to appeal to a new, non-bourbon-drinking market, they put it in a bottle very different from their regular bourbon. It has a long skinny neck and a hexagonal bottom, all the better to show it off in advertising from the time that compared it to international favorites like B&B, Cointreau and Drambuie. The marketing-to-women aspect shows up in full force with the inclusion of a recipe pamphlet, featuring desserts like the American Fruit Cup and Turkey Torte.

And while it wasn’t as strong as the brand’s standard 101 proof bottling it still packed a punch! The bottle I have is labeled at 80 proof, the same as most full-strength spirits, and even some other non-sweetened bourbons at the time. By 1997, it was down to 60 proof: very much in keeping with what I think of as the alcohol dark ages of the 1980s and 90s, when everything got less alcoholic, less flavorful and sweeter.

In 2006, Wild Turkey Liqueur was re-launched as American Honey, at 71 proof. When Jimmy Russell came up with Wild Turkey liqueur in 1976, flavored whiskey as a category pretty much didn’t exist. The 2006 re-launch kickstarted the flavored whiskey category, and now there are tons of honeyed-whiskey competitors, as well as other flavored whiskies like cinnamon Fireball and peanut butter Screwball.

And that whole idea that sweetening up the bourbon would appeal to women? Turns out men like sweet bourbon too, and in 2014 Jimmy Russell said that he thought more men were drinking American Honey than women.

I’m looking forward to trying this one next to its modern-day counterpart! If you want to taste along, vintage bottles do show up from time to time, like this one selling for $295 for a full size bottle of the later 60 proof offering.

1 Comment

  1. Looking forward to tasting my tiny bottle of Wild Turkey liqueur!

    Reply

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