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For the past few weeks, I have seen more comments pop up from around the internet where somebody claims that the newest release of Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery #11 contains Wild Turkey in it. Their proof, they point out, is that the blend uses a Kentucky bourbon with a mash bill with 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% malt. If you didn’t know, that mash bill is commonly associated with Wild Turkey. But it’s also the mash bill that’s paired to Jim Beam. So what is it that’s making enthusiasts jump to the conclusion that these blends contain Wild Turkey? And are they right?
Jim Beam and Wild Turkey’s Mash Bills, explained
Let’s begin by talking about Wild Turkey. It is a known fact that Wild Turkey only produces two mash bills – a bourbon and a rye whiskey. The bourbon is commonly known to use 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% malted barley. Their rye whiskey uses 51% rye, 37% corn and 12% malted barley (some websites claim it’s 52/36/12, but they’re the minority). And that’s it. Everything they make is based off of those two recipes.
Jim Beam, on the other hand, has a growing list of recipes that they make. If we disregard their limited, experimental and malt whiskey recipes, I’m counting they’re up to 3 rye whiskey recipes and as many as four bourbon recipes. They are:
51% rye, 39% corn, 10% malt *estimated
80% Monongahela Rye, 20% malt
100% malted rye
63% corn, 27% rye, 10% malt (Old Grand Dad and Basil Hayden recipe)
75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malt
79% corn, 13% rye, 8% malt (also known as 78.5/13/8.5, but they have started to round it up)
77% corn, 13% rye, 10% malt (a recipe commonly cited by BreakingBourbon.com)
Recently, there have been a lot of enthusiast infighting about the true mash bill of Jim Beam. The origins of these stem from a couple different places. First, there are lots of websites out there with spreadsheets showing the various mash bills of distilleries. If you skip to the Jim Beam section, they’ll almost all list the mash bill as 75/13/12. However, Breaking Bourbon – the internet’s most popular bourbon review website – lists many Beam products as using one that contains 77% corn, 13% rye and 10% malt. The result of this has been that other websites like The Whiskey Jug and The Whiskey Wash cite Breaking Bourbon when they list the mash bill for a Jim Beam bourbon.
Believe me when I say that I have the utmost respect for Breaking Bourbon, but their pull is as massive as the sun and even typos have been treated as gospel on that website. So while I’m not saying they’re wrong, they might also be not 100% correct.
So which Beam recipe is correct? The bottom line is there is no definitive answer because Jim Beam’s stance is that their mash bills are a secret. These are obviously recipes that were leaked by somebody a while ago and have been regurgitated across the internet ever since. My stance is that none of these recipes are incorrect. Rather, they paint a larger picture about grain usage inside of Jim Beam. Throw in the fact that there is now a new mash bill floating around that is rumored to be Beam – 79/13/8 and the picture seems to get murkier. But does it really?
The common number to look at across all three of those mash bills is the 13% rye percentage. That seems to remain a constant. Rye is also the small grain where the whiskey’s flavor profile is expected to come (barrel influence notwithstanding). In fact, most producers will admit that they sometimes have to adjust their malt percentages (and henceforth, their corn percentages) during fermentation for different reasons. Here’s an example of Old Forester admitting as much for their 2012 release of Birthday Bourbon. There are even cost-cutting practices in place where distillers tinker with lowering the expensive malted barley ratio if they find they can get similar profiles during distillation.
The bottom line is that distilleries are not beholden to follow a set mash bill when they’re making whiskey. As long as the percentages fit inside of the laws to be called a bourbon or a rye whiskey (51% or more of either grain), there are no ramifications if they make changes to it without disclosing it.
Why Wild Turkey should not be your first guess when you see sourced 75/13/12 bourbon in the mash bill
If there is one distillery out there that gets the most hype for sourced barrels, it would probably be Wild Turkey. This is discounting other distilleries like Buffalo Trace, Four Roses and Brown-Forman brands who traditionally don’t allow any barrels being sold to a third party. Every so often, though, Wild Turkey barrels have made their way into private label brands like Single Cask Nation, Rare Character (Pride of Anderson County) and the European Bourbon Rye Association (EBRA). Other brands like E.J. Curley, Four Gate and Duke have also heavily implied to have sourced some off-profile barrels of Wild Turkey too. When this happens, it’s usually big news or carefully leaked to the enthusiast community.
And that last sentence is what I’ll be focusing on the most – the fact that whenever there are rumblings about a brand using Wild Turkey, there are trusted authorities on the subject that people turn to for confirmation. And for that, I have not heard of anyone that I would label as “in the know” that has believed that the 75/13/12 bourbon that commonly gets put into Bardstown Bourbon Company bottles is actually from Wild Turkey. In fact, most enthusiasts abide by the old saying of “when something is too good to be true, it usually is.” And when you hear somebody saying that a bourbon contains a large amount of Wild Turkey in it for below the market price of sourced Wild Turkey, it’s probably not true.
The one fact that stands out the most is that every Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Release from #1 all the way up to #11 (with the exception of #8) contains some 75/13/12 bourbon in the blend. Yet nobody up until now has seriously believed that it was Turkey for the previous blends. So why are people saying it now?
My answer to that is because nobody with a loud enough voice has pushed back against this theory until now. I’m actively challenging people when I hear this and I have yet to hear or see any evidence that would make me believe Discovery #11 has Turkey in it. Don’t expect it to come from BBC either. The more this rumor spins itself, the more money they make and the more their brand thrives. Good for them, but there needs to be cooler heads in this conversation.
One of the biggest giveaways is going to be the price. The simple fact of the matter is that Wild Turkey barrel prices have soared recently as is evidenced by both Rare Character (Pride of Anderson County) and Single Cask Nation releasing single barrels of Wild Turkey that are priced at or over $25 per year aged. You may make the argument that those are both examples of barrels that have been bought off of Wild Turkey in 2023 and the prices that Bardstown Bourbon Company paid in 5-7 years ago would have been far less. That’s a fair point. But still I would find very few whiskey producers who look at the trend of Wild Turkey pricing and decide to blend their Wild Turkey barrels in with other distillate – on at least 10 separate occasions. That doesn’t make common sense.
To wrap this all up, there is just no way in my mind that Bardstown Bourbon Company is blending with barrels of Wild Turkey. These barrels that are identified by the 75/13/12 mash bill are obviously from Jim Beam. The ages, prices and sheer quantity that they bought (in the thousands) all point directly to Beam as the source. That’s not a bad thing either. There are plenty of great Jim Beam products. Granted, we might not think of Beam as sexy as Wild Turkey when we’re bragging about a bottle to our friends, but that’s something we need to stop doing as a community.
We should embrace the fact that many of the best blends out there (to include from Bardstown Bourbon Company) are being made with Beam – a distillery with probably more gallons of whiskey distilled and aged under their roof than any other American distillery. They have great quality control and have the ability to make so much excess aged bourbon that they have been known to sell it off for cheap (Beam Totes anyone?). And it’s the bottom dollar that producers look at when buying up bulk barrels through brokers. Wild Turkey has some great one-off barrels for cheap and NDPs and other producers know that.
But as a whiskey novice myself, my word has very little weight to it. So if you find yourself not believing me, then do this. Go to the secondary market and see if Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery #11 is selling for more than its $140 retail price. Or better yet, try to sell your own bottle for over retail price. See how many bites you can get. Use the words “blend of Wild Turkey bourbon” and see what the responses are. If I’m right, the responses won’t be what you think they are. But as far as blends go, Bardstown Bourbon Company still makes pretty good ones. So don’t let that stop you from opening and enjoying your bottle, even if it don’t gobble.
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