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2023 has felt like a year in which all of the biggest distilleries in Kentucky have finally opened up the whole playbook to use on new releases. We’ve seen Buffalo Trace roll out with their Prohibition Collection along with Eagle Rare 25-year-old Bourbon. Four Roses unearthed some 25-year-old barrels as well and put them in this year’s Limited Edition Small Batch. Old Forester is finally releasing products with an age statement like their 9-year-old 117 Series Bottled-in-Bond bourbon followed by the 10-year-old “1924” bourbon. Heaven Hill even showed us it has older stocks of rye whiskey (a 10-year-old Parker’s) and gave us a super-old corn whiskey (Heaven Hill Heritage 20 Year).
Wild Turkey’s contribution was Master’s Keep Voyage – a polarizing rum-finished bourbon. But what they will be remembered for the most in 2023 may be the tremendous price increases they slapped on their limited editions. First, they raised the price of Russell’s Reserve 13 Year to $150 (it was $75 when it first came out) and then they raised the price for Master’s Keep from $200 to $275. Then the grandaddy of them all came out: Wild Turkey Generations would launch with a staggering $450 pricetag.
Wild Turkey Generations
The concept of Wild Turkey Generations is that all three Russell’s (Jimmy, Eddie and Bruce) would select barrels that appealed most to them and then they would be blended together for one release. Yes, I said “all three” because as it just so happens, this is also the first release of any Wild Turkey product where Bruce’s name appears on the front label.
The breakdown of who picked what barrels goes something like this:
Bruce picked a handful of 12-year-old barrels
Eddie picked a handful of 15-year-old barrels
Eddie and Bruce picked a handful of 14-year-old barrels
Jimmy picked a handful of 9 year-old barrels
By the way, I use the term “handful” because I don’t actually know how many barrels they chose of each group. I assume it was at least an entire rick (~23 barrels) for each. The total bottle count for Generations was only 4,000, so it’s unlikely they were dumping hundreds of barrels.
It would have been interesting to know where each Russell picked their barrels from. Why? Because there’s been a sharp uptick in enthusiast interest with the buildings that whiskey ages in. Wild Turkey has three different campuses that have different sized warehouses/rickhouses constructed with different materials. This means a bourbon aged in one might not taste like a bourbon aged in another.
One thing I did hear through the grapevine is that the barrels that Bruce picked tended to be higher in proof with some reaching Hazmat levels (140 proof or more). This contradicted with the barrels that Jimmy picked which were much lower in proof. But with a final proof of 120.8, it’s safe to say that Bruce’s more potent barrels made a big impact. This is the highest proof any Wild Turkey labeled product has been bottled at.
About that price
I guess no review of Generations would be complete without mentioning the price – and by now you probably know it’s a doozy. $450 at retail and a secondary value right around $600. I’m not going to spend this paragraph talking about if any whiskey is truly worth $450 (it rarely is), but I want to comment that Campari’s decision to put absurd pricing on all of their limited-edition products seems to be taking a lot of wind out of bottle flipper’s sails. This is what I call “The Dave Pickerell” effect. He was a notable proponent for Whistlepig pricing their Limited-Edition bottles (like Boss Hog) at high prices to limit their value on the secondary market. And to a certain degree – it has worked.
If you dislike flipper’s re-selling bottles for a profit, you’re probably a fan of this idea. But the reality is that the same amount of money is going to leave your wallet. It’s just a matter of whose pocket that ends up being. So, pick your poison, I guess?
That leaves us with the final question: how does Generations taste? Is this just a gimmick? Or will it hearken back to the old Wild Turkey profile that captured the hearts of enthusiasts all over the world? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The nose can be summed up with the word “Big.” Big Oak. Big Caramel. Big Spice. The oak isn’t necessarily the dusty kind that comes off like varnish – it’s more musty instead; and a bit sweet. The sweet caramel leans towards toffee. I can also smell vanilla and pie crust. Speaking of pie crust, the accompanying baking spices that you’d expect to smell with it are present too. Cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. I am also pulling a hint of nuts (toasted almonds come to mind). There is a slight hint of salinity as well. It doesn’t smell as old as – say – a Russell’s Reserve 13 (Batch 1), but it is more powerful. Take that for what it’s worth.
Palate: It seems odd that the primary sweet flavors I find on the tongue aren’t caramel; they’re wildflower honey and butterscotch. I’m not complaining though! They keep the oak and leather notes in check. Baking spices are a big part of this dram with cinnamon, allspice, red pepper flakes and anise. Each sip has some good heat, but it’s nothing too overwhelming.
The fruit notes are great to find. As a quick aside, I feel like this is one area that old Wild Turkey bourbon shines compared to the two other bourbons that tastes close to it: Beam and Heaven Hill. Those two brands might get a cherry note here or there after they crest double digits, but Wild Turkey has so much more. I can find apricot, cherry, peach and lemon flavors. It’s a treat to drink.
Finish: The sweetness on the finish turns deeper and more caramelized even though honey is still present. The oak becomes less sweet and more musty. Fruit notes turn from stone fruits into berry notes with blueberry adding an interesting changeup. Vanilla and candied ginger root also come out to show a slightly different side to this enchanting dram.
This is an excellent bourbon from start to finish. Every sip packs a punch in terms of strength and complexity. After a few sessions with this bottle, I believe it could go head-to-head with some of the industry’s top limited edition rye’d bourbons like George T. Stagg, Four Roses SmBLE, William Heaven Hill or Parker’s Heritage. It’s priced right along with them, it’s exclusive just like they are and it’s got the pedigree of a major distillery. Plus, since it’s not a part of the Master’s Keep line (although the bottle is a modified version of it), the stigma of previous poorly-received releases (I’m looking at you, Voyage) don’t play into its lore. It’s simply the best version of itself that it can be.
So what’s holding me back from awarding it a higher score? I don’t know exactly. It is excellent at everything it does, but it doesn’t move the needle that far forward from previous modern releases that I’ve loved like Russell’s Reserve 13, the 12-year 101 export or Master’s Keep Unforgotten. This is a sensational dram to partake, but the “wow” factor was slightly off for me to elevate it into the 9’s. And if it’s going to cost $450, I better get some wow factor.
Expecting Russell’s Reserve levels of oak? This might not do it for you. Expecting some dusty funk because the Russell’s picked these barrels? This isn’t the bottle for that. But if you want a more fruity, higher-octane version of Wild Turkey, this is your bottle. What it excels in are the layers of complexity that highlight characteristics that each Russell loves about their bourbon.
Ultimately, it’s a joy to witness select barrels of bourbon sync up in harmony like this to create something memorable. I would view “Generations” more as a bottle that exists to celebrate the Russell’s rather than a bottle that shows the pinnacle of Wild Turkey bourbon. This comes close to it, but if I know Campari, they’re going to keep churning out Generations for as long as they can. At least that means we’ll get more than one chance to speculate which release is the best Turkey of our “generation.”
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