Revisiting the Classics: Wild Turkey 101

Launched in 1942, the 101-proof bourbon remains distinctive and versatile

Wild Turkey 101

Wild Turkey 101, initially launched in 1942

By Kirk Miller

Welcome to Revisiting the Classics, a series where we provide a fresh perspective on iconic and beloved whiskey bottles.

What we’re drinking: Wild Turkey 101

Where it’s from: First released in 1942, Wild Turkey 101 hails from the iconic Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. The brand has been owned by drinks giant Campari since 2009.

Why we’re drinking this: We’ve lauded Wild Turkey 101 in the past as perhaps the best everyday bourbon because it’s versatile, modestly priced and readily available. And 82 years after its launch, 101 is still racking up some impressive accolades, including 90 scores at the Beverage Tasting Institute and Ultimate Spirits Challenge and a Gold at the 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  

(L-R) Eddie, Bruce and Jimmy Russell, a three-generation dynasty at Wild Turkey

It wouldn’t be Wild Turkey without its distilling lineage. The Russell family has presided over a remarkable run for the bourbon brand for more than six decades; both of WT’s Master Distillers, Jimmy and Eddie Russell, have been enshrined in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. Jimmy’s the world’s longest-tenured Master Distiller; Eddie’s been part of Wild Turkey since 1981, working as a relief operator, supervisor of new production, warehouse supervisor and manager of barrel maturation and warehousing before assuming the role of Master Distiller in 2015 (his son now also works for Wild Turkey).

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A conversation with the father-son duo behind Wild Turkey

“Jimmy’s been making bourbon for 60-some years, he’s not changing nothing,” Eddie Russell told us a few years back. “If it were left up to him, we’d only have Wild Turkey 101.”

Thankfully, Wild Turkey has expanded into a number of different areas, from ryes to single barrel and special releases (particularly the excellent Master’s Keep). But what about the original? Let’s give it a try. 

How it tastes: A 101-proof release aged in American White Oak barrels with the deepest alligator char (No. 4, used across WT’s portfolio), this bourbon features a relatively high-rye mash bill (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley) and no age statement (estimated about six to eight years). Wild Turkey 101 is instantly recognizable and delicious; it’s full of notes of caramel popcorn, wood spice, tobacco, cinnamon and a lot of orange peel with a rich and luxurious mouthfeel.

Fun fact: Surprisingly, for a drink that usually calls for rye, Wild Turkey 101 is excellent in a Manhattan. “The extra alcohol level helps it to really maintain its structure when used in a cocktail,” says Brenda Riepenhoff, head bartender of Thief LES. “I love when my bourbon brings me memories of the farm I grew up on when I take a sniff and can smell the dusty corn and other grains. Wild Turkey brings that!” 

Where to buy: You can buy Wild Turkey 101 pretty much anywhere; it’s available for $31 at ReserveBar.

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