Ah, the White-headed eagle – a beautiful, strong and fierce animal, at the top of the food chain, feared and respected by all. No wonder it was chosen to represent the United States of America, the greatest military power in the world and a country completely obsessed with power.
Even before this though, the eagle, along with other different sized birds of prey, was used as a symbol of strength. The Eastern Roman Empire had a two-headed eagle as its emblem, which was later adopted by Ivan III of Russia. In the Middle East, the Eagle of Saladin became Palestine and Iraq’s coat of arms. In Egypt, the falcon was the anthropo-zoomorphic representation of Horus.
However, it’s not just nations that adopted this imposing bird of prey as their animal symbol. Many companies and organisations have also done so. American Eagle Outfitters is one example, Eagle Pharmaceuticals is another – and of course, we can’t forget the bourbon whiskey Eagle Rare. It couldn’t be more apt. We are naturally drawn to associating this animal with power and strength, values well sought after by corporations.
A much less obvious choice, however, is the wild turkey. The wild turkey is a big bird, a bit clumsy, a bit ugly and bit beautiful, but very tacky. It is an animal whose greatest talents lie, well, on a plate. Finally, its name has ambiguous connotations in Portuguese (for a male body part) – in any case, almost everyone would far sooner relate a turkey to trimmings and stuffing than a symbol of power.
It turns out that the world of whisky seems to have a strange obsession with turkeys. I’m not talking about anything Freudian here – I mean symbolism. In Scotland, you have the famous Famous Grouse (right, I know it’s just a distant relative). In the land of the White-headed eagle, there is Wild Turkey, one of the best-known brands of American whisky and now owned by the Campari Group.
You might be wondering why someone decided to call their whisky Wild Turkey. Well, the story of Wild Turkey begins in 1981 when a gentleman named Thomas Ripy built the Old Hickory Distillery in the town of Tyrone, Kentucky. The distillery operated until the time of the Prohibition Law, when it closed its doors. With the fall of prohibition, the Ripy family began producing whisky again and selling to large shops, but still, for the moment, no mention of a turkey.
Enter Thomas McCarthy, president of Austin Nichol’s, a leading shop in the 1940s that sold the bourbon produced by Old Hickory. Legend has it that Thomas and some friends once took some bottles to a wild turkey hunt. His comrades liked the whisky so much they started asking him for “that turkey bottle”. The name caught on and was eventually adopted by the distillery. The expression chosen by Thomas and adored by his friends was precisely, to be more precise, Wild Turkey 101 – the subject of this tasting.
Wild Turkey 101 is perhaps the most well-known whisky in the brand’s portfolio to this day. Its alcohol content is 50% – very high for a Bourbon in its price range – and it is made from 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% malted barley. It is matured in virgin, charred American Oak barrels. The charring – level four – incidentally, is the most intense possible. The whisky comes out of the barrels with a similar alcohol content to that when it is bottled (54.5%). Although it cannot be considered barrel proof (completely undiluted) Wild Turkey 101 comes very close.
Despite the fowl on the label, Wild Turkey underwent a recent overhaul. The brand updated its visual identity and Matthey McConaughey became creative director. The actor even directed some short films for it. The strategy resembles that of Jim Beam, who hired Mila Kunis as the face of the brand. In this case though, it didn’t make much difference to the brand or to Mila, except for the fact that there is a lascivious satisfaction in watching her drink bourbon.
Wild Turkey 101 tastes sweet and spicy at the same time, with caramel and honey. The finish is medium, dry and also spicy. The alcohol is a bit aggressive – but a lot less than one might expect from a whisky of this strength and price. It is a Bourbon whisky that can be drunk neat or in cocktails, where its high alcohol content is a welcome addition!
If you like high-octane, bourbon whiskies, or if you’re looking for something with a versatile flavour to use in cocktails, Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon is an excellent option. It may not be as imposing as certain eagles out there, but it’s a turkey that has tradition, quality and a competitive price. A turkey that is capable of fighting with the most formidable birds of prey.
WILD TURKEY 101 BOURBON
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Brand: Wild Turkey
Aroma: Caramel, brown sugar, sweet hazelnut.
Flavour: Caramel and honey, brown sugar with a certain sweet fruitiness. A long and spicy finish, with relatively apparent, but not too aggressive alcohol content.
With Water: Water slightly reduces the spiciness.