Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.
Wild Turkey’s master distiller Jimmy Russell has famously claimed that bourbon tastes best between 8 and 12 years old, saying “I tend to not like bourbons aged longer than 12 or 13 years because they lose the caramel and vanilla flavors.”
So far, that attitude has meant that Wild Turkey has largely missed out on the mega-aged, mega-priced bourbon gold rush we’re in the midst of. Now, with their release of the Wild Turkey Master’s Keep expression, they’re getting in on the action while staying true to their belief that good bourbon should have flavors other than oak.
Master’s Keep is 17 years old, making it the among the oldest bourbon Wild Turkey has released to date. The twist is that these barrels have been aged in three different warehouses: two wood warehouses, which expose the spirit to the temperature and humidity fluctuations that accelerate aging, plus a warehouse made of stone.
Stone is a better insulator than wood, which means the temperatures inside a stone building are generally cooler and don’t fluctuate quite as wildly as those in a wooden one. A damp stone warehouse is closer to a typical aging environment for Scotch than for bourbon, and this whiskey saw the drop in strength you might expect for well-aged Scottish whisky, evaporating from 107 proof down to 89 proof. It was bottled at 86 proof.
Color: A rich, golden medium amber
Nose: Intense caramel, blackberry, and vanilla ice cream. Quite solvent and intense for how low proof the spirit is. With water the aroma became more focused and nuanced, with stronger red berry and cinnamon notes supported by spicy oak.
Flavor: Lots of caramel in the front palate segues to apricot, dark chocolate bitterness, and lingering ginger heat. Though its caramel-forward nose and palate suggests sweetness, this spirit is dry as a bone. There’s a sturdy oak character, especially in the finish, with a somewhat rye-like heat and spiciness that’s thankfully free of sawdust notes. Not as overly tannic and woody as many extra-aged bourbons, there is still a tight and slightly sourish note to the finish.
Despite its age this is still a fairly rough-hewn whiskey, and retains a lot of the typical Wild Turkey character. While certainly enjoyable, there isn’t a lot of “wow” to it despite the unique origin story. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth knowing, especially if you’re planning to invest the $150 this bottle sells for at retail.
Wild Turkey Mater’s Keep offers an interesting take on the classic Wild Turkey flavor, but it might be a less notable experience than many high-end bourbon drinkers are looking for. I give it a rating of 85 points. You can find a bottle of it from a range of online retailers here.
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Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...