Tag Archives: Wild Turkey

From Whiskey Boom to McConaissance

On the heels of the Matthew McConaughey’s New York Times interview, Richard asked me if I wanted to write a “Whiskey Manifesto” for the site after being long absent from the public discourse. Richard is right when he says the interview is crap and the video is damn good. I don’t know if the interviewer came in with a predetermined agenda or an inherent dislike for Mr. McConaughey or if everybody’s cooler older brother really came off that douchey. Also, like Richard, I bristle a little bit at the ad agency doublespeak about “selling.” Whether you’re selling a product, a story, or an experience, you’re still selling. Whether you hire a carnival barker or an ad (wo)man, you’re still trying to move product.

Most of my adult life, I worked at a place whose primary focus was selling “brand experiences” (not what I did there, but that was their primary focus). I spent a lot of time sitting in meetings where Creative Directors and Strategists would spout the same rhetoric about authenticity and not being “sold to” about Boomers and GenXers as they are now saying about Millennials. These are not generational affectations, this a fundamental human condition. No one enjoys condescension and a good portion of the buying public is smart enough to understand when you are talking down to them (and often when you’re talking down to other demographics as well). Rarely did the word-salad-faux-Ted-talk strategy sessions churn out anything but pandering and recycled ideas. There were a few inspired moments, but they were depressingly far apart. On the few occasions where I fell within the target demographic (whiskey drinkers for instance), the strategy often showed a fundamental misunderstanding of the already imbedded culture within the demo. These misunderstandings often went all the up the chain to the multi-national beverage conglomerate that hired us in the first place. Where the New York Times article feels like the Wild Turkey campaign is falling into the same traps I’ve seen a thousand times, the video suggests a deeper understanding, not just for the brand, but for the culture of whiskey drinkers. There seems to be a concerted effort not to alienate the market that already exists in an effort to chase one that may never coalesce. There is a reverence for the spirit and the heritage of Wild Turkey that feels genuine.

I’m not angry about the assertion that Millennials are the target audience for this campaign. Honestly, it’s their time. Aging boomers and rising GenXers gave us the whiskey boom, the micro-distillation rage, and the innumerable whiskey blogs. In a way, it’s up to that peer group to continue momentum from the initial ground swell. The ad agencies missed us while they were busy boosting birthday cake vodka, cherry flavored everything, and “whiskey for women”. I’m more upset that they missed the point the first time around than I am to be skipped over now.

I suppose, so far, this is more of a whiskey in advertising diatribe without much to do with whiskey itself. I agree with a lot of what Richard has to say, so I’ll try to be brief. He points out that “We founded Whisk(e)y Apostle on the belief that there is a whiskey for everyone,” and I still mostly believe that. I have only met a few people that have not been able to find a whiskey they enjoy and I think it largely comes down to a lack of willingness to try something. They have a predetermined opinion about what whiskey is (often built on a bad experience with some rotgut brand or other) and they are not interested or willing to give it another chance. It’s also quite possible that I’m wrong. I have a hard time with that though. I love whiskey in many styles and countries of origin. I love some that don’t even taste like what I would call whiskey and some I hate for the very same reason. Strangely, it’s often those weirdos that help me pick up the stragglers waiting to join the whiskey parade. Whiskey is such a diverse class of spirits, it’s hard to believe that someone could write it off in its entirety. I guess, when you are incredibly passionate about something, it’s hard to understand why someone else can’t find the same joy. Maybe McConaughey says it best when he says in the video, “If we’re for you, you’ll know.” I knew whiskey was for me on my first sip, but that’s not everyone’s experience. I’m also innately curious. When I find something I like, I want to learn as much as I can about it, I want try every variety, and I want to share it with others. Even if I don’t like something all that much, I sometimes test it out more that your average person would just to make sure I don’t like it. Not everyone has my sense of curiosity or experimentation. And that’s okay. I’m willing to do the research/testing and share my findings.

I only halfway agree with Richard about whiskey not being an acquired taste though. He’s right that people find whiskey when it’s their time. However, that first sip of whiskey that speaks to you often opens the doors to other drams (some you may have even tried before and didn’t like). Personal tastes change, but so does our ability to parse out flavors, smells, and mouth feel. That’s how you acquire a taste for whiskey, not from dogged repetition, but from finding the one you already love and branching out from there. Some folks will never branch out. They’ll be Jim Beam or Wild Turkey drinkers all their life and never try Four Roses or Old Forester or Buffalo Trace. That’s who the advertisers want; the lifelong, brand-loyal, everyday drinker. That’s not what I’m about, that’s not what Whisk(e)y Apostle is about. We are looking to share a dram with curious folk (in all senses of the term) and folks with a sense of adventure. If that sounds like you, pull up a chair and settle in. It’s going to be a long and beautiful night.

McConaughey, Wild Turkey, and Finding Whiskey

As many of you may already know, there is much commentary in the whiskey world about the new spokesman and creative director for Wild Turkey. He’s a Texas fella by the name of Matthew McConaughey. Yes, that Matthew McConaughey. Not only will he be the spokesman for Wild Turkey but he is also spearheading the writing and directing of their promotions, commercials, photography, etc. So far all we have seen of this union is a painful snippet in the New York Times which doesn’t portray Mr. McConaughey very well and a six minute video you can view here. Admittedly, that video is probably the single best piece of whiskey advertisement that I’ve ever seen. It kicks the shit out the sad pandering that was the Mila Kunis/Jim Beam spots.

Mr. McConaughey’s poignant piece on Turkey really got me thinking. Which is good and I guess that was kind of the point. It got me thinking about how we find ourselves in this crazy infatuation we call whiskey. Whether your tipple of choice is bourbon, scotch, Irish, Japanese, Canadian, Taiwanese, Indian, Australian, French, Dutch, Swedish, or wherever the hell they are making whiskey now, it still comes down to the liquid in the glass. The poorly exerted conversation with Mr. McConaughey in the Times highlights his fervent belief that to get whiskey in the hands of Millennials we have to stop “selling” to them and tell them an authentic story. Well, I bristle a bit at that.

First, any half-witted twenty something who hasn’t been in a bunker their entire life will be well aware that even McConaughey’s well crafted piece of storytelling is selling them something. That’s the point. You don’t buy this product now. I’m going to do whatever I can to engage you enough to get you to buy it tomorrow. Ta-da! Selling! Second, the whole idea that Millenials are the golden goose of whiskey consumption is half baked at best. Yes, everyone is trying to sell to these kids because they are the burgeoning gorilla of buying power. But I’ve got news for you. There are tens of millions of Boomers and Gen-Xers out there who also are not drinking your (or anyone else’s) whiskey. Sell to those damn people too!

I also think that the way whiskey producers are going about selling their products is misguided. There is a lot of talk about the “Mad Men culture” fueling whiskey sales and about trying to get people to “turn away from clear spirits” but I think some of that is horseshit. Yeah, there is a drinking contingent out there that drinks whatever the hell they think is hip or cool. They buy their clothes, cars, food, and just about everything else that way too. Forget those guys and gals. They are bunch of douches anyway. You’ll have their dollar today but it will be gone tomorrow. That’s not what real whiskey drinkers are like and that’s not the base that they should be tapping into. Real whiskey drinkers are those that enjoy whiskey because they like whiskey. Whiskey is their alcoholic vehicle of choice. They may drink it straight, on ice, or crushed under a mountain of soda. They like the taste of whiskey. They don’t drink it because someone told them it was cool or because their dad drank it. That may be why they first tried it but that is not why they still drink it.

Let me dispel a rumor about whiskey drinking. You don’t have to “work up a taste” for whiskey. It’s not a goal to be powered through to at the end. You either like it or you don’t. And that changes over time. Someone may have had it in college to get drunk with buddies but never moved beyond Jim Beam. When they graduated they stuck with beer and then in their forties they were reintroduced and found that they really liked bottles like Bakers, Four Roses, and Elijah Craig. Why? Well they sure as shit weren’t working up a tolerance for the intervening 20 years by drinking Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams. As we get older our palates change. If they didn’t then we would all be forty year olds who only eat McNuggets and fries. As your palate develops you appreciate different flavors. You come back to whiskey and find a depth you never tasted before. THAT is when you really become a whiskey drinker. THAT is the moment a whiskey producer can get their bottle in your hands. Now it’s hard right? That moment is different for each of us. We founded Whisk(e)y Apostle on the belief that there is a whiskey for everyone. You just need to find the one for you. Well, encapsulated in that is the time in your life when you are ready to find that whiskey. Your palate may be ready at 25 or not until you are 55. Everyone is different. As a whiskey company the best you can do is set the table for these folks. And in the mean time you can also fill the coffers with earnings from the numerous sheep that started to drink Wild Turkey 101 one part to 12 parts Coca-Cola just because they like Matthew McConaughey movies.

My own personal story is a bit of what I’m talking about. Matt was heading off to a semester in Wales his senior year at the University of Georgia. Leading up to that he came to Atlanta for a visit. On that visit he wanted me to try something he’d recently been introduced to. It was Bushmills. It was regular old white label. It changed my life. Seriously. Up to that point I avoided alcohol because I didn’t like beer, tequila, or vodka and the only whiskey I’d had to that point was Crown Royal and J&B Rare, both of which I found kind of nasty. Wine was okay but I didn’t know enough about it to stay away from the crap stuff. Bushmills was a revelation. From there, I went so gonzo on Irish whiskey that I had lists of bottles I wanted Matt to track down while he was in Wales. Irish led to scotch. Scotch led to bourbon. Bourbon led to rye…..and on and on it went. I was only 21 but it set me on a course, 16 years later, where whiskey drinking is just a part of who I am. I am a father, husband, karate-ka, and whiskey drinker. It’s that important to me.

All this blathering on makes for a pretty shitty manifesto on whiskey. However, I like where McConaughey seems to be going. His thoughts on the subject may be a little off track (or off quoted) but he’s doing a damn good just setting the table for anyone nearing their intersection with whiskey. They just need to take a seat. Wild Turkey isn’t too damn bad for a first course either.

Rare Breed

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
54.1% ABV

What the Distillery Says:
Rare Breed is a “barrel-proof bourbon” (108.2 proof, 54.1% alcohol), meaning it has no added water to lower the proof or dilute the flavor after it’s been distilled. This bourbon is a unique marriage of Wild Turkey 6-, 8-, and 12-year-old stocks, giving it a remarkably smooth flavor considering its high alcohol content. It has hints of light oranges, mint, and tones of sweet tobacco. Jimmy Russell keeps his Rare Breed in the freezer so he doesn’t have to add ice, which would dilute the flavor.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Whoa, that starts creeping toward you as soon as it hits the glass. From afar it smells just like walking into the distillery: mash, yeast, and aging whiskey. Pull it a little closer and out rolls fresh yeast bread dough, cinnamon, orange blossoms, black pepper and mint (with water).
Palate: More pepper, roasted nuts, tobacco, and creme brulee.
Finish: Dark chocolate, cocoa powder, heavy cigar tobacco, transitioning pepper notes from black to white and a big smack of wood.
Comments: This is the ultimate “it’ll put hair on your chest” bourbon. Rare Breed doesn’t mince words. It gets in there and kicks ass. The Harry Callahan of bourbons. It’s not the newest and trendiest thing off the new release calendar but is damn good and always worth a go.
Rating: Must Try

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
55% ABV

What the Distillery Says:
When it comes to whiskey making in the United States, Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie are America’s bourbon aristocracy. After an incredible 90 years combined experience distilling award-winning whiskey, the two are rolling out one of their richest and most flavorful bourbons to date: Russell’s Reserve® Single Barrel Straight Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. This much anticipated bottling at a take-no-prisoners 110 proof is nonchill filtered, resulting in an unparalleled burst of flavor in every sip. As the crowning glory of America’s famed Wild Turkey bourbon family,
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel promises to not only be the choice for bourbon connoisseurs, but it will also be what Jimmy and Eddie reach for time and time again. As they say in Lawrenceburg, “Our experience guarantees yours.”

What makes Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel unique is not only its high proof, but the fact that the whiskey bypasses the chill-filtration process. Chill-filtration is a common process whereby the whiskey is chilled at temperatures below freezing and is passed through an absorption filter thus removing fatty acids and other flavor contributors such as esters and proteins. By avoiding the chill-filtration process, the whiskey is bottled with more flavor compounds and a deeper color which is denoted by an impressive haze when ice or chilled water is added.

Every expression of Russell’s Reserve – both the Bourbon and rye Whiskey – is matured in only the deepest number 4 or “alligator” charred American white oak barrels to ensure the richest flavor and color. Jimmy and Eddie insist on this char level and are among only a handful of whiskey distillers who use it. The best aged whiskey barrels are hand selected by this legendary pair themselves and only from the center cut of the rick house – since that’s where
the optimal maturation occurs. Adamant about quality, the Russell’s will only use the natural, weather-driven process for maturation – never air conditioned or heated “because it’s the right thing to do.”

“This is Bourbon at its best,” declares Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller. “What is incredibly special about the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel is that each barrel has its own personality, but still captures the rich, creamy toffee vanilla style of Russell’s Reserve. This bottling celebrates what we love about Russell’s Reserve, but takes it to another level.”

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel delivers a burst of intense vanilla and hints of burnt orange, along with tastes licorice and anise seed, on the palate, culminating with a rich and long finish.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Honeysuckle and butter cookies.
Palate: Lots of cinnamon, vanilla, and buttery sweet without being cloying.
Finish: A little wood and black pepper heat on the finish.
Comments: Nice and solid. I had to chuckle a little bit at being “small batch” and “single barrel” though. Isn’t single barrel the ultimate small batch? Classic Wild Turkey flavors in a well structured middle of the road bourbon.
Rating: Stands Out

I like to thank Mr. Rotondi at exposureusa for sending me a sample to review.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel (750ml) will be available nationwide at specialist liquor stores priced at $49.99. It will also be available in select bars and restaurants specializing in fine whiskies.

Wild Turkey 81

Wild Turkey 81 Straight Bourbon WhiskeyWild Turkey 81
40.5% ABV, $20
Available: Throughout the US

What the distillery says (Matt’s interpretation of the press release):
Wild Turkey 81 is Eddie Russell’s first solo project for the distillery. After cutting his teeth working with his father on the Russell’s Reserve bottlings (and one could assume the rest of the Wild Turkey portfolio), Eddie comes out of the gate with a whiskey specifically designed for cocktails. With WT 81, Eddie hopes to hit the niche that finds Wild Turkey 101 a bit too harsh and other whiskeys too wimpy for mixed drinks. He uses the classic Wild Turkey high-rye mash with heavily charred barrels and blends whiskeys ranging from 6-8 years of age. The press release has this to say about the WT 81:

The result is a whiskey with a deep, rich amber color, and a nose full of fruit, butterscotch, toffee and toasted oak. On the tongue, you discover cigar-box sweetness, caramel, vanilla and pear, with a long finish of rich spice notes and hints of toast.

What Matt says:
Nose: Citrus, mint, caramel, oak, and shellac
Palate: A little sharp, acidic and warm, mint and caramel, rye spice and a little char
Finish: Clean and malty with a lingering sweetness
Comments: A little water mellows the sharpness on the palate, but (as expected) this whiskey really shines in a cocktail. With all the natural mint flavors, I decided to throw together a quick Mint Julep. To my palate, Eddie Russell reached his goal here. I’m not a big fan of Wild Turkey in general (with the exceptions of Kentucky Spirit and certain bottlings of Russell’s Reserve), but there is a good balance of rye spice, caramel sweetness, proof and char to the 81. Plus, it retails for $19.99. You can’t really beat that.

Richard has not had the opportunity to review this whiskey yet.

Special thanks to Brian Roundy at The Thomas Collective for the generous sample.