Wild Turkey makes few mistakes, but in the case of Forgiven, its latest limited-release whiskey, we're glad the renowned Bourbon and rye distillery made an error.
The whiskey takes its name from the unplanned circumstances of its conception. Distillery workers mistakenly mixed a batch of six-year-old Bourbon with four-year-old rye. Associate master distiller Eddie Russell was at first angry and resigned to writing off the 10,000 gallons of spirit as an illegitimate birth—until he tasted it. Now all is forgiven.
Russell liked what he drank, and spent the next two-and-a-half years cajoling the company into releasing the whiskey as a one-off. Because it is made solely from straight whiskeys, it still must be called a blend. (Most blends are made by mixing straight whiskey, the product of new barrels, with whiskey from previously used barrels or from unaged spirit.)
When Russell brought the whiskey, which he describes as a meeting of the creamy vanilla of Bourbon with the pepper of rye, to a corporate meeting, he got the approval he sought. "The Australian marketing guys wanted all of it. But the Americans wanted some, too."
The end result was a limited release of 5,000 cases worldwide. Russell says that the whiskey blends 7,500 gallons of Bourbon with 2,500 of rye. Other than its honey-flavored whiskey, this is the first Wild Turkey blend in history, according to the distiller.
The small craft distiller High West created a similarly blended whiskey a few years ago on purpose, and Russell says he has been accused of making Forgiven by design as well. But he swears by the error. “I've still got the report,” he says.
The whiskey is a wild ride between flavor components, suitable for sipping, mixing and enjoying with a cigar. Here's hoping Wild Turkey screws up so enjoyably again.
Wild Turkey Forgiven (91 proof, or 45.5 alcohol by volume; no age statement; $49.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Deep copper with the slightest patina of green and lanky legs that stroll down the glass.
NOSE: A lush crossing of fruit, spice and cream. Just sweet enough to suggest exotic pectin treats, but including leather, wood and caramel, as well as notes of pepper.
PALATE: Blows into the mouth with an effervescent gust of mints and anise. After the brisk introduction, it turns on the charms with toffee, vanilla, maple and nougat candies. And right when you're tasting walnuts, out comes another spicy slap, with the sharp report of lemon.
FINISH: Ultimately it starts to purr again, and calming waves of wheat and dessert candy leave you contemplating another ride. While this whiskey is as complex as differential equations, it is no gentle tube ride down a flavor river. It's a roller coaster. Steady, now.
Note: This stuff is born to go in Manhattans. It's got the flavor span to match up with any manner of sweet vermouth or bitters, and has the fortitude to stand up for itself. No silent partner this. Mix it two parts whiskey, one part vermouth.
CIGAR PAIRING: Regius Grandido (7 inches by 47 ring gauge, $7.95, 91 Points, Cigar Aficionado June 2013). The smoke of this attractive Churchill is dense and velvety, layering the palate with leather, tea and nutty intonations. The finish is warm and toasty. A medium-bodied cigar. The first thing the Forgiven does is to get into the nap of that velvet and shake it up a bit, teasing out previously unnoticed spices. The Regius replies with its calming influence: "Settle down, big fella." And the whiskey responds by roliing over and showing its nutty underbelly. The cigar answers with its leather, and they both go off together for a playful romp. Great interaction between elements that are in essentially different weight classes.
Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 2 (6 inches by 55 ring gauge, $12.50, 92 Points, Cigar Aficionado October 2013).
This reddish-colored torpedo burns and draws superbly, balancing nut and cocoa flavor with a touch of red pepper spice and sweet cedar. The cigar strives to keep up its balancing act amid the pokes from the whiskey. Ultimately it gives up a bit more of its spice, while maintaining a dominance from its rounder flavors. The Forgiven smooths out some under the influence of the Fuente, and much of the Bourbon notes become more evident, with its vanilla and caramel flavors coming to the surface. This pairing attacks the marriage from a different angle, but is just as pleasing as the former.