Cigar Aficionado

Wild Turkey Brings a New Rye to the Flock

Wild Turkey’s associate master distiller Eddie Russell has weighed in with Wild Turkey 81 Rye, a counterpart to the Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon he developed last year with an eye towards mixability. The new whiskey packs a decided punch despite its diminutive—by Wild Turkey standards—alcohol content.

The hallmark proof for the distillery has long been 101, the level at which the master distiller and father to Eddie, Jimmy Russell, believes Bourbon best shows off its charms.

With both 81-proof versions, the younger Russell’s intent has been to produce full-flavored whiskeys at a lower strength meant for younger drinkers and mixing in cocktails. To develop the rye he conferred with “mixologists and whiskey lovers around the country who were in search of a rye whiskey that wouldn’t back down to a mixer.”

Russell has succeeded by using barrels charred to the deepest level—four—or what he calls “alligator char.” Bourbon and straight rye whiskeys are always aged in white-oak casks that have been charred on the inside to hasten maturation.

The distiller is allowed the discretion of how shallow or deep the char should be.

The new rye is also a mingling of four- and five-year-old whiskeys. American straight whiskey must be a minimum of two years old, and if they are younger than four years old that age must be stated on the bottle.

Wild Turkey has long made rye whiskies alongside its more famous Bourbon efforts. The first was a 101 proof rye. In 2007, it added its Russell’s Reserve Rye 6 Years Old, a 90-proof version meant as a companion to its 10-year-old Russell’s Reserve Bourbon.

Rye has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity of late, the category growing 27 percent in the last year alone. The whiskey is made similarly to Bourbon, but the mash bill—or grain recipe—must include at least 51 percent rye, which gives it a distinctly spicy quality.

The sweeter Bourbon must contain at least 51 percent corn. In the case of Wild Turkey all of its ryes include 65 percent rye, 23 percent corn and 12 percent barley.

(Tasting notes and cigar pairing on next page)

Wild Turkey 81 Rye (81 proof or 40.5 percent alcohol, $22.99)

APPEARANCE: Medium to light yellow with a slight bronze. Delicate, slow legs.

NOSE: Big spice with vanilla comes blasting out, then subtler aromas show themselves. There’s an undertow of bread dough and a delicate floral character as well.

PALATE: So much more full-bodied and savory than its color would suggest. Opens up with a big charge of spicy rye. But wait that out and coquettish fruity flavors start to appear with toast and licorice.

FINISH: By the time this whiskey is through with you it’s hard to recall what a spice bomb it was to begin with. What languishes is hard candy and Christmas pudding.

Wild turkey rye and cigars.


E.P. Carrillo Short Run Connecticut 2012 (Not Yet Rated)
The milder of the two cigars we tasted with this whiskey, it was creamy and toasty. It had little effect on the bolder rye, perhaps showcasing its spice. The whiskey, however, seemed to overpower the cigar, stripping it of some flavor.

Ramon Allones Especiales Exclusivo Suiza Regional Edition (92 points)
This big, bold cigar, on the other hand, came off as made to be smoked with the Wild Turkey. The cigar’s flavors jumps up a lot when the rye is added, making it even richer and more full-bodied. What’s odd is the smoke gets sweeter as you’d think a rye wouldn’t add sweetness. But the residual sugar in the finish of the rye draws out the nuances of the cigar.