Wild Turkey 17 Year Old Master's Keep

Yes, we know, it's hard to believe: an actual seventeen year old Bourbon that you can actually get from an actual Kentucky whiskey distillery. Not just any distillery either—Wild Turkey, the famous Kickin' Chicken still under the watchful eye of legendary distiller Jimmy Russell. A release like this in the whiskey industry is a pretty big deal, so obviously we wanted to know more about how the product came to be. Seeing that my colleague and I happened to be searching for casks in Kentucky all last week, we decided to stop by the Wild Turkey distillery to see if we could get a sneak preview of the new release. Jimmy greeted us as we walked in and was more than happy to oblige. 

In the current American whiskey environment, finding an age statement older than ten years is becoming an anomaly. The first question we had for Jimmy before tasting was straight-forward: where did Wild Turkey find these barrels? Were they purposely being held back for a future release? "Back in the late 90s we were having storage issues on site and we needed to offload some of our inventory," he told us. "We needed somewhere to put some of our whiskey." This isn't an uncommon practice in the whiskey industry—distilleries borrowing or renting warehouse space from other companies. "The Master's Keep is made from a batch of barrels we had been storing off-site," he told us. We nodded in understanding. Then we took a sip.

"This is incredibly soft!" I reacted in surprise. "It's very rich, but at the same time it's incredibly mellow. Was there a reason you guys proofed it down to 43%?" I asked. Then came the shocker:

"That's actually right about at cask strength for these barrels," Jimmy answered. "You see at one point we had to transfer the whiskey over to the Old Taylor distillery. Are you guys familiar with that place?"

"Do you mean the haunted old site down the road from here?" I asked. 

"That's the one," Jimmy said. "The warehouses at Old Taylor are made from brick, which isn't the standard material for a Bourbon warehouse these days. You don't get the same fluctuation of temperature like you do in a wooden rickhouse, so the whiskey tends to lower in proof over time. These casks spent a lot of time in those old brick warehouses, so they were aged more like Scotch." We took another sip.

"It doesn't taste watered down. It's loaded with candy corn and vanilla and toasted oak, but I can't get over how silky it is," I said. "When you noticed that the casks were lowering in proof did you eventually pull them back over to the Wild Turkey site?"

"Yes," Jimmy answered. "If you look at the label you'll see it says '1. Wood, 2. Stone, 3. Wood' and that's to indicate the three types of warehouses in which the whiskey was aged. This is the oldest whiskey we've ever released. My son Eddy did the blending and we're very proud of it."

Not only is the new Master's Keep stunningly smooth and delicious, it also comes in one of the most beautiful whiskey bottles we've seen, adorned with a handsome gift box. It's one of the most impressive releases from Wild Turkey ever—period. A seventeen year old Bourbon from Jimmy Russell, made from a batch of barrels aged at the ghostly Old Taylor distillery? How could we temper our excitement?!

Now let's just hope we've secured enough to satiate demand!

Wild Turkey 17 Year Old Master's Keep Kentucky Bourbon $129.99 - Finding an age statement in today's Bourbon market is like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Finding one that's above ten years of age is like finding a needle in a haystack. Because of the current state of affairs, the prices for American whiskey are going bananas. So how is it that Wild Turkey can come in and drop a 17 year old gem of a Bourbon for the same price as some non-age statement MGP-bottled mystery? We weren't sure, so we headed on down to the distillery recently to try ourselves a pour. Soft, round, and rich on the palate, this is a velvet textured whiskey for those looking for "smooth". It's loaded with candy corn, toasted oak, and even a touch of maple syrup on the finish. We visited with Jimmy Russell soon after and it turns out the reduced proof and softness of the spirit came due to the brick warehouses at the Old Taylor site where these casks were kept. It reduced the ABV, rather than increased it because brick does a better job of keeping out the heat, so the low proof is a natural phenomenon of the environment. And it tastes like 17 year old Bourbon with extra weight on the palate and concentration of oak you just don't find in 10 year old whiskies. I doubt we'll see anything this good in this quantity any time again soon. For those of you who need that special Bourbon Christmas gift this year, I'd start shopping right now.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll