September is National Bourbon Heritage Month by declaration of the U.S. Senate, and Kentucky's Bourbon Festival was held this past weekend in Bardstown, Ky. Even if you missed the festival, it's not too late to celebrate with America's Native Spirit. Wild Turkey has been slaking the thirst of bourbon lovers everywhere since 1940, when distiller Thomas McCarthy brought along a batch of the good stuff on a turkey hunt -- it doesn't get more American than shooting things and drinking whiskey, amirite? -- and his friends asked for second helpings of that "Wild Turkey Bourbon" the next year.
Many of us are familiar by now with the classic Wild Turkey Straight Kentucky Bourbon, or Wild Turkey 101, and it's still a go-to whiskey, but there's a whole line of specialty bourbons now made by the folks at Wild Turkey. Longtime Wild Turkey distiller Jimmy Russell makes bourbon "the old-fashioned way," distilled to a lower-than-usual proof of 109 and then aged in-barrel. The lower proof in-barrel means he needs more barrels to make the same amount of whiskey, making the process more expensive, but allowing him to add just a touch of water to bring it down to its bottled proof of 101 when it finishes aging, retaining its familiar flavors of caramel, honey and vanilla, with a hint of citrus.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed
Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a rare bird indeed, bottled in limited quantities and priced at around $40 a bottle. It's a small-batch bourbon bottled at barrel proof, meaning no water is added before it hits the shelf at 109 proof. It's made from a mix of 6-, 8- and 12-year-old bourbons. (Also known as "cask proof" in the world of Scotch, this type of specialty bottling is becoming increasingly popular among whiskey lovers, who enjoy tasting the brown stuff at barrel strength, and then slowly adding water or ice to dilute it down to its normal proof, which releases more of its aromas.)
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
Kentucky Spirit is Wild Turkey's top of the line. It's a single-barrel small-batch bourbon made from hand-selected barrels chosen for their consistency and quality. It's a beautiful, bright, brownish orange color and full of Wild Turkey's trademark woodsy caramel, brown sugar and nutty leather notes. It's also Wild Turkey's priciest offering, at about $50 a bottle.
Russell's Reserve 10-Year-Old
The Russell's Reserve line is handcrafted by Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russelll and his son, associate distiller Eddie. This is another small-batch bourbon, obviously aged for 10 years, and probably second only to the Kentucky Spirit in quality among Wild Turkey's offerings (well-priced at about $30 a bottle). You'll want to take it slow with this one, as it evolves for a while once it hits the open air, and really shines with an ice cube or two to bring out the fresh-cut wood aromas.
Wild Turkey American Honey
American Honey is a bourbon-based liqueur made from Kentucky Straight Bourbon combined with natural American honey. It works as a straight, neat cocktail, no ice needed, though expect your mouth to be coated as only a blend of honey and whiskey will, not necessarily a bad thing.
Next: The Kilbeggan Dubliner
American Honey Patriot Tea
Wild Turkey American Honey is best served as a cocktail base in our opinion, and since there's an election coming up, American Honey Patriot Tea is the perfect cocktail for the last days of summer. In a large saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add 1/2 a cup of sugar, stirring to dissolve. Remove from heat and add 8 black tea bags, allowing them to steep for 10 minutes (then toss them), transfer to pitcher and chill (if tea is too strong at this point, add more water to taste). Muddle a whole lemon's worth of wedges and add to pitcher. Add 1/2 a cup of fresh mint leaves (muddled or unmuddled, depending on how minty you like your cocktail). Stir in 2 cups of Wild Turkey American Honey and serve over ice, garnished with a lemon wedge.