Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 1894

Wild Turkey are probably best known for their easily accessible and affordable bourbons, things like the classic Wild Turkey 101, their Rye and the Rare Breed expression. But every now and then they come along and surprise us with what can best be described as a premium release.

The great thing about their ‘premium’ releases though is that they’re not show-pony bottles of unobtainium; things that look good on a shelf, but that you’d never actually enjoy. Rather, they’re generally bourbons that carry the classic Wild Turkey profile, but give us something a little bit different to the core offerings. And the best part? They’re still accessible and affordable.

In recent years we’ve seen a few premium releases such as the Master’s Keep 17 year old (2015) and then last year’s Master’s Keep Decades release (hugely enjoyable – tasted here). At that point it became apparent that the ‘Master’s Keep’ was going to be an ongoing series, but that wasn’t always going to be the case. According to Eddie Russell, the Master’s Keep was never intended to be an ongoing release, but once they saw how nice the new bottle design had turned out, they knew they wanted to keep using it.

So ever since the Decades release last year, many bourbon fans have been patiently waiting to see what the next instalment would be in the Master’s Keep collection. Well, say hello to the new Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 1894.

The man himself, Mr Eddie Russell, made the trip all the way down here to Australia to launch the new Master’s Keep 1894 and I had the pleasure of being invited along to an intimate dinner at Chiswick to celebrate the occasion. If you ever thought Kentucky was south, trying coming all the way down here to Australia. It’s about as south as you’re going to get before you hit Antarctica, so I genuinely mean it when I say that it’s always a delight when distillers make the effort to come and visit us.

A delicious meal ensued whilst Eddie talked us through tastings of the two previous Master’s Keep releases, along with the new 1894.

What’s in a name

The previous Master’s Keep expressions were fairly self-explanatory in terms of their names corresponding to what was in the bottle. The Master’s Keep 17 year old was just that; some super old Wild Turkey that had been aged for 17 years (in brick warehouses) before being bottled. The Master’s Keep Decades was a nod to the fact that the whiskey inside was a blend of bourbon aged between 10 and 20 years. So when the Master’s Keep 1894 was announced, I struggled to make the connection.

Google wasn’t a whole lot of help, but thankfully Eddie filled in the blanks with a bit of a back-story behind the significance of 1894. It was in that year that the oldest rickhouse at Wild Turkey was constructed, now simply known as Rickhouse A. Fast forward nearly 100 years to the year 1981. A spritely 21 year old Eddie Russell has just started his first job at the distillery in the summer as a General Helper (yes, that was his official title!), pocketing the princely sum of $6.58 an hour.

He’s been there for a full week now and on his second Friday of work, he noticed a group of guys knocking off around 3.30pm and heading into one of the rickhouses. The invite him along and it’s here that he gets his first taste of whiskey straight from the barrel. That warehouse was Rickhouse A. To this day, Eddie claims it was the best bourbon he’s ever tasted and so he decided to dedicate this release to that memorable moment. You may have guessed it already, but all of the whiskey in the new Master’s Keep 1894 has been hand-selected by Eddie Russell, exclusively from Rickhouse A.

The nitty gritty from the man himself

I had the chance to sit down and ask Eddie a bit more about the 1894 and whether there was a specific profile he was searching for when he put it together. He happily tells me “I knew there was a parcel of 2003 vintage barrels in Rickhouse A that had this amazing fruit profile – full of pears and apple spice – so when I was asked to create the 1894, I knew I wanted to use these”. These barrels were around 13 years old and were eventually paired with a parcel of barrels from 2005 and 2011. So for those who like to know the nitty gritty, the new Master’s Keep 1894 can be described as a vatting of 13, 11 and 6 year old bourbons.

Master’s Keep 1894 Review

Bottled at 45% ABV (90 Proof) the nose is very much the way Eddie describes it – fruity! I got notes of honey, slightly underripe banana, stewed rhubarb, dried pears and apples. These notes were balanced nicely with lashings of caramel, spice and vanilla.  The palate is quite thin, but delivers more of those fruit notes, almost like a fruity banana/ apply split with sweet creamy vanilla ice cream, soft rye (baking) spice, runny caramel and whipped cream.

Now, depending on where you’re reading this from, there’s some good news and some bad news. If you’re reading this from Australia, the good news is that 10,000 bottles of the new Master’s Keep 1894 have just landed in the country and should start hitting shelves soon, so keep an eye out for them!

If you’re reading this from somewhere other than Australia, the bad news (for you) is that the new Master’s Keep 1894 is exclusively for the Australian market. Fear not though! A fourth installment of the Master’s Keep series will be released next year (yes, this one will reach other markets), along with another special project that Eddie is working on with actor – and Wild Turkey Ambassador – Matthew McConaughey.

An experience like this is not one I’ll forget anytime soon, so a sincere thanks goes out to Wild Turkey Australia for the generous invitation and to Mr Eddie Russell himself for making the effort to come all the way down here.

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