Taste Test: Wild Turkey Generations Is One of the Best Whiskeys We’ve Tried This Year

What does legacy mean when it comes to bourbon? A lot actually, given that there are several well-known Kentucky distilleries that have a few generations of family members who are deeply involved with making whiskey. One of those is Wild Turkey, of course, which now has three generations of Russells guiding the operation. And all of them had a hand in creating the latest release, aptly called Generations.

Jimmy Russell has worked for Wild Turkey for 69 years, starting in 1954 and becoming master distiller about a decade later. Even as he approaches 90, Jimmy can still often be found at the distillery, and if you are lucky you will run into him signing bottles at the gift shop. His son Eddie started out as a rickhouse union worker in 1981 before working his way up to master distiller, and has been with the company now for nearly 40 years. The newest generation is Eddie’s son Bruce, who has worked at the distillery for more than a decade and is now an associate blender. You get the gist—this is a family affair. So to celebrate that the distillery just released a new bourbon called Wild Turkey Generations, a blend of nine to 15-year-old whiskey, each selected to highlight a different flavor profile preferred by a particular Russell. Because although the Wild Turkey DNA is the important throughline, there are varying approaches that each man takes when it comes to tasting notes and age statements.

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Admittedly, it’s easy to mythologize and gloss over details when considering the legacy of bourbon royalty, as humble as they might be in real life. But it’s truly fascinating to hear the three Russells talk about the history of Wild Turkey, which predates them but really became a cultural icon during Jimmy’s tenure as master distiller. According to Bruce, Jimmy (or “Mimmy” as he affectionately calls him) laid the foundation at the distillery and Eddie opened up the portfolio. As far as styles, Jimmy prefers the traditional Wild Turkey spice of the classic 101 bourbon aged for around six to 12 years, and Eddie likes things a bit more “elegant,” as he calls it, and aged around 10 years. In other words, said Bruce, there are Mimmy whiskeys and Eddie whiskeys.

For Generations, Jimmy picked nine-year-old whiskey from the main Tyrone campus to give the blend some 101 character; Eddie picked what Bruce calls the “quintessential” age for him, a 15-year-old bourbon; Bruce picked a 12-year-old for some extra spice; and they all decided that a 14-year-old bourbon was the best of the lot, so that went into the mix as the base component. Bruce summed up his feelings about this release with a quip–“I don’t know if I’ll ever be the whiskey maker that Dad and Mimmy are,” he said. “I’m just hoping to follow their legacy. But I don’t know if they’ve ever had a better whiskey with their name on the bottle the first time.”

So let’s get to the whiskey at hand. Generations is a fantastic bourbon, no question, and at 120.8 proof it’s also the highest proof Wild Turkey release. It should also be noted that this is the most expensive to date with an SRP of $450, which will be enticing to some and a turnoff for others. Only 5,000 bottles are being released, so you can rest assured that the secondary market will immediately turn this into a unicorn bottle. That being said, it’s really excellent. There’s a strong note of cherry on the nose and front end of the palate, almost more like Cherry Coke than fresh cherries. There is also a fleeting of root beer float, a nostalgic sweet and spicy hit for anyone who has enjoyed one as a kid (or maybe more recently). Then there are flavors like vanilla, chocolate syrup, black pepper, sweet tobacco, orange zest, and even a hint of rainbow sherbet, mingling with oak, tobacco, and leather. The most remarkable thing is that this does not drink like a 120.8 proof bourbon—for some reason there is just very little burn as you sip.

During a recent gala dinner at a horse farm outside of Louisville, the three generations of Russells were feted with speeches, southern cooking, and lots of whiskey, including ample pours of Generations. Sure, the celebration of family history plays a part here, and there’s nothing wrong with that–most American whiskey is based on storytelling as much as it is on actual flavor. But Wild Turkey Generations lives up to the hype, so consider yourself lucky if you find a bottle to try for yourself. Check out the Wild Turkey website for purchasing information.

Score: 97

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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