With innovation driving a large part of the growth in the spirits industry, it’s no surprise to see the lines between spirit categories blur. Captain Morgan Rum was one of the first major brands to recognize this shift and launched a cross spirit category product, Captain Morgan Black, an oaky spiced rum squarely aimed at the whiskey drinker. Wild Turkey is now applying a similar tactic in the reverse direction trying to appeal to the spiced rum consumer with their new Wild Turkey Spiced. It’s an interesting move at a time where many non-whiskey brands are trying to be more like whiskey and capture some of the incredible growth of the category.
Wild Turkey Spiced isn’t the first spiced whiskey to enter the marketplace: Pow-Wow Botanical Rye holds that distinction. Pow-Wow was less aimed at the spiced rum consumer and more focused on the small but growing aged botanical spirit space, which includes both aged gin and genever. While there’s some high volume in the spiced rum space, the price point is much, much lower than aged gin which is seen (and priced) more like a premium or super premium product. Wild Turkey Spiced is conspicuously labeled as “Wild Turkey Spiced” and not “Wild Turkey Spiced Whiskey,” which is like promoting a movie with Johnny Depp in it and not mentioning that he is actually in the movie. Wild Turkey also has the words “Mighty Spirit” on the label, an interesting move which unfortunately reinforces a part of their brand that’s hamstrung their growth – namely that they are considered to be too strong.
Wild Turkey Spiced (86 proof / 43 % ABV, $22.99) – the label discloses in a very verbose way that this is “a bold blend of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey with spice & other natural flavors.” The term “other natural flavors” sometimes refers to sugar (as it does with American Harvest), and it’s clear from the start that Wild Turkey Spiced has sugar in it. The nose of Wild Turkey Spiced reminds us of Dr. Pepper and bourbon with vanilla, clove, caramel, oak, ginger, pepper, and subtle cherry . The entry for Wild Turkey Spiced is very short and sweet with brown sugar and cherry quickly transitioning to the midpalate which is a mess of clove, pepper, ginger, oak, and brown sugar. None of the flavors in Wild Turkey Spiced really integrate or make any sense together – it just tastes like bad, spicy, sweet, adulterated whiskey. Oak, clove, and brown sugar lead the finish which is as off kilter and disjointed as the rest of the flavor experience. Wild Turkey Spiced is one of the first truly terrible products we’ve tried from Wild Turkey.
Wild Turkey Spiced is a fairly significant mis-step for the Wild Turkey brand, which can now officially be considered flailing under Campari America’s ownership. Over the past few years we’ve seen one of our favorite brands discontinue one of the best rye whiskeys on the market with Wild Turkey Rye 101 watered down to 81 proof, a low proof version of Wild Turkey 101 released as Wild Turkey 81, the absurdly named Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey (how can a single barrel not be a small batch?!) and the farcical Forgiven.
It’s perplexing why one of the best bourbons on the market can’t focus on communicating to a very thirsty whiskey consumer that the base Wild Turkey 101 is one of the best bangs for the buck on the market. Wild Turkey has found itself in an odd spot where they are considered too strong and fiery by the average consumer, and not “premium” enough for whiskey connoisseurs. Wild Turkey Spiced is a major step backwards in solving both those problems. What’s worse, Wild Turkey Spiced is chasing a market that’s simply not worth chasing. The spiced rum category has had its time in the sun; many rum producers are now looking at ways to transform their products to appeal more to whiskey consumers, and that means more age, more premium, and less spiced. Does Wild Turkey really want to compete against Captain Morgan and Sailor Jerry, both of which will always win on price and brand?
It’s hard to believe that under Jimmy Russell’s direction a product like Wild Turkey Spiced could get made. Jimmy Russell is notoriously tough when it comes to the whiskey he produces and has stuck to his guns for decades. Wild Turkey Spiced, which is promoted as being “developed by Wild Turkey Bourbon’s Associate Master Distiller and Bourbon Hall of Famer Eddie Russell,” is a clear signal that Jimmy Russell isn’t in a position to dictate what Wild Turkey will and won’t produce. Unfortunately, it’s also clear than when a Wild Turkey product gets released with Eddie Russell’s name on it (and not Jimmy’s), it’s something that was dictated by Campari America rather than developed by bourbon legend Jimmy Russell. We’d be shocked if Wild Turkey Spiced finds any traction in the marketplace. It’s the wrong product at the wrong time and it hurts rather than helps one of the most underrated brands in bourbon.