Review: Wild Turkey Forgiven

Wild Turkey Forgiven
Wild Turkey Forgiven

According to Wild Turkey, the backstory on their new bourbon and rye blend, Forgiven, is:

“When our Distillery’s crew unwittingly mingled a very rare, high proof Rye with perfectly aged Bourbon, our Associate Master Distiller (Eddie Russell) discovered they had created something exceptional: a whiskey blend that’s big, bold  and spicy yet exceptionally smooth. Needless to say all was forgiven.”

It’s a nice story, but we just aren’t buying it. Distilleries, especially ones run by legends like Jimmy Russell, run like well oiled machines. Batches are tightly controlled by computers, bar codes, and in some cases RFID. We’re talking about massive multi-million dollar operations, where someone doesn’t accidentally do anything. What’s probably more the case is that Wild Turkey, like most bourbon suppliers faced with a shortage in aged rye, turned to a product that would bring some rye into the mix at a price and volume that made sense. Bourbon and rye blends aren’t anything new: Bourye from High West was released back in 2010 and helped put High West on the map (it also embarrassingly won ADI’s 2010 Craft Whiskey Competition, even though it was a blend of non-craft whiskey). Wild Turkey naturally is a high rye whiskey (it has more rye in its mashbill) and it’s 6 year old Russell’s Reserve Rye is one of the gold standards for rye, so why not blend the two together? It makes perfect sense.

The tough thing isn’t combining these two whiskeys, it’s trying to market a blend of 4 and 6 year whiskeys and explaining to the consumer that where a barrel of whiskey is aged is sometimes more important than how long. While it’s not listed on the bottle, Forgiven is made up of “78 percent 6-year-old Bourbon and 22 percent 4-year-old Rye.” While some whiskey enthusiasts have a fetish for old bourbon and rye, the real sweet spots for both are at around 6 years.

Forgiven (91 proof / 45.5% ABV, $49.99) comes in at a noticeably lower proof than the companies’ signature 101 proof offering, but you wouldn’t know that from the nose. Whereas Wild Turkey 101 is more defined by its sweet vanilla and lush caramel nose, Forgiven has much more oak and rye spice. One of the things we love about Russell’s Reserve 6 is the light, floral, rye spice notes – there’s a hint of that here – but the rye also presents much sharper and spicier, which balances well with the increase in oak. Even though it’s a lower proof, Forgiven smells like it’s a more robust whiskey. The color of Forgiven is also slightly darker than Wild Turkey 101, again speaking to the impact of where it was aged.

The entry of Forgiven has some of the qualities that we really love about Wild Turkey 101 with lush caramel and cinnamon. Things build in the midpalate, but not as dramatically as Wild Turkey 101. It’s in the midpalate that the rye in the mix really emerges with a lot more oak than you find in either 101 or Wild Turkey rye. There’s a nice level of complexity to the midpalate with the sweeter notes from the entry mixing with the spicy notes. It’s here where the beauty of a bourbon and rye blend really comes together. The finish is a nice match to the rest of the flavor experience, with oak spice dominating, but with many of the elements of the midpalate lingering on for quite a while. At this proof the finish is a lot less powerful and a lot less dry than 101, but it fits this whiskey like a glove and is very pleasant.

Wild Turkey is one of the most underrated bourbons on the market. Whiskey drinkers tend to gravitate to opposite poles of the bourbon spectrum, with the lighter Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Larceny Bourbon on one end, and the big, bold, high proof George T. Stagg, Pappy Van Winkle, and Thomas Handy on the other. Wild Turkey often finds itself stuck in the middle and unfairly overlooked. Wild Turkey tried to play on the easy end with Wild Turkey 81, which isn’t where they are best suited, and then on the high end with the craptastically named Russell’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey. Now with Forgiven, they’re making a stab at the $50 premium market with something that isn’t as much of a power punch as 101 but something that still has a lot of strength, complexity, and flavor.

Divorced from its absurd back story and judged purely by what’s in the bottle (without paying any attention to what percentage of what and how old any of this is), Forgiven is quite an enjoyable and tasty whiskey. It captures many of the things we love about the Wild Turkey brand and brings it together into a single bottle. Forgiven is a well crafted whiskey that’s nicely balanced with some great complexity. Beyond tasting it for review, we found ourselves really drinking this whiskey – a true benchmark of a great product. We forgive Wild Turkey for spinning a yarn around this product. Great spirits like this don’t happen by accident, and no matter what its origin, age, or the composition of the blend, we love it.