Eddie Russell has learned the craft of distilling from one of the masters of American whiskey, his father, Jimmy Russell. Over the past few years there’s been a measured transition from Jimmy Russell to Eddie Russell as Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller. As with any journey, there have been a few missteps along the way, but Eddie has managed to plot his own course and have his own identity with the products he’s overseen. This is no small task given the enormous shadow the legacy of Jimmy Russell casts.
Last year, Eddie Russell and Wild Turkey celebrated the legacy of Jimmy Russell with the Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Whiskey. That release was important, not only because it celebrated the legacy of one of the greats in whiskey, but it continued Wild Turkey’s move into the ultra-premium American whiskey space. Wild Turkey Master’s Keep is meant to signify the end of the transition between Jimmy Russell and Eddie Russell with the formal designation for Eddie Russell as Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller. It’s also another entry for Wild Turkey at the top end of the American Whiskey category.
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – (43.4% ABV $150) – this whiskey comes from casks which have been aged in three separate rickhouses (two wood and one stone). It’s a little odd that Wild Turkey doesn’t indicate which floors these casks were aged on, as which floor can have as much an impact as the kind of rickhouses. The mash bill is also not indicated.
Master’s Keep comes packaged in a sturdy cardboard locker with a nice magnetic enclosure. The bottle itself is stunning with an embossed wild turkey in flight. Even though it’s a 750ml bottle, the shape and glass make it feel like it’s something special.
Dark gold/medium amber in color, Master’s Keep isn’t as dark or saturated with tannins as one might expect from a 17 year old bourbon. As you would expect from a 17 year old bourbon, the nose is very expressive and oak driven. The oak on the nose is a deep weathered oak combined with strong varnish. Wild Turkey has always had a lot of rye in its mash bill and here on the nose that aging rye is apparent as it reads like dill, graphite, and rye. Wild Turkey’s signature cinnamon is also there on the nose, but it’s buried underneath all the oak. Overall, the nose isn’t very balanced and feels over-oaked.
As with the nose, the entry for Wild Turkey Master’s Keep is very expressive, but unlike the nose, it’s not just all about oak. Here, strong oak is well supported by deep caramel and vanilla. The mouth feel on the entry is phenomenal, remarkably light and delicate for a whiskey of this age.
The oak introduced in the entry ramps up into the midpalate, but it does so without disrupting the delightful mouthfeel or destroying the balance established in the opening. The midpalate is a showcase for strong oak, which is joined by cinnamon, rye spice, black pepper, and nutmeg. The caramel and vanilla from the opening are here as a subtle sweet floor that the spice builds from. This gives Master’s Keep some nice balance as well as complexity.
The finish for Master’s Keep is long and spicy, showcasing the oak, rye, and cinnamon from the midpalate. The finish is medium dry, and far less tannic and dry than we expected when we first nosed this whiskey.
Eddie Russell has always preferred delivering whiskeys at a lower ABV and with Master’s Keep he’s really hit his mark. The proofing on this whiskey is spot on and it helps preserve the light and delicate quality while still delivering enough support for the spice and finish.
With Master’s Keep, Eddie Russell has clearly shown his sensibilities as a distiller, sensibilities which are different from his father. We’ve been a little on the fence about if that was a good thing or not, but with Master’s Keep, he’s shown that Wild Turkey can both be a strong, spicy and flavorful whiskey while also being light and delicate. It’s an interesting path and we’ll watching to see how it translates as Wild Turkey continues under his command. 91 points