Saturday, January 21, 2012

Wild Turkey 80 VS. 81

Yes, Wild Turkey now makes an 81 proof bourbon. It is a subject of debate as to whether the 80 proof version will now go away or not. I snagged the last bottle of 80 proof off the Manheim state store shelf a few weeks ago and I finally got around to purchasing a bottle of 81 so I can do an official review. I actually have both bottles and 2 shot glasses in front of me as I write so I can do this most accurately. So other than 1 proof point and the look of the label, what's different between the 80 and 81? The 80 proof is aged about 4 years, while the 81 is aged 6 to 8 years like its 101 proof brother. The idea was to make a lower proof twin of the famous 101 that would be easier to mix and sip. So how do they stack up? Well.....

Color: The 80 proof is a nice light caramel color. You can see it does not have much age. The 81 proof, when put directly beside the 80, is a slightly deeper reddish-brown, indicative of the extra 2-4 years of aging.

Aroma: The 80 proof is strong in the grain smells. Very little evidence of the sweet tannins of barrel aging. Some alcohol smell and a fruity simple odor. The 81 smells sweeter, but is very similar with a mild aroma. A bit of the tannin influence can already be noticed here.

Mouth feel and flavor: The 80 is not unpleasant, but also very simple and un-complex. Grainy with some alcohol bite. Some light tannins and a slight leathery flavor let you know it's Wild Turkey. The higher rye content is also evident. Again, simple, sweet, and grainy. This is where the brothers start to really go in different directions. I just sipped the 81 after finishing a few sips of the 80. Wow. Much more complexity and thickness. It's still only 81 proof, so don't look for flavor you can cut with a knife. This expression has much more barrel richness- more leather, vanilla, smoke. It's smoother and more refined. I'm impressed! The nice extra rye flavor is still there, but it's like drinking my beloved 101 proof in a lighter form. Yum!

Finish: The 80 proof reminds me of Mellow Corn's finish- Sweet and "...where the heck did it go?" Not unpleasant, but nothing to write to mom about. The 81 is honestly about the same here. There is a light sweetness that lingers and then it's gone. But what should you expect from an 80 or 81 proof whiskey? This isn't Wild Turkey American Spirit!

The results: The 80 proof shows its youth, but it's by no means a bad whiskey. Both the 80 and 81 would mix well, but for sipping, the 81 is certainly your winner. If you're looking for something simple, inexpensive, and nice to sip, hit the 81. Well, both glasses are empty so it's time to end this review!


  1. I haven't had Wild Turkey of any variety in, at the very least, several months now so I just bought Wild Turkey 80, and it is not nearly as good as I remember. Perhaps I am remembering Wild Turkey 101 instead. Maybe it's just me, but I'm thinking Very Old Barton has a better woodier smell than this. Of course, had I the money, I'd be buying Woodford Reserve or Jefferson Reserve though.

  2. 101 is one of the finest widely-available bourbons on the market. No Wild Turkey product is what it was- the company was purchased by a company that is known for making vodka, so they don't know much about what it takes to make a fine bourbon. It's a shame too because Wild Turkey used to be what many consider the "ultimate representation of American whiskey." Don't waste your time with the 80 (If you can even find it anymore...) or 81 proof offerings. They don't embody the spirit of Wild Turkey like the 101 offerings do.