We are fed so many origin stories in the whiskey world that it’s often difficult to believe them, or keep up with them for that matter. Such was the case when presented with the story behind the new Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Unforgotten, but after getting to taste it and hear from Eddie Russell himself, it seems that the facts are in order.
Master’s Keep is sort of the antithesis to Wild Turkey 101—these high-end bottles change form every year with a new theme and makeup since launching in 2015, as opposed to the consistent and dependable workhorse core bourbon. The new Master’s Keep Unforgotten is a riff on a previous release called Forgiven. The story goes, and Eddie swears by it, that an employee at the distillery accidentally combined a batch of bourbon and rye over a decade ago and reported it to the Russells, something he commends her for. While his father, master distiller Jimmy Russell, was pretty pissed off about it, Eddie saw this as an opportunity and ultimately decided to release a blend of bourbon and rye. The awkwardly named Unforgotten picks up years later, a blend of 13-year-old bourbon and eight- to nine-year-old rye that was bottled at 105 proof. In a final step, it was finished in freshly dumped rye barrels for an additional six weeks.
“I wanted it to be called Unforgiven, but Clint Eastwood had that trademarked,” said Eddie at a recent event in New York City, which admittedly is a pretty solid dad joke. Although he spearheaded the whiskey, as he does all Master’s keep releases, he says his son Bruce helped out a lot with Unforgotten as well. “I wanted the rye to be the star on this one and let the bourbon enhance it. It used to be only people that drank rye were scotch guys, but now it seems like everyone does. Some of them can be a little tough at the beginning, they’re big and bold and spicy. That bourbon in this rounds those edges off.”
If you have a chance to taste the two whiskeys side by side, you can see what this extra aging brings to the palate. Truth be told, I liked last year’s Master’s Keep One better than the new release, but this is a very good whiskey as well. The nose kicks things off with aromas of citrus and vanilla. Then the palate opens up with a bit of sweetness, some pumpernickel and chocolate babka notes, followed by a bit of dry rye spice and even a bit of balsamic vinegar on the back end. It’s an interesting whiskey that has the recognizable Wild Turkey character to it, but there’s a lot more going on.
True, there have been other blends of bourbon and rye released before, and some of them haven’t even been accidents. “Some of the smaller guys have done it, like High West with Bourye, which just pissed Jimmy Russell off,” said Eddie with a laugh. “He doesn’t like things like that. [Unforgotten] is better to me than Forgiven, but they are two different styles as far as flavor profile. I should be like Jimmy and say if you don’t like this, my son Bruce made it. If you do, I made it.” Well, Eddie, I guess all credit goes to you then, because this whiskey is pretty good.
What Our Score Means
- 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