Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wild Turkey 101 Rye Is Back, Sort Of


Early in 2012, Wild Turkey introduced a 40.5% ABV rye and announced that the original 50.5% ABV rye was in short supply and on allocation. Allocation plus panic buying soon created a widespread shortage and bottles of the 101 rye have been thin on the ground ever since.

Last week, with modest fanfare, Wild Turkey announced its return, sort of. It will be available in only 21 states and only in the one-liter bottles preferred by bars and restaurants.

“I have been working in this business for 60 years and if someone told me just five years ago Rye Whiskey was going to be one of the hottest categories in the spirits industry, I would have balked at the notion,” said Jimmy Russell. “To be completely frank, we didn’t realize bartenders had such a passion for it.” It’s true that rye whiskey has been booming. It’s up 41 percent in the past 52 weeks (according to Nielsen data).

Wild Turkey still sells Wild Turkey 81 Rye (40.5% ABV) and Russell's Reserve Rye (6-years-old, 45% ABV).

Before Prohibition, rye whiskey outsold bourbon in the United States. It was made primarily in Pennsylvania. Rye never really came back and nearly died out entirely during the 1970s and 80s, when the entire whiskey category went bust. The Pennsylvania industry died off and what little rye production remained shifted to Kentucky. Wild Turkey was one of the few distilleries that consistently produced rye throughout that period. The others were Jim Beam and Heaven Hill, and National until it merged with Beam in 1987. Others made rye sporadically.

The ryes made by Wild Turkey, Beam (Jim Beam Rye, Old Overholt, Knob Creek Rye), Heaven Hill (Rittenhouse, Pikesville), and Sazerac (Sazerac Rye) are 'barely legal' at 51 percent rye. Today you can also get a 95 percent rye made at MGPI of Indiana (Bulleit Rye, Templeton Rye, George Dickel Rye) and a 100 percent rye made in Canada (WhistlePig, Mastersons, Jefferson's Rye).

Look for Wild Turkey 101 Rye in the following states. Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York (NYC only), Ohio, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C., Texas. (That doesn't add up to 21, but that is the list they provided.)

20 comments:

Mike Ryan said...

Hallelujah! Hopefully the flavor profile hasn't drifted the way Rittenhouse has (the latest origin change, back to dsp 1, leaves a bit to be desired...)

EllenJ said...

"The Pennsylvania industry died off and what little rye production remained shifted to Kentucky. Wild Turkey was one of the few distilleries that consistently produced rye throughout that period. The others were Jim Beam and Heaven Hill, and National until it merged with Beam in 1987. Others made rye sporadically."

Wild Turkey's rye whiskey was sourced product from Pennsylvania (and said so on the label) until sometime in the '80s. National Distillers bottled Old Overholt at Elmwood Terrace in Ohio until Beam bought them in 1987, and Beam continued to do so until it closed the facililty last year. The rye being bottled by ND was originally distilled in PA, but became KY rye sometime in the '80s. They never said where it came from, but some believe it was Glenmore (Fleishmann's) until that source ran out. There is disagreement (at least on my part) about whether Jim Beam Rye is the same stuff as today's Overholt. It probably is, but the flavor profile is not, as any bartender can tell you. The Overholt (recipe and stock) that National Distillers sold to Beam was quite different from what they were selling in the '70s. THAT Overholt tasted surprisingly similar to what MPGI is vending to Georgetown Trading as James Pepper 1776 Rye.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Which jibes with Dick Stoll's claim that Wild Turkey tried to buy Pennco/Michter's in the '70s.

EllenJ said...

I would not be the least bit surprised to learn that Pennco was the vendor for ND Overholt Rye. ND's switch from PA to KY rye corresponds nicely with the closing of Pennco.
Pennco may also have been the final source for the last of the surviving post-Schenley Pennsylvania rye brands, as well (total speculation; Sam Komlenic will need to step in here to confirm or deny), such as Sam Thompson. Publiker in Philadelphia produced a lot of Pennsylvania rye, including both Rittenhouse and Pikesville (briefly), and may also have supplied some to Austin Nichols. Dave Ziegler or Jack Sullivan would know more about that.

Chuck Cowdery said...

To EllenJ's other point, I'm a little unclear on who in Kentucky was producing rye when. I know Jim Beam has made rye since Repeal and Heaven Hill has made rye since its founding. A few years ago, when Heaven Hill brought out Rit 21, they mentioned that only four distilleries made rye consistently during the doldrum years. I know Heaven Hill and Beam are two of them but I'm not sure about the other two. As EllenJ suggests, Glenmore may have been one of them, as it had both Fleischmann's and Pikesville.

I also believe Pennco/Michter's was the last Pennsylvania distillery to distill rye whiskey.

EllenJ said...

Another irony worth mentioning is that all through this period, the Lawrencburg Indiana distillery, Seagrams at that time, was cranking out barrel after barrel of rye -- some of it 100% rye. It's just that none of that went into straight whiskey... at least that's what we're told. Of course Indiana rye whiskey tankered and shipped to Kentucky for aging becomes Kentucky whiskey. I'll leave the rest open for speculation :)

Chuck Cowdery said...

I challenge you to show us a single Kentucky producer who has labeled and sold Indiana-made distillate as Kentucky-made. That is an unfounded smear.

EllenJ said...

Whoa, Chuck! I wasn't intending that as a smear. Can you quote and reference the law that requires product labeled "Kentucky Whiskey" (note the absence of the word "straight") to be distilled within the borders of the Commonwealth? We all EXPECT that to be the case, but is it really? What authority says so?

EllenJ said...

And as for specific distilleries, I'm not about to take on corporate entities whose lawyers are bigger than mine. Just show me the law.

EllenJ said...

Chuck Cowdery said...(Note to other readers. EllenJ and I are old friends and this is how we talk to each other.)
That we are, that we have, and that we do. And I hope we continue to do so for many a drinkin' session.

As for whether such a wording is any more effective in Kentucky than it is in Tennessee, I'll leave that to the individual reader's imagination.

Chuck Cowdery said...

(Note to other readers. EllenJ and I are old friends and this is how we talk to each other.) Asking someone to prove a negative is the oldest dodge in the book. The TTB rules say this: "No label shall contain any brand name, which, standing alone, or in association with other printed or graphic matter, creates any impression or inference as to the age, origin, identity, or other characteristics of the product unless the appropriate ATF officer finds that such brand name (when appropriately qualified if required) conveys no erroneous impressions as to the age, origin, identity, or other characteristics of the product." And this: "The advertisement shall not represent that the distilled spirits were manufactured in or imported from a place or country other than that of their actual origin, or were produced or processed by one who was not in fact the actual producer or processor."

But it nowhere says the place of distillation is the place of origin. On the other hand, I know of no Kentucky producer who has tried to do that, but some in Tennessee definitely have. That's why Tennessee now has a law to prevent it.

sam k said...

Wild Turkey rye was produced not only in Pennsylvania, but before that in Maryland for a while, though at what distillery I have no idea. Much like the Michter's distilled WTR said "Distilled in Pennsylvania" on the back label, I have seen WTR bottles saying "Distilled in Maryland" too.

Michter's indeed distilled the last Pennsylvania straight rye, and it may have been sold under the Wild Turkey label, as the other brand they made (with a higher rye content) was the venerable Sam Thompson, formerly a Monongahela rye from the town of Brownsville, then later Schenley.

The Sam Thompson brand was not owned by Michter's, but was contract distilled there, according to Dick Stoll. It was last seen around 1982-3, while PA WTR was available for a few years after that.

He also claimed that Michter's/Pennco never bottled Old Overholt, though they did sell bulk rye to be bottled elsewhere.

There was also a limited release 10 year old rye that was bottled exclusively for the Japanese market, where Michter's had a solid fan base, with the remaining bottles sold at the Jug House. Wish I had me one!

Tmckenzie said...

Good and very informative reading. There was also a 20 year old rye release from Michters in the late 80's. I believe Dick told me it went to Fiji. I have one of the last two known bottles to exist of it. Dick Stoll has the other and he gave me the one I have. Fine stuff. We were talking last time he visited how he sure hated Austin Nichols did not buy them. He said they sent engineers in there and he thought they would buy it. He firmly believes as do I that Michters would be still operating today and be in a good position if they had bought the distillery.

sam k said...

I hit the wrong key, Thomas. It was indeed 20 years old, but I thought it went to Japan...who knows? I think if they could have held on just a few more years regardless, they might still be open, but so it goes...

EllenJ said...

@sam
I'm pretty sure it was Majestic.

Tim Davis said...

It's 21 *markets* that it will return to - not states, so look for it to be in multiple metro areas/regions (So Cal/San Fran, etc. - NJ may be combined with the NYC metro for their purposes as well and count as 1) within the states listed.

As always, time will tell with the specifics - but I can't wait!

http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2013/11/wild-turkey-101-rye-returns-after-bartender-backlash/

sam k said...

Available on special order in PA for $32 a liter. Not as much of an increase as I'd expected...at least not at this juncture.

Anonymous said...

January 17, 2014 and no sightings in New York, where it's supposed to be available. Any idea of what's up? It'd be great to get ahold of this, some day.

Anonymous said...

Found two liters of the 101 on the bottom shelf of a store in Greenwich Village today but the folks there had no clue if it was old stock or a recent arrival. $39.99 per bottle, for what it's worth. Happy to have them!

Anonymous said...

I just want a merchant here in bakersfield,ca. Any ideas for 101 rye. Thanks