A Blind Battle of 101 Proof Bourbons
Wild Turkey 101
Wild Turkey 101 is distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Company of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. This bourbon has been crafted under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Jimmy Russell for more than 60 years. Although not officially released by the company, Wild Turkey 101 is believed to feature a high rye mash bill of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. The bottle does not have an age statement, however, it is rumored to be bottled somewhere between 6 and 8 years in new American oak barrels with Number 4 char. Wild Turkey 101 can be purchased at any North Carolina ABC store in the 750 ml size for $24.95 plus tax.
Maker’s Mark Limited Release 101 Proof
Maker’s Mark Limited Release 101 Proof is distilled and bottled at Star Hill Farm in Loretto, Kentucky. This bourbon features a mash bill of 70% corn, 16% red winter wheat, and 14% malted barley. Although the bottle also does not highlight an age statement, it is believed to be aged in new American oak barrels with char number 3 for about 6 years. This 101 proof version of Maker’s Mark is said to be bottled at the same proof that former company President Bill Samuels, Jr. would serve to his special guests at the distillery. Originally released as a duty-free airport offering, Maker’s Mark 101 is now offered, as a limited release, in 750 ml size and can be purchased at a North Carolina ABC store for $41.95 plus tax.
Virgin Bourbon 101 Proof
Virgin Bourbon is bottled by Meadowlawn Distilling Company in Bardstown, Kentucky. The distillate is said to be sourced from Heaven Hill Distillery, also of Bardstown. Although not confirmed by the distillery or product information, it is believed that Virgin Bourbon is made using a similar mash bill to many Heaven Hill products–78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley. The bottle we used in this blind battle was aged at 7 years – a statement removed from bottles in 2019. Virgin Bourbon is charcoal filtered and available in select markets. At the time of purchase, Virgin Bourbon, aged 7 years and offered at 101 proof, was available at most North Carolina ABC stores for a whopping $17.95 for a 750 ml bottle.
The Blind Tasting Procedure
In order to ensure that this tasting remained entirely blind, our assistant for this tasting (better known as Mike’s wife) took 3 Glencairn glasses colored red, black, and green as well as the 3 bottles of 101 Proof whiskey out of the room. The glasses were returned to us without any identifying information that could tip us off as to what was contained within each glass. Our trusty assistant then left the room while we tasted, to make doubly sure that no accidental facial expressions could be read during the tasting and subsequent discussion. Only after the completion of the tasting and declaration of a winner, did the bottles get revealed as red, black, or green. Please note: Virgin Bourbon was a last minute add and, as a result, did not make some of the pictures of the bottles together.
The Blind Tasting
Red Glass – As I begin to nose this pour, the first thing I notice is a quick hit of oak barrel char. A quick swirl of the glass and a return to my nose brings forward the quintessential bourbon aromas of brown sugar, honey, and vanilla.
Black Glass – Wow, this glass smells really sweet! Loads of brown sugar and browned butter waft out of my glass. Swirling the glass introduces the addition of butterscotch and vanilla bean. This glass has the most ethanol in the nose – not at all overbearing, but present.
Green Glass – As I begin to nose this glass, my senses are quickly overcome by sweet caramel sauce, vanilla bean, and brown sugar. As I allow the bourbon to breathe and then swirl it in the glass, I notice an ever so slight hint of modeling glue from the ethanol and a slight aroma of roasted peanut.
Red Glass – As I nose into this pour, I am immediately hit with oak. As I pull away slowly, I’m introduced to a gentle sweetness of crushed honey roasted peanuts. Swirling the glass brings a soft honey sweetness to the forefront.
Black Glass – Brown sugar, vanilla, and honey are all present and mingle nicely in the glass. A gentle swirl and deeper nose in opens up the nose to a hint of model glue, subtle yet noticeable.
Green Glass – I pick up an aroma of green bananas and caramel sauce on my initial pass. As I nose in deeper, a light peanut butter powder aroma presents itself. Swirling the glass releases a soft bouquet of banana pudding and vanilla wafers.
Red Glass – As I take my first sip, this bourbon presents itself with a bit of an oily mouthfeel on the tongue. As expected, given the nose, a traditional flavor profile floods my palate with hints of brown sugar, caramel, and loads of baking spices such as cloves and cinnamon. As I continue to sip more, I begin to pick up traces of oak char and freshly brewed sweet tea.
Black Glass – The bourbon in the black glass has a light and airy mouthfeel. The flavor profile is so sweet. Vanilla extract and oak are the dominate flavors on my palate. As I take another swig, I notice the flavors of plain oatmeal mixed with honey. This is not as complex as the other two offerings.
Green Glass – The green glass is by far the softest mouthfeel of the three. So much so that it presents with a velvety sensation. As I take another sip and hold the bourbon in my mouth, I quickly pick up hints of chocolate, peanuts, and oak barrel char. A second sip brings with it a pop of allspice baking spice. The flavors really meld well together.
Red Glass – This whiskey is very sweet on the lips and tip of the tongue then transitions to rich caramel and brown sugar flavors mid-palate. It is very oak and leather forward on the back of the tongue.
Black Glass – The offering in the black glass has a very smooth and light mouthfeel initially on the tongue. The sweetness and softness of a fresh oatmeal cream pie cookie flourishes. I’m left with a satisfying suggestion of floral honey in the back of the mouth.
Green Glass – The first sip of this bourbon is sweet and dry. It has a light mouthfeel overall. Muted leather and tobacco flavors are present, along with a silky honey powder saccharinity. A quick and snappy bite of rye lingers on the back of the tongue and is then subdued by a persistent soft leather essence.
Red Glass – The red glass has a medium to long finish that is smooth. A nice warming Kentucky hug shows up late and deep in the chest. The baking spices of cinnamon and cloves remain strong in the finish but are now joined by a hint of apple or stone fruit on the back end.
Black Glass – This finish was the longest and most pronounced of the three samples. It drinks hotter than the other offerings, as the Kentucky hug starts high in my throat and descends quickly all the way down to the belly. Baking spices begin to well up in the finish and explode forward with a kick of clove, cinnamon, and black pepper.
Green Glass – This glass boasts the shortest finish of the group. A nice warming sensation develops late and deep down in your chest. A dose of chocolate cocoa power dominates the rear – slightly sweet with a hint of bitterness. Accompanying this chocolate flavor is a nice delicate caramel flavor.
Red Glass – The finish is medium to long. I’m noticing a soft oak with an unusual and very intriguing saline taste resides in the mouth with a subdued rye spice present.
Black Glass – The finish is medium and has somewhat of an oaky bitterness that lurks after the liquid goes down.
Green Glass – This offering has a medium to long finish with a velvety texture. I notice a sustained warmth in the lower throat and chest that is very soothing.
Blind Taste Winner
And the winner is…Maker’s Mark Limited Release 101 Proof (aka the Green Glass)!
Christian: I have zero issue with any of these three pours. All three were really enjoyable to drink and brought slightly different strengths and weaknesses to the tasting.
Red Glass – The red glass, to me, contained the most traditional bourbon flavor profile of the three. A little sweet mixed with a little heat.
Black Glass – The black glass, compared to the other two options, just felt a little flat to me. The nose was definitely its strength, but, from there it just was a little one dimensional, lacking depth in the mouth.
Green Glass – The green glass feels like the most polished of the three pours. In the mouth, it feels so delicate and soft. As you begin to savor the bourbon, the flavors mesh well together making for a total drinking experience.
My Winner: Green Glass – The green glass offered a complexity that was well balanced, accompanied by a drinkability that was slightly above the other two glasses. For me, it came down to the traditionalist in the red glass and sweet rich depth of the green glass. Today, green got the nod, but only by a hair. I would have no problem drinking the red glass offering on any given occasion.
Mike: All three pours were very satisfying to me and I enjoyed sampling each one.
Red Glass – After several passes through with each glass, I was quick to eliminate the bourbon in the red glass from contention. There is a sharpness that the red glass has in the mouth that became slightly displeasing after numerous tastings of the whiskies from the black and green glasses.
Black and Green Glass – As I focused my attention on the black and green glasses, the nose from the green glass really began to stand out. The sweetness in the mouth for both glasses were generally comparable for me, however, the sweetness from the green glass was noticeably more satisfying. The finish on both, as with the mouth, were comparable, with the green glass having a little bit of a softer finish.
My Winner: Green Glass – It is very close but the green glass just barely edges out the black glass, making the bourbon in the green glass the blind winner. The green glass offers a more balanced and smooth pour from nose to mouth to finish.
The Reveal – Who Was Who?
- Red Glass = Wild Turkey 101
- Black Glass = Virgin Bourbon 101
- Green Glass = Maker’s Mark 101