Wild Turkey 81 vs 101

Wild Turkey 81 vs 101 | Which proof is right for you?  

If you’re looking for a spiced American whiskey, a great bet would be the range of Kentucky bourbons from Wild Turkey. But with their sizeable offering and with several core-bottles to choose from, it can be difficult to know which is best for you. If so, you’re in the right place.

In this article, I’ll compare Wild Turkey 81 vs 101 proof whiskeys in terms of smell, taste, finish and style. I’ll also discuss their key differences so that you can choose the best bottle for your personal tastes and budget. So let’s dive in.

Quick Brand overview

Wild Turkey is a brand of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co, a division of the Campari Group. The distillery is located near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky where they produce their core-range of four bourbons using seperate bourbon and rye mashbills. Signature to the brand, they opt for heavily charred white American oak barrels which imbue a characteristic deep colour and spiced flavour in their whiskeys.

What is the difference between Wild Turkey 101 and 81?

The main difference between Wild Turkey 101 and 81 is their alcoholic strength. Wild Turkey 101 is Wild Turkey’s higher-proof core offering, at 101 proof (50.5% ABV). Wild Turkey 81 is Wild Turkey’s lower-proof offering at 81 proof (40.5% ABV). They follow the same grain recipe and barrel maturation method.

Wild Turkey 81 is diluted down to 81 proof, making it slightly smoother and sweeter than Wild Turkey 101. This is why its easier to drink and lower cost than the 101 version.

Wild Turkey 101 is only mildly diluted, making it much closer to a barrel-strength character. Subsequently, it has a richer, fuller flavour than Wild Turkey 81 and offers more complexity in both aroma and taste. This is why it’s more flavourful and expensive than the 81 version.

Wild Turkey 81 vs 101

Bottle of Wild Turkey 81 proof Kentucky straight bourbon

Wild Turkey 81

Nose: Spice, vanilla, coffee, oak & fudge

Palate: Honey, custard, fudge, rhubarb & coffee

Mouthfeel: Rich & oily

Finish: Caramel, honey, spices & char

Age: NAS, suspected 6-8 years (average)

Barrels: American White Oak #4 char

Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley

Strength: 81 proof / 40.5% ABV

Price: £24 / $29

Bottle of Wild Turkey 101 proof Kentucky straight bourbon

Wild Turkey 101

Nose: Vanilla, oak, spice, zest & cinnamon

Palate: Sweet, cigars box, caramel, honey & pepper

Mouthfeel: Rich & oily

Finish: Long, rich with spice & toasted oak

Age: NAS, suspected 6-8 years (average)

Barrels: American White Oak #4 char

Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley

Strength: 101 proof / 50.5% ABV

Price: £32 / $38

Wild Turkey 81 bourbon bottle on bar top

A closer look at Wild Turkey 81

Nose: Wild Turkey 81 has a distinct, spiced aroma with notes of vanilla fudge, rye spices, and coffee beans. The vanilla is present in the most prominent way, giving off a sweet and inviting smell as you swirl your glass. Further in, there’re hints of oak and toffee can be detected, while a touch of cinnamon adds an extra layer of complexity to the fragrance. So far, the aroma of the WT81 is fairly light but pleasant. It certainly draws you in for more.

Palate: On my first sip, this bourbon has a rich taste with notes of caramel, manuka honey, and fudge. Hints of rhubarb and custard sweets give this whiskey a lovely smooth sweetness that keeps me coming back for more. For me, there’s no need to add any water to this dram. At 81 proof (40% ABV) it’s perfectly smooth wit very little harshness.

On the mid palate, there’s also an interesting acidity which reminds me of artisanal espresso which nicely balances to the butterscotch sweetness. Overall, the taste is complex yet very inviting, with just the right amount of sweetness to draw you in for more. There’s also a subtle smokiness underneath it all that adds further depth to the flavour profile.

Mouthfeel: Wild Turkey 81 has a rich and oily mouthfeel. It coats the tongue with a velvety smoothness, providing an almost creamy experience. As you roll it around your mouth, its flavour intensifies, becoming slightly sweeter without ever becoming overwhelming. The oily texture helps to carry the flavours of caramel, coffee, honey, and spices throughout the mouth, lingering just long enough.

Finish: I’d say this whiskey has a mid-length finish. Notes of caramel and coffee linger on the tongue, with hints of Black Forest honey and Hot Cross Bun spices adding complexity to the mix. Finally, there’s a charred and spicy edge that comes through on the tail end, providing a warming finish. The Wild Turkey 81 is definitely a whiskey you can enjoy slowly, savouring each sip as it slowly fades away.  Overall, Wild Turkey 81 provides an excellent balance of smokiness, sweetness, and spice that will bring out the best in any whisky

Price: For under $30/£25, this bourbon really impressed me. Despite its spice, it’s shockingly smooth to drink with great balance of sweetness and spice. As a coffee lover, the espresso notes were a lovely background note which gave this whiskey a whole other dimension. Perhaps I’m just attuned to those sorts of flavours, but it was a wonderful drinking experience that surpassed my expectations.

As their entry level bourbon, Wild Turkey have done a great job with this bottle. You get the classic bourbon flavours of vanilla and toffee, but with beautiful spiced depth and a surprising coffee element that really worked for my palate. Now, let’s see how the big brother 101 bottle does.

Close view of Wild Turkey 101 proof bourbon bottle beside Old Fashioned cocktail

A closer look at Wild Turkey 101

Nose: Straight out the botte, Wild Turkey 101 has an assertive, complex aroma that immediately grabs your attention. Swirling my glass, I get sweet notes of vanilla and baking spices, along with a subtle hint of orange zest. Compared to the 81, there’s more of an boozy ‘oomph’ from the higher level proof. Rye grain is also present, giving the whiskey a spicy, woody character. Notes of toasted oak and toffee linger in the background, teasing your senses with a hint of something special to come.

Palate: The first sip yields a bold, complex taste. On the front, it starts off sweet and builds to a spicy sensation. With a little ‘chewing’ I’m greeted with a rich combination of caramel, honey, orange peel and pepper which come through much stronger than the 81. These notes are followed by warm hints of cigars box and leather, giving the whiskey a lovely depth.

If you usually take your dram with some water, the higher proof will likely make you reach for your jug. It certainly adds an extra punch to the palate, making it more intense and warming than Wild Turkey 81. However, I’m pretty happy with this whiskey neat. It’s still very smooth from start to finish. On the mid palate, I get beautiful notes of cinnamon, rye grain and oak.

With the 101, I don’t get the same espresso flavours like I did with the 81. By no means is this a bad thing, as there’s plenty of flavour. To be expected, this is everything the 81 delivered but with more intensity. A fairly obvious deduction!

Mouthfeel: This bourbon has a similarly rich and oily texture. The higher proof brings an extra kick, making it feel more intense than Wild Turkey 81. However, it retains its smoothness from start to finish – there’s no harshness or burning sensation at all. It sits on the tongue nicely and lingers for quite some time before fading away. You do get a slight tingle from the alcohol, but it isn’t overpowering in any way.

Finish: The 101 has a long, rich finish. It starts off with a burst of spice and toasted oak that slowly fades away, leaving behind sweet caramel and honey notes. Though the alcohol is present, it isn’t overpowering – it adds just enough ‘kick’ to create an enjoyable warmth on your palate. The finish lingers pleasantly on the tongue, with a slight tingle from the alcohol that’s balanced out nicely by the sweetness of the caramel. It all comes together beautifully, making Wild Turkey 101 an overall smooth and rewarding whisky experience.

Price: Wild Turkey 101 proof is incredibly good value for the money. At only US $38 or UK £32, this whiskey offers a bold and complex taste that you would usually find in a much pricier bottle. With its smooth and rich mouthfeel, Wild Turkey 101 provides a deep and rewarding whisky experience that will surely leave you wanting more.

Close view of Wild Turkey 101 whiskey bottle label

Final thoughts

Straight up, I really enjoyed both of these bourbons. With the exact same grain recipe and heavy char barrel maturation, they shared a lot of similarities in terms of taste. However, having tasted each bottle back-to-back, there were some clear differences.

The lower proof 81 was an easy going dram, with pleasant vanilla sweetness that balanced beautifully with the spicy rye ‘bite’. The honeyed flavours really came through for an overall nice drinking experience with an unexpected coffee-like hint. For the price point, I’m pretty impressed with the depth of flavour and smoothness. The WT81 is unpretentious and full of flavour. It’s pretty hard to criticise this bourbon.

However, Wild Turkey’s flagship 101 took things up several notches. At the higher proof point, its more intense yet balanced, with notes of vanilla, caramel, honey and pepper coming through strongly on the palate. The 101 proof gives it an extra kick compared to Wild Turkey 81 without overpowering your senses. Toasted oak and cinnamon linger in the background, giving the whiskey a delicious depth while still maintaining a pleasant warmth on your tongue.

Author’s recommendation

Predictably, the 101 is the winner. Yep, it’s more expensive and stronger in flavour, which is why I prefer it to the 81. It takes everything to the next level! In my opinion, it’s easily one of the best whiskeys at its price point. Not only does Wild Turkey 101 have plenty of character, but it also offers an outstanding finish that lingers long after the last sip has been taken. If you’re looking for an affordable, near barrel strength bourbon with complexity and depth, Wild Turkey 101 is my recommendation between the two.

Lamb shank in skillet on dinner table beside Wild Turkey whiskey bottle
Image credit: Gasholder London

Food pairings

Wild Turkey 81 and 101 share a similar flavour profile and both make an excellent accompaniment to various foods. The lighter sweeter character of the 81 makes it the perfect dram for starters and mains, whilst the bolder nature of the 101 lends it towards decadent desserts

For starters, a classic charcuterie board is a good option – the bold flavours of Wild Turkey work great with cured meats such as salami and prosciutto. The sweetness from Wild Turkey also complements the sharpness of aged cheeses, like tangy cheddar and nutty gouda. Other options you could try include olive tapenade, homemade hummus or roasted nuts. Almonds or walnuts go particularly well.

For snacks, Wild Turkey works wonderfully with dishes that have an earthy profile – think roasted mushrooms, caramelised onions and crispy bacon. Wild Turkey also goes great with smoked fish such as mackerel or herring, as well as smoked hams like prosciutto di Parma.

For mains, Wild Turkey 81 can bring out the deep and smoky flavours of dishes like slow-roasted brisket or pulled pork. Wild Turkey also complements the sweetness of wood-fired pizzas topped with caramelized onions and roasted mushrooms. It’s also an excellent accompaniment for steak – Wild Turkey’s oak barrel-aged notes bring out the buttery flavours of high-quality ribeye or T-bone steaks.

For a more traditional pairing, Wild Turkey is great with game meats such as venison. The Wild Turkey’s sweet caramel notes help to balance out the earthiness that often accompanies game meats like deer and elk. Wild Turkey also pairs nicely with poultry dishes such as roasted turkey or duck breast cooked in a savory sauce.

To really make the most out of your Wild Turkey experience, try pairing it up with some classic Southern cuisine – Wild Turkey’s oak barrel-aged notes work perfectly with hearty dishes like slow-cooked BBQ ribs or mac and cheese topped off with crispy breadcrumbs.

For dessert, this bourbon pairs especially well with creamy puddings such as crème brûlée or panna cotta. The complexity of Wild Turkey’s oak barrel-aged notes can also add an interesting dimension to rich and indulgent chocolate desserts like brownies, mud cake or tortes.

For puddings, the stronger flavours of Wild Turkey 101 works wonderfully with fruity desserts such as tarts, cakes and cobblers topped with seasonal fruits or berries. This higher proof bourbon’s warm and comforting notes pair perfectly with comforting winter desserts like apple pie and spiced pumpkin bread pudding. Wild Turkey can also bring out the warm flavours of classic crisp-style desserts made with apples or other seasonal fruits. Tarte Tatin would be an excellent choice.

Golden yellow cocktail in rocks glass beside Wild Turkey 101 whiskey bottle

Wild Turkey Cocktail suggestions

Wild Turkey whiskey is a delicious addition to a variety of cocktails. It has a bold, smoky flavor that adds depth and complexity to drinks like the Old Fashioned, a Bourbon Highball or Kentucky Devil. If you’re looking for something extra special, Wild Turkey can also be used to make an amazing New York Sour.


  • 50ml Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
  • 25ml blackberry liqueur
  • 25ml simple syrup
  • 25ml lemon juice
  • Fresh blackberries


Measure your bourbon, syrup and lemon juice to an ice-filled cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. In a separate rocks glass, muddle some fresh blackberries with crushed ice. Strain the shaker into the rocks glass and pour-over the liqueur. Garnish with fresh blackberries and a lemon twist. Serve.


  • 50ml Wild Turkey 81 whiskey
  • 25ml lemon juice
  • 20ml red wine
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • Dash orange bitters
  • Egg white


Measure the whiskey, lemon juice, maple syrup and bitters into a cocktail shaker. Add your egg white and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously for 30 seconds to develop a froth. Slowly strain out all liquid into an ice-filled rocks glass. Gently float the red wine on top to finish.


  • 50ml Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon
  • 12.5ml simple syrup
  • 25ml Gran Marnier
  • 25ml watermelon juice
  • 12.5ml lemon juice


Add all the ingredients with ice to a mixing glass. Stir until combined and transfer to an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge and stir.


  • 50ml Wild Turkey 81 bourbon
  • 20ml fresh lemon juice
  • 15ml Bianco Vermouth
  • 15ml grenadine


Chill a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice, then pour in all ingredients. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds before straining the drink into a coupé glass and garnishing with a lemon wheel. Serve.



Measure your liquids into an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously, then strain the mixture into an elegant rocks glass. Garnish with a lemon wheel. Serve.



Add your bourbon, syrup and lime juice to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake for 20 seconds and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with soda and garnish with lime. Serve.

Close view of charred whiskey barrel staves

What is alligator char?

A signature aspect to Wild Turkey whiskey is the use of heavily charred American white oak barrels made by Rocky Mountain Barrel Company. Once the barrel has been built, it undergoes a method called toasting where the interior surfaces of the wooden staves are intentionally burned.

This burning method activates the cellulose within the timber which imparts both flavour and colour in the freshly made spirit. The longer the toasting, the more charred the interior surface of the staves become. This is measured by the amount of time the oak’s surface is exposed to flames, ranging from 1 to 7. A lightly charred cask is only burned between 15 to 40 seconds, whilst a heavily charred cask exceed 90 seconds.

Wild Turkey use a level 4 toasting which is famously known as Alligator char. This is becuase the interior surface becomes cracked, resembling the scaly pattern of alligator skin. Freshly made, Wild Turkey’s crystal clear new make spirit slowly absorbs the colour and lovely toasted flavours from the interior surfaces of the barrel’s staves. Over a period of at least 2 years (to qualify as bourbon) the spirit matures in colour, flavour and smoothness to become Kentucky straight bourbon.

Wild Turkey 101 proof whiskey bottle on top of barrel inside a dark rickhouse

Is Wild Turkey 81 Smooth?

Yes, Wild Turkey 81 is very smooth Kentucky bourbon with a light to medium body. It has a pleasant sweetness from the corn mash and some oakyness from its alligator char barrel ageing process. Wild Turkey 81 is perfect for sipping neat or in your favourite whiskey cocktails.

How long is wild turkey 81 aged?

Wild Turkey 81 is an NAS (no age statement) Kentucky straight bourbon. However, on the rear-side labels on their bottles, the brand state that their whiskeys are aged for no less than five years. Although the official age of Wild Turkey remains undefined, you can assume their whiskeys are an average of 6-8 years old. This age indication is officially approved by the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

Is Wild Turkey 101 strong?

Wild Turkey 101 has a higher ABV% (Alcohol by Volume) of 50.5% compared to Wild Turkey 81’s 40%. It’s speculated that Wild Turkey 101 is aged slightly longer, therefore is spicier with more intense flavours, so it packs quite a punch. Wild Turkey 101 will still provide you with plenty of smoothness from its ageing process, but it certainly has an extra kick.

Is Wild Turkey 101 good for beginners?

Wild Turkey 101 is a good option for beginners who’d like to experience a ‘near’ barrel-strength Kentucky straight bourbon. With only a slight dilution prior to bottling, it retains strong but smooth flavours which can be enjoyed by whiskey beginners or experienced drinkers alike. Thanks to it’s silky smooth drinking experience and distinct lack of ‘burn’ it’s a good entry point for higher proof bourbons.

What is the strongest Wild Turkey?

The strongest Wild Turkey whiskey is their Rare Breed Barrel Proof bourbon. At 58.4% ABV (116 US proof), it’s completley undiluted, leaving the barrel and going straight into the bottle after a 6 to 12 year maturation period.

Can you drink Wild Turkey 101 straight?

Yes, Wild Turkey 101 can be enjoyed neat. Despite its higher ABV% of 50.5%, Wild Turkey 101 is still smooth enough to be sipped straight whilst delivering lovely sweet flavours of honey, vanilla, oak and spice. If you’re new to drinking whiskey, try it neat first to see what you think. Otherwise, add a few drops of water to open up the sweet butterscotch and custard flavours more easily.

How do you drink wild turkey 81?

Wild Turkey 81 is easily enjoyed neat or with a little water added. Although it has a high rye grain recipe, the spiced flavours are incredibly smooth and balanced with sweet flavours of custard, rhubarb, honey and vanilla. Alternatively, Wild Turkey 81 is a great whiskey for mixing in your favourite delicious cocktails. Enjoy it long with cola or ginger ale and plenty of ice, or blend it into a classic Old Fashioned.

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