I decided on these two bourbons for my first comparison review because they are very similar.  They are both under $30, over 100 proof, have a high percentage of rye in the mash bill, and they are both named after crazy poultry.  The biggest difference between the two is that almost everybody has heard of Wild Turkey, and almost nobody has heard of Fighting Cock.  However, both of them are very good value bourbons.

Wild Turkey 101 comes from the famous Austin Nichols Distillery, producers of the famous Wild Turkey and Russell’s Reserve bourbons.  There is no age statement on the bourbon, but my guess is that most of the bourbons that make it into the bottle are between 3 and 6 years old.  It has fancy advertising campaigns, and most college students have taken a shot of Turkey 101 at some point in their career.  However, what few college students realize is that they are drinking a damn good bourbon.

On the nose, Wild Turkey 101 is rich and complex.  There are strong notes of brown sugar and rye spices that balance each other well.  Some more fragile notes of dried summer fruits (peaches?), caramel, and pine sap come through as well.  Jason Pyle at Sour Mash Manifesto (http://sourmashmanifesto.com/2010/11/11/wild-comparison-wild-turkey-russells-reserve-vs-wild-turkey-101/) describes Wild Turkey’s mouth feel as “a porcupine running at 60 MPH,” but I think the palate is a bit softer than that.  There are certainly a lot of sharp spices from the rye, which give the bourbon a lot of peppery notes, but there is also good balance to the palate.  The brown sugars and caramels from the nose stick around through the whole experience, calming down the big rye kick on the palate and the finish.  Wild Turkey finishes with a sharp, spicy finish, with just enough caramel and barrel sugar to keep it smooth.  I only wish the finish would stay longer, it always seems too quick to me.  My grade: B+/B.  Price: $25-30.  This is a damn good sipper for a damn good price.

Fighting Cock 6 year is a 103 proof bourbon from Heaven Hill Distillery (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, etc.).  It is not easy to find, especially in places that aren’t big bourbon hotspots, but it is worth a try if you find it.  At only about $20 for 750ml, it is a pretty good deal.  It is also available in a limited edition 15 year, which is very difficult to find.  If anyone finds that one, let me know (or just send me a bottle).

On the nose, the rye spices are very clear, with only some soft caramel and oak to balance out the bourbon.  On the palate, Fighting Cock is very full-bodied, with a distinct rye profile.  The bourbon is spicy and peppery on the palate, with some corny sweetness, nutmeg, and light caramel lingering around the front of the tongue.  The finish is monstrous.  Fighting Cock rumbles over the back of your tongue, kicking and screaming all the way.  The finish is dominated by the peppery flavors of the rye spices and drying oak, but there are slight sweet flavors (corn, caramel) that come back after a minute or two.  The finish is definitely longer than Wild Turkey, but Fighting Cock’s finish isn’t as complex, which can make it feel pretty harsh if you aren’t used to drinking high proof bourbons.  My grade: C-.  Price: $20-25/750ml.  This is a fine pour, but it is not complex enough to be the daily sipper.

Overall, Wild Turkey is the winner, hands down.  It is the more complex bourbon; it is rich, balanced, and very drinkable.  Fighting Cock is still very good value, but it isn’t as balanced as Wild Turkey 101, which can make it feel like a rough, one-tracked ride.  If Wild Turkey were at the same price point as Fighting Cock, then Wild Turkey might be my favorite value whiskey on the market, but its fame has made it a bit pricy.  In some places, you can still snag a bottle of 101 for $22.  If that is the case in your area, there is no reason not to have a bottle of Turkey 101 in the liquor cabinet when I come visit.

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