Wild Turkey has always had the reputation of being a harsher bourbon. In a movie, when someone is on the down-and-out or a tough country boy, he's usually hoisting a 750 of Wild Turkey to his lips. For many years, this sorta made sense: Wild Turkey's only whiskey was at 101 proof, higher than the 80-90 proof counterparts by other distilleries, but that doesn't keep it from being a pretty tasty whiskey. I've been lucky enough to sample some WT from the 80s, back when they had one major flagship label, and it was pretty great back then. The 101 was my go-to bar bourbon for years in the states -- it could stand up to a couple ice cubes, just to make it last longer, and went great before or after a beer.
Up here in Ontario, we're stuck with the 80 proof version. Wild Turkey is interesting in that it keeps a pretty similar flavor profile through all of its releases -- the super premium stuff, like American Spirit and Rare Breed, tastes to my tongue like really good and strong Wild Turkey. (Beam, for example, has similar notes across the releases -- namely the yeasty finish -- but not the same sort of flavor profile). Unfortunately, my tasting of Wild Turkey is essentially going to be influenced by my memories of 101, but thus is life.
Wild Turkey has a pretty strong smell -- and it's pretty recognizable. It's less so in the 80 proof version, since it smells a bit thin and watery, but there's a strong ethanol smell, some old orange rind, and some turpentine. I don't mean to characterize it as unpleasant; I kind of like the smell of gasoline, and WT 80 has the same sort of unhealthy goodness to it. The taste is unlike the nose: entirely sweet and simple. It's like sugar water mixed with irish malt. The finish is distinctive but muted, strong sour corn, with hints of grapefruit and bitter root. It lasts a couple seconds.
Overall, Wild Turkey 80 Proof is very sweet and not very sophisticated. It's worth trying to sample the Wild Turkey flavor but nothing like the much more distinctive 101. The LCBO is doing us a disservice by providing the 80 proof rather than the company's flagship. Value-wise, it's cheap, and was worth buying back when the only other cheap option was Jim Beam, but now that it faces some competition at the the bottom-shelf, I would much rather giver or take a dollar and drink Four Roses or Jim Beam Black. I guess if you want to look tough while drinking something pretty mild it's a good choice.