Snacktaku: Can A Whiskey Novice Tell The Difference Between A $50 And $250 Bottle

Snacktaku: Can A Whiskey Novice Tell The Difference Between A $50 And $250 Bottle
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I’ve always been a fan of whiskey in some capacity. Early on, when I hit legal drinking age, it just meant switching to bourbon and cokes when I’d had enough of beer for the night, but during the first lot of lockdowns, I started really exploring everything the brown liquor has to offer.

I don’t mean that in a weird alcoholic way, I just started reaching beyond the standard house bourbons and into different categories and price points. Since then, I’ve grown a healthy appreciation for drams across the entire spectrum, from Scotch whisky to Japanese whisky to bourbon whiskey to Australian whisky and beyond.

As it stands, I’d say I have a decent knowledge of all things whiskey, but I’m by no means an expert. I’ve tried a fair variety of drams so far, but nothing overly expensive, which has always left me wondering — could someone like me, a whiskey novice, tell the difference between a $50 bottle and a $250 bottle? Does something more expensive taste more expensive? I recently got the chance to test my skills with a blind tasting.

Before I dive into how I set this up, it’s important to note that the price of a whiskey does not necessarily align with quality. Price is generally dictated by rarity, which is why more expensive bottles are usually aged longer, are part of some kind of limited release, or just don’t exist in large quantities. Whether that bottle is “good” really depends on your taste, which, like everything else, is entirely subjective.

When it comes to whiskey, a lot of its flavour is gained from the ageing process. The longer the spirit is sitting in a barrel, the more complexities it tends to pick up, which is why older whisky generally has a lot more “going on” compared to its younger counterparts. Some people will tell you older whiskey isn’t necessarily “better”, it’s just “different”. I guess the question I’m trying to answer here is, how noticeable is that difference?

The bourbons

Before we get into how I tested my tasting skills, here are the four whiskeys in the lineup. To keep it as consistent as possible, I kept all of them as close to the bourbon category as possible (one is technically classified as Tennessee whiskey).

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One – $250 RRP

This bad boy definitely belongs on the top shelf. A special blend of mature bourbons aged between nine and 14 years, hand-picked by Wild Turkey master distiller, Eddie Russell. It’s 101 proof, which means it’s 50.5% alcohol by volume (ABV).

“To the nose, the bourbon has an aroma of cinnamon and rye spice, with a slight kick of pepper which lets you know that this is no stale batch,” Russell told Lifehacker Australia.

“After a sip, a person would taste notes of sweet honey, brown spice, and vanilla. This makes a buttery delivery which is finished by a kick of heat that leaves a lingering toasted oak finish.”

And just to be clear, I didn’t read any tasting notes on this before conducting the blind taste test, for obvious reasons.

Master’s Keep One has a recommended retail price of $250 but it seems pretty hard to find at the moment. The best price I can see at the time of writing is $357.50 over at

Wild Turkey Bourbon – $45.95

This is Wild Turkey’s standard 80-proof (40% ABV) bourbon release. As far as flavours go, it’s very much a classic bourbon, so lots of vanilla and caramel in there. If you’re going for something on the rocks, in a cocktail or with a mixer, this is a good option.

You can pick it up from Dan Murphy’s for $45.95 if you’re a member.

Buffalo Trace – $53

Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 700 ml : Pantry Food & Drinks

This is my go-to bourbon. It’s delicious neat or in an old-fashioned cocktail. Along with classic bourbon flavours, I also get a lot of green apples on both the nose and palate.

You can grab it at Dan Murphy’s for $53 if you’re a member.

Jack Daniel’s – $48.95

Rounding out the list is Jack Daniel’s classic Old No. 7. This isn’t technically a bourbon, but I’d call it bourbon-adjacent in that the flavours are pretty damn similar. I wanted to include this as a fourth because a) I had it on hand and b) I’ve never had it neat, so it would add another curve ball to the test, so to speak.

You can get it from Dan Murphy’s for $48.95 if you’re a member.

The blind tasting

I got my partner to set up the tasting while I was in a different room. She poured a small amount of each bottle into identical Glencairn glasses, each next to a number on a piece of paper. She wrote down the bottle corresponding to the number on a separate piece of paper that I’d check after I made all of my guesses.

I went through and nosed each one before tasting, making sure to go through each one before returning to the start to make my guesses. Below is where I landed on each.

Bourbon Number 1

This was noticeably different to any bourbon I’ve tried before. It’s rich and smooth, with strong notes of honey and vanilla on the palate. It’s legitimately so good. Straight off the bat, this had to be the Master’s Keep One.

Guess: Master’s Keep One

Actual: Master’s Keep One

Yep, turns out I was right. The most surprising thing here (and a very obvious oversight on my part) was that it wasn’t the higher proof that gave it away. It doesn’t have the harshness that many whiskeys around the 100-proof mark often have. Rather, it was the richness and overall difference when compared to bourbons I was more familiar with that ultimately lead to my decision.

Bourbon Number 2

This one tasted a little more “muted” in comparison to the others. Still nice with classic bourbon flavours. I guessed that this one was probably Jack Daniel’s based on that.

Guess: Jack Daniel’s

Actual: Wild Turkey

I was wrong! It was actually the standard Wild Turkey. This surprised me because I’ve had both Jack Daniel’s and Wild Turkey in old-fashioneds and I’ve always preferred the latter, as it tends to stand up better when other ingredients are in the mix. Goes to show how much variance there can be when drinking something neat vs other ways.

Bourbon Number 3

Another one with classic bourbon flavours plus heavier cherry notes. I thought this one was Wild Turkey.

Guess: Wild Turkey

Actual: Jack Daniel’s

As mentioned above, I got these two mixed up.

Bourbon Number 4

This has green apples for days. It’s absolutely the Buffalo Trace.

Guess: Buffalo Trace

Actual: Buffalo Trace

I drink this neat pretty regularly, so it’s fair to say I’d easily be able to pick it out of a lineup.


So ultimately, I was able to pick out the more expensive bottle from the rest, but there are a couple of notes I wanna make here. This was far from an optimal blind tasting. I really should have used 3 comparison bourbons I was more unfamiliar with and kept them all at the same proof, even though the latter didn’t really factor into my decision-making process. But hey, I had to work with what I had at the time, you know?

The important thing, however, is that the exercise answered my question, there is a noticeable difference between $50 and $250 bottles of whiskey and in this case, that difference was a good one. According to Russell, it’s the blending and finishing processes that make Master’s Keep One a smooth 100-proof whiskey.


“Using a carefully crafted base blend and just the right amount of time in the finishing barrels is the best place to start,” he told Lifehacker Australia. “Then, we give our oak barrels an alligator char (Char No. 4), which is a fire-burning technique to the barrel that holds the liquid. This gives our blend of mature bourbons a less intense and more harmonised flavour profile.”

“Doing a second maturation in these specially toasted barrels also helps to lower the proof of the bourbon slightly without compromising any of the iconic Wild Turkey Master’s Keep signature flavour profile.”

Certainly not something everyone can afford to be drinking regularly, but it’s always nice to have something premium to crack open on special occasions, right?

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At Kotaku, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


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