If there’s a Wild Turkey expression that’s improved over the last several years it’s Rare Breed. While the current batch, 116.8, hasn’t reached batch 01-99’s exemplary status, considering the differences in entry proof (from 107 to 115) and barrel location (from primarily top floors to a wider variety of racks), it’s certainly come a long way from batch 112.8. (Those who are fans of Rare Breed 112.8, please don’t take offense. You like what you like. I just can’t find much love for that release unless it’s hitting ice or fortifying a Kentucky Mule.)
A few weeks ago I participated in an epic Wild Turkey vertical tasting with Malt Magazine’s Taylor Cope. It was an exciting and rewarding experience and I hope to work with Taylor again down the road. After the tasting I walked away with a recurring impression – damn, 2019 Rare Breed is delicious! I set out to find a bottle for myself, and luckily, I did – a June 2019 bottle to be exact. But I’m not so sure that the precise bottling date means as much as some enthusiasts proclaim. Please allow me to elaborate.
Sometime last year rumors started flying about a choice Rare Breed batch containing fifteen-year whiskey, more specifically, a laser code beginning with the letters “LL/GC.” Truth be told, I appreciate laser codes. I do. As a reviewer of Wild Turkey expressions exclusively, dates matter. I like examining profile trends. Without date verification, that simply can’t happen.
One trend I noticed earlier this year was a quality increase in Wild Turkey 101, particularly notable in mid-to-late 2018 batches. A likely contributor to this boost in quality was a lack of eight-year stocks due to the production of Wild Turkey Longbranch. As a result, Master Distiller Eddie Russell introduced additional mature stocks (likely ten-years) when necessary to achieve the desired Wild Turkey 101 profile. While other factors were at play (specific rickhouses, particular floors, racks, etc.), the Longbranch theory made sense. That same theory could (and should) also be applied to Rare Breed; whereas the expression is typically a blend of six-, eight-, and twelve-year whiskey, 2018-2019 (and potentially beyond) batches likely contain more ten-plus-year barrels to compensate for the assumed lack of eight-year stocks.
As for the rumored fifteen-year whiskey in “LL/GC” (March 2018) Rare Breed batches … one should be cautious. First off, does that apply to every single batch produced through the entire month of March 2018? Second, where did the information come from? (My guess … something, something, internet. Always a trustworthy source, right?) Finally, and here’s the nail on the coffin if ever there was one, Eddie Russell stated in a recent Reddit AMA that the oldest barrels dumped in any 2018 Rare Breed batch was no greater than thirteen years. (He didn’t clarify how many barrels or which batches saw them either.) And let’s be honest. If the fifteen-year rumor were true (which it isn’t), would a few notably mature barrels make that much of a difference in batch quality when offset with numerous younger barrels? Not likely.
Earlier this year I was surprised to see “LL/GC” bottles of Rare Breed offered for sale at considerable premiums on secondary markets. The fifteen-year whiskey tale accompanied these solicitations (of course), and unfortunately, some eager folks spent their hard-earned-money on a yarn. Had they simply purchased a 2018-2019 Rare Breed bottle at their local bottle shop they would’ve been just as happy. Those who disagree need only arrange a blind tasting and, well, it’s as the Police classic says, “The truth hits everybody.”
Rumors and taterisms aside, it’s time to formally dig into 2019’s Wild Turkey Rare Breed. No legends of unusually aged barrels here – no accompanying or unfounded hype. Just your everyday, barrel-proof Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey from the hands of the most experienced distilling team in the bourbon industry. Let’s pour!
Wild Turkey Rare Breed (2019) – 116.8-proof KSBW – reportedly a blend of 6-, 8-, and 12-year, barrel-proof bourbon – distilled and bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: deep copper
Nose: (fragrant, modern WT) warm vanilla, apple butter, toffee, baked brown sugar, charred maple-oak, orange peel, herbal spice, candy corn, nutmeg, hints of clove
Taste: (robust, balanced) vanilla extract, caramel drizzle, sweet oak char, brown sugar, nutmeg, orange zest, chocolate-covered cherry, licorice, faint black pepper
Finish: long & warm w/ lingering spice – vanilla, toasted caramel, charred oak, molasses, licorice, sassafras, burnt sugar, citrus, cinnamon & pepper
Overall: I might take a little heat for saying this, but this year’s Wild Turkey Rare Breed is arguably the best deal in modern bourbon. Sure, Wild Turkey 101 seems virtually unbeatable (dollar-for-dollar), at least in today’s insanely priced market – but – if you want an even bolder, barrel-proof Wild Turkey experience, Rare Breed’s retail price is more than worth it. It’s as I’ve remarked several times in the past … everything you love about Wild Turkey 101 “cranked to 11.”
While there’s a hint of youthful liveliness laced in batch 116.8 (as there seemingly always is with modern Rare Breed), it’s beautifully integrated (much like a non-age-stated, cask-strength Scotch). Why enthusiasts pay $200+ for five- or six-year Willett Family Estate or other highly sought after similarly aged bottles when Rare Breed is only $45 (and found virtually anywhere) is beyond me. From my limited tasting experience, I just can’t say such releases warrant a substantial premium over Rare Breed 116.8. A single exception might be mouthfeel, which brings me to my next point.
Why on Earth is Rare Breed chill filtered? Can anyone answer that for me (please)? Eddie? Campari? Why are we chill filtering super-premium barrel-proof bourbon in 2000-freakin’ 19? I’m waiting …
Look, 2019 Rare Breed 116.8 is unashamedly delicious. It truly is. But imagine this bourbon with a richer, creamier mouthfeel. Imagine an extra layer of depth, complexity and character. Booker’s is non-chill filtered, as are countless other batch/barrel-proof bourbon whiskeys. Why not Rare Breed? Are we trying to give the competition an advantage? Are we sandbagging now? Well, it sure seems like it. I guess we have prettier liquid, at least (sigh).
If there’s a takeaway here it’s this – 2019 Rare Breed is a helluva tasty deal for its retail price. Could it be better? Absolutely. And there’s an easy solution. Stop. Chill. Filtering. Hell, you get to skip a step and save a little time and money. So Campari, please give it a whirl. Until you do, I’m doubtful future Rare Breed batches will crack the 4/5 mark on my Turkey scale. It’s possible, sure. But every time I sip Rare Breed next to an NCF expression like Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, I’m left asking, “Why?”
I sincerely hope I don’t have to ask that question much longer.
Rating: *3.75/5 🦃
*This is a protest score.