Unless you’ve been living in a bourbon bunker, you’ve surely noticed the recent buzz surrounding Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Bloggers, YouTubers, and countless accounts on various social media outlets are singing its praises. But arguably the spark that lit the modern Rare Breed inferno arrived courtesy of author Fred Minnick.
For those unaware, Fred held a live-on-camera blind tasting via Instagram in which he sampled the highly sought-after Buffalo Trace Antique Collection against everyday, common whiskeys. Bourbon and rye were compared separately. For the ryes, Thomas H. Handy came out on top, though it should be noted that Dad’s Hat Bottled-in-Bond placed third behind Sazerac 18. Quite an accomplishment for Dad’s Hat, and one you don’t hear many folks talking about (but should). As for the bourbon category, Rare Breed 116.8 placed first, beating out stalwarts like Eagle Rare 17, George T. Stagg, and William Larue Weller.
As you can imagine (if you haven’t already witnessed for yourself), strong opinions from all realms of the “whiskeysphere” came hard and fast. Many Wild Turkey fans were overjoyed, while others rolled their eyes (wishing the news would go away as quickly as possible). After all, everyone knows what happened to Henry McKenna Bottled-in-Bond’s price and availability after receiving accolades from Fred. Would Rare Breed be next? Some enthusiasts stated Fred’s palate must be broken for Rare Breed to have placed higher than bourbons like Stagg and Weller. And then we had the hobby’s tin-foil hatters claiming the entire tasting was rigged from the start.
Regardless of where you fall on that spectrum, a blind tasting is a blind tasting. Ever tried one before? Ever been surprised with how it turned out? Surely the answer to both of those questions is, “yes.” I can understand why many enthusiasts weren’t thrilled with Fred’s reveal – I mean, who wants a Rare Breed price increase – or even worse – an empty shelf where Rare Breed used to sit? Hell, I can even understand why some folks argue Fred’s palate is broken. I don’t agree with them, but I understand their emotions.
The fact of the matter is that all this tasting business is completely subjective, entirely inconsistent, and prone to extreme shifts rivaling quantum theory. Much like Schrödinger’s Cat, an unknown whiskey resting in an unassuming Glencairn has the potential to explode with excellence or fall flat with drab lifelessness. And that exact same whiskey, in the exact same glass, remains either-or until a taster puts their nose to the rim; furthermore, the result can (and most certainly will) vary from day to day, person to person. Call it Schrödinger’s Whiskey, if you will, and no one demonstrates the validity of this theory more than r/Bourbon’s u/I_SAID_NO_GOLDFISH.
u/I_SAID_NO_GOLDFISH, or “Goldfish” for short, has conducted over 620 blind tastings over the last several years. He calls them “Mystery Samples,” and that means he has no idea what he’s tasting. He doesn’t know the category, ABV, age, etc. – not a damn thing about what he’s tasting other than it’s some sort of “whiskey” (at least he hopes 😉 ). If you look at his results, you’ll find clear evidence supporting my Schrödinger’s Whiskey theory. In fact, some may find many of his results shocking. This warrants no offense and anyone pointing a finger or claiming Goldfish’s palate is broken is simply having a hard time facing the inherent subjectivity of this hobby – the human element.
And for the record, I’m not saying blind tastings are so fraught with uncertainty they’re unreliable, I’m only saying that a single blind tasting is prone to mood and error. That goes for you, for me, Fred Minnick, master distillers, master blenders, or any other person of experience (or lack of it). If you read Fred’s commentary on his recent live event, he’ll admit mood was very much a factor – that any of these whiskeys could (and would) land in different rankings on different days. I don’t know how much more honest you can get. As for the doomsday theorists claiming the live tasting was rigged, note that Campari hasn’t spent a dime on advertising in Bourbon+. Not a dime that I’ve seen. I’ll tell you who has – Maker’s Mark. And what did Fred have to say about Maker’s 46 in that very same blind tasting? “F’n gross.” That proves two things to me: 1. The tasting wasn’t rigged, and 2. Fred’s palate isn’t broken. 🙂
Truth be told, I didn’t start this post solely to defend Fred Minnick (he does that well enough on his own). Full disclosure, Fred’s been very generous to me. He’s provided important feedback, encouragement, and insight throughout the process of my upcoming book’s design and publication. Other authors have as well, like Aaron Goldfarb and Brian Haara. Were they to participate in similar blind tastings with surprising results, I’d defend them too. Hell, I’d defend anyone’s blind tasting results – surprising or not.
The fact of the matter is – that night, Rare Breed came out on top against some pretty impressive heavy hitters. Sure, it may have been a one-off event, but to perform so well in such great company is praiseworthy. Personally, I’ve found Rare Breed batch 116.8 to be a quality pour since the day it was first introduced in 2017. Most Turkey fans would agree. It’s no dusty Rare Breed or batch 01-99 – but – it’s delicious and consistently so. Is it really that surprising that a barrel-proof, six-to-twelve-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey took home first prize? Or, is it surprising because it’s Wild Turkey? Maybe the very same whiskey behind a fancy, rare, and pricey label would make more sense, right?
In closing, I want to leave you with one last thought (and I sincerely hope Campari is reading this). For years Rare Breed has remained an affordable, quality barrel-proof bourbon. It’s as close as many folks will get to tasting Wild Turkey straight from a barrel (though chill filtered unfortunately, ahem-ahem). It’s half the price of Booker’s and is batched with more mature whiskey. Don’t get me wrong – I love Booker’s. But the prices Beam is asking for many of their products now seems out of touch with its All-American legacy.
Rare Breed and its fellow Wild Turkey expressions have always been priced for the everyman. Were its price to significantly increase from a surge of sudden popularity it would be a slap in the face of the very consumers that kept Wild Turkey alive through years of struggle. Furthermore, it would contradict the essence of creative director Matthew McConaughey’s new endeavor, Talk Turkey. This brand-sponsored video series highlights unique individuals from all walks of life – individuals that faced life-or-death challenges, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, yet, much like Wild Turkey itself, came out on top. It highlights the everyman – the everywoman – and opens doors through honest and inspiring conversations. And while the series name is somewhat misleading (there’s no real talk about Turkey), it’s captivating nonetheless. These individuals are relatable. They start at the bottom, and like you and me, must strive their way to the top.
Bold. Genuine. True. This is the economic demographic Rare Breed belongs to – hard-working, tireless individuals. It ain’t Stagg. It ain’t Weller. It’s “pure Jimmy Russell” (as the late Elmer T. Lee once said). It’s Wild Turkey and it belongs in the hands of the working class, not strictly the posh cabinets of the well-off or elite. Cheers! dj