I’m certain I’ve said this before, but when most people think of Wild Turkey they don’t think “rye.” And that’s understandable. Wild Turkey has traditionally placed focus on bourbon for decades – arguably since the brand’s beginning. And while they’ve maintained a whiskey portfolio with at least one rye expression since the 1950s (possibly as early as the 1940s), it wasn’t until the mid 1970s, after Austin, Nichols & Co. purchased the J.T.S. Brown & Sons distillery in Lawrenceburg, that Wild Turkey rye distillation began in Kentucky under Jimmy Russell’s supervision.

Forty-five years later, Wild Turkey’s rye portfolio has grown considerably. With four core rye whiskey expressions, as well as its first limited edition rye, Master’s Keep Cornerstone (2019), Wild Turkey is no longer bourbon-focused. And this May, a few lucky enthusiasts in Oregon were treated to the newest edition to the Wild Turkey family, Rare Breed Rye. (Incredibly lucky, considering its official release is scheduled for July.) Speaking of luck, were it not for a thoughtful bourbon amigo, I’d still be waiting myself (thanks again, Matthew).

So what makes Rare Breed Rye stand out among the Wild Turkey rye expressions most are already familiar with? First, it’s full barrel proof at 112.2. That makes Rare Breed Rye the only barrel-proof rye expression in Wild Turkey’s catalog – ever. Master’s Keep Cornerstone comes close, but Rare Breed Rye is right on it.

Second, it’s non-chill filtered. Only Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye and Cornerstone share this notable designation. What’s so significant about the absence of chill filtration? Well, there’s countless articles online that do the topic far more justice than I can, but the simple of it is this: it’s a cosmetic process. Pretty whiskey. That’s what it boils (or freezes) down to. 😉 Of course, there’s a price to pay for beauty. In whiskey’s case, it’s flavor. But that’s another debate for another time.

Finally, while technically a non-age-stated expression (much like Rare Breed bourbon), Rare Breed Rye is a blend of whiskeys of various maturities. I spoke with Wild Turkey’s Bruce Russell recently and he confirmed this initial batch contains straight rye whiskeys aged four, six, and eight years (primarily). I would wager this pattern will continue in the years ahead, though well-disciplined master distillers, such as Jimmy and Eddie Russell, batch by taste, not by a calendar.

That covers the basics of Rare Breed Rye, but the big question remains – how does it taste? We’ll get there soon enough. Before we do, I’d like to stress how excited I am that this expression is a reality. I dreamed of it for years. When I finally heard the rumors – not long after seeing them confirmed on the TTB COLA registry – well, let’s just say my heart gobbled. This is a wish granted, and regardless of its profile, I’m truly grateful. Now, let’s pour!

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Rye (2020) – 112.2 proof, NCF – no age stated (reportedly a blend of 4-, 6-, and 8-year straight rye whiskeys) – distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY

Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …

Color: rich amber

Nose: (lively, sweet & spicy) lemon squares, crisp apple, vanilla icing, honey, vibrant oak, cinnamon popcorn, tangerine peel, herbal tea leaves, faint minty spice

Taste: (brief sweetness, wallop o’ spice) caramel drizzle, vanilla candy, lemon zest, fresh-cracked black pepper, basil, Altoid-esque mint, hints of licorice & clove 

Finish: (a four-act spice ballet, sponsored by Doc Martens) long & wonderfully spicy – intense black pepper, burnt toffee, charred oak, nutmeg, licorice, leather, lingering zesty citrus 

Overall: If you’re expecting Rare Breed Rye to be a sweet and easy sipper, think again. This whiskey is far from the all-too-conventional “smooth.” While Rare Breed Rye may knock politely, the second you open the door it struts in, raids your fridge, grabs the remote, and props its muddy boots on your heirloom antique coffee table. It’s bold, and as such, true to the Rare Breed name. Do I wish it were more balanced? Not really. This is very much the profile Rare Breed should be (regardless of mash bill). 

Those familiar with Wild Turkey 101 Rye will instantly find common ground with Rare Breed Rye’s nose: vanilla, honey, citrus, and some sweet herbal/minty spice. But similar to the relationship between Wild Turkey 101 and Rare Breed bourbons, once Rare Breed Rye hits your tongue it’s essentially Wild Turkey 101 Rye “cranked to eleven.” The exception is, of course, the immense peppery spice on the back palate and finish. Not even the 116.8-proof Rare Breed comes close in the pepper department. I don’t think any Wild Turkey bourbon does. Maybe Russell’s Reserve 2002 … maybe.

Experiencing a whiskey is in many ways like experiencing a song. There’s an introduction, a play between verses and choruses with both repetitive and differing notes, and a closing. The dynamics and flow change from song to song, but the pattern largely stays the same. As for Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed Rye, I’m reminded of Ike & Tina’s incomparable rendition of Fogerty’s “Proud Mary.” Like Tina famously said:

You know, every now and then I think you might like to hear something from us nice and easy. But there’s just one thing … You see, we never ever do nothing nice and easy. We always do it nice and rough. So, we’re gonna take the beginning of this song and do it … easy. Then we’re gonna do the finish … rough.

“Nice and rough.” That’s Rare Breed Rye. The best kind of nice – the best kind of rough.


Rating: 3.75/5 🦃

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