As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s been a lot of talk about Wild Turkey Rare Breed. It’s repeatedly featured on social media, praised in forums like r/Bourbon, and finds plenty of screen time on YouTube. Just this past week, author Fred Minnick hosted a series of blind tastings in an attempt to determine “The Best $41 to $60 Bourbon.” Spoiler: Rare Breed 116.8 kicked ass. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. I don’t think many bourbon fans were. Sure, there was some tough competition – Old Forester 1920 in particular – but in the end, Rare Breed came out on top.
But Fred’s tasting is only one example. Many enthusiasts and critics have reached similar conclusions. Unfortunately for bourbon fans, whenever Fred says something, people listen; moreover, people listen and do stupid things. It’s known as the “Minnick Effect.” One day you’re buying your favorite bourbon on sale by the case, the next day you’re scouring the internet – relying on your Amex card for a single bottle of the very same whiskey. If you don’t believe me, ask fans of Henry McKenna how fun life’s been since 2018.
As frustrating as this phenomenon may be, one thing we shouldn’t do is blame Fred for the irrationality of consumers. People are inherently lazy when it comes to booze shopping. The fact that you’re reading this blog likely excludes you from that group, but generally speaking most Americans don’t care for nerdy, time-consuming stuff. Product research is boring. They look to the experts to tell them what they should drink. And despite what you think about Fred (a very kind and generous individual, if you ask me) he’s irrefutably an expert in his field. He also does far more good for whiskey than harm. Sometimes that means your favorite bourbon disappears from shelves, but if the net result saves jobs and keeps the industry growing, I’m supportive.
As for Rare Breed, do I see it flying off shelves or hoarded and flipped like Henry McKenna? I don’t think so. Not yet. People may be lazy and easily influenced by experts, but they’re also suckers for stereotypes. Unfortunately (or fortunately for us Turkey fans), Wild Turkey has long been perceived as “roughneck whiskey” – the choice booze of frat boys, rock stars, and old men. Enthusiasts aren’t immune to this. Trust me, I get plenty of emails and messages from experienced individuals who ignored Wild Turkey for years. Depending on where you live, particularly bourbon hotspots like Atlanta, Nashville, and of course, Lexington and Louisville, you might have a harder time finding Rare Breed. But at present, I think most of us are safe. Wild Turkey is still very much an underdog.
It’s been a year since I last reviewed a current Rare Breed batch. When I saw a May 2020 bottle at a local store a few weeks ago (ironically, the last one on the shelf), I gobbled it up. I’m not sure what date Fred Minnick’s bottle was filled, though I’m not sure it matters all that much. Rare Breed 116.8 has proven remarkably consistent. If anything it’s only getting better. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to explore new bottlings. Chances are you’ll find the same familiar profile with potential variance in its subtleties. And that’s exactly what I’m expecting today.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed (2020) – 116.8-proof KSBW – reportedly a blend of six-, eight-, and twelve-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: dense copper
Nose: (robust, balanced) burnt marshmallow, toasted caramel, apple peel, fruity vanilla, sweet oak char, orange zest, nutmeg, lemon-honey, tea leaves, hints of bright cinnamon & clove
Taste: (vibrant, lively) tart vanilla, red fruit, caramel/candy apple, charred oak, orange peel, herbal spice, brown sugar, lemon-cherry
Finish: long, zesty & flavorful – caramel, maple syrup, brown sugar, blood orange, oak char, leather, pepper, tangerine peel, sweet clove, faint sassafras
Overall: Easily my favorite Rare Breed 116.8 bottle to date. The nose is on par with many Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections – loaded with complexity, and perhaps surprisingly, maturity. I’m not saying it noses exactly like a ten-year bourbon, but it damn sure shares similarities. Core notes like vanilla and caramel are robust; fruity notes like apple and orange are juxtaposed with baking spice and sweet charred oak. For a barrel-proof whiskey it’s exceptionally inviting – arguably deceiving for those unfamiliar with Wild Turkey.
Which brings me to the taste and finish. This is where Rare Breed’s traditionally brash character comes into play. While the nose hides the fact that six-year bourbon is married within, by the time it hits the palate you realize you’re indeed sipping Rare Breed, not Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. But only initially. The front of the palate hits with a burst of vibrance, but if you let the whiskey simmer for a second or two more, it blossoms. Vibrant becomes velvet – the notes darker, richer and fuller. This depth carries on throughout the finish, ending with a seemingly never-ending trail of diminishing spice.
Does it get better than this? Of course. There are many notable Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel private selections that outperform this 2020 Rare Breed. But then, that’s not what Rare Breed is about – never has been. Rare Breed is a showcase of Wild Turkey’s boldness – Jimmy Russell’s masterful blend of distinctive bourbon flavor profiles. It’s that simple. And judging by the taste of today’s iteration, Eddie Russelll has mastered it himself.
Rating: 4/5 🦃
Before signing off I’d like to mention that we’re approaching the 30th anniversary of Wild Turkey Rare Breed. To my friends at Campari, please take note. Rare Breed deserves a commemorative release, much like Booker’s 30th or Elmer T. Lee’s 100th. It doesn’t have to be a limited edition in the sense of rarity. In fact, I’d prefer it not be. A commemorative bottling for the everyman/everywoman – the very same six-, eight-, and twelve-year blend cherished by Wild Turkey fans since 1991. But this time, roll it back to a non-chill filtered whiskey and give it a unique proof. Maybe add a few more twelve-year barrels or those top-floor beasts of yesteryear. Give it a nice presentation and make it affordable and available to all. Whereas Booker’s 30th and Elmer T. Lee’s 100th were unattainable for most, Rare Breed’s 30th could stand for those who actually drink Wild Turkey. Yes, it’s short notice, but there’s enough time to make it happen. Do it for us. Do it for bourbon. Do it for Jimmy. Cheers!
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“reportedly a blend of six-, eight-, and twelve-year, barrel-proof bourbon” – Jimmy Russell told me this was true at a Liquor Barn signing several years ago. No longer “reportedly”
🙂 The bottle is non-age stated so I have to use this until.
Love the review. Agree that this 2020 batch is something special. Interestingly enough, 2021 will also be the 20th anniversary of Russell’s Reserve. Would be great to see Campari re-release a special 101 proof 20th Anniversary edition of RR10 to commemorate. 2021 could be a fun year for turkey fans!
You got my vote!
And thank you for reading and commenting.
Love your reviews as always..this is PNW Trent on Instagram that you turned on to the Saffell! Hoping for something special from Wild Turkey but the Masters Keep BiB will be a hard one to beat! How do you know the bottle date and if it’s a 2020 release for Rare Breed? I’m going to seek a May 2020 bottle out!
See “bottle codes” on my menu. And enjoy that Saffell!
I just got around to picking up a 2020 batch today(took longer than expected cause of the multiples of 2019 batches I was working through 😜). Can’t wait to crack it open to compare notes!
Let me know! 🥃🦃
Okay, cracked it open yesterday for derby day. Neck pour your notes are spot on! Definitely noses like it’s a little older than the 2019 batches, which was reminding me of some of my Russell’s picks I currently have. Really loving this expression. Like all Wild Turkey products, I find they get better after being open for a week or too so I can’t wait to see how it develops.
Was shocked to see that my liquor store has raised the price on this expression so I think word is getting out on how good it is. Deservingly so, still one of the best values in bourbon today. Cheers! 🥃🦃
Glad you’re finding similar qualities. And yes, it should get even better in the days ahead.
Doesn’t take those store owners long to catch on, does it? 😄
Great review, and thank you for the passionate plea to Campari for an attainable 30 year edition. You’re the voice of the people! Cheers!
Thank you, Matt. Cheers!
I recently purchased a May 2020 bottling and will open it when my Aug 2018 bottle is finished. Happy to hear that it’s a good batch.
Yeah! Bring out a commemerative 30 year Rye which is richer ( older ) than WT 101 Rye, but at a reasonable price.
I have to get some of this one !
Sorry, I wrote bring out a Rye.
I love the Rare Breed 116.8 !
No better bang for the buck out there !
30 years matured? That would be a little … woody. 🙂
Do you know why a lot of people dislike the Rare Breed bottle?
I suppose because it’s heavily used – Rare Breed, Rare Breed Rye, Kentucky Spirit, Father & Son. I think it’s fine for the Rare Breed line. Would prefer something different for Kentucky Spirit.
A Rare Breed Anniversary release would be in order. A blend of 7, 9, and 13yr. NCF. $80. Is that too much to ask from a blue collar perspective?
A Rare Breed LE would be great (and appropriate). Doubt we’ll see one anytime soon, unfortunately.