Ask any random group of whiskey enthusiasts which barrel-proof bourbon is their favorite and you’re bound to hear Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Impressive, considering popular names like Booker’s, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and Stagg Jr. It wasn’t always this way. Sure, Wild Turkey has long held its devoted fans and supporters, but a bulk of the bourbon-crazed population has only recently opened their minds (and wallets) to Lawrenceburg’s Finest. This is largely due to the attention granted by a new wave of next-generation whiskey YouTubers, podcasters, and social media influencers. I hesitate to say bloggers, as blogging almost seems like a dying art in the modern-day bourbon-sphere. Save for a small few, most of the whiskey bloggers I “grew up with” are gone. At least, they’re no longer writing about whiskey regularly.
But please don’t take my observations the wrong way. I’m not saying Rare Breed, or even Wild Turkey itself, is a fad. It’s no more of a fad than bourbon itself. I’m only conveying the quality whiskey Wild Turkey produces has long been underrated and is only now getting its appropriate due. I never imagined a time when expressions like Rare Breed would be allocated. Yet, here we are. In some areas of the U.S., that’s unfortunately the case. Five years ago, you could easily find bottles of Rare Breed from the mid/late 2000s collecting dust on retail shelves. It may sound like a long time ago, but 2016 was well into the uptick of bourbon’s twenty-first century boom. Nowadays, many stores can’t keep freshly filled bottles of Rare Breed in stock. Times have definitely changed.
Speaking of freshly filled bottles and changing times, on a casual visit to my local liquor store I picked up a 2021-dated Rare Breed bottle. Fueled by feverish curiosity to taste how the expression’s profile was holding up, I rushed home to pop the cork and give it a pour. And what do you know? It tasted like Rare Breed. 🙂 But seriously, nothing incredibly different, though I did notice a nuttier vibe than I recalled from past 116.8 batches. I typed up my first-pour thoughts for Patreon and moved on with my evening.
Yet, it haunts me. Is there a difference – even if slight – between 2020 and 2021 Rare Breed? There’s only one way to know for certain and that requires a side-by-side tasting. But, before I get to that (don’t worry, it’s coming), perhaps it’s best I share my impression of 2021’s Rare Breed 116.8 on its own.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed (2021) – 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: rich copper
Nose: English toffee, vanilla bean, brown sugar, charred oak, ripe orange peel, nutmeg, baked apples & cinnamon, hints of woody-herbal spice
Taste: (creamy mouthfeel) nutty caramel, dense nougat, brown sugar, honey-butter, warm citrus, vanilla cola, molasses, boozy sweet tea
Finish: long & comfortably warm (“signature Rare Breed”) – salted caramel, pepper, maple chews, spicy oak, sassafras, leather, faint cinnamon & clove
Overall: This 2021 bottling is everything Rare Breed should be – not a note more or less. In fact, this may be the best nose on any Rare Breed since the 2017 label transition. It’s loaded with dark toffee, brown sugar, baked fruit, sweet & savory spice, and the perfect degree of maple-esque oak char. It sips well under proof (dangerously so). Hell, it almost warrants availability as liter and 1.75 liter bottles. Wait – did I say “almost?” Forget that! I’ll clarify: We need Rare Breed in liter and 1.75 liter bottles. There. Much better.
Regardless of volume, Wild Turkey is kicking 2021 off right with its latest run of Rare Breed. That is, January’s is no slouch. I only hope I can continue to find it with ease, sans-premium. The list of once-available, once reasonably priced bourbons is seemingly shrinking by the day. While I wish Wild Turkey and the Russell family every bit of acclaim and success (it’s well deserved and long overdue), I’d also like to keep drinking their whiskey without driving cross-state or skipping a mortgage payment.
Rating: 4/5 🦃
I bet you thought I forgot about that comparison, didn’t you? Well, I’m pleased to report that this January 2021 Rare Breed is more similar to my July 2020 bottling than I initially assumed. There are slight differences, though nothing impactful enough to claim a shift in general profile. If pressed for an assessment, I’d say this 2021 Rare Breed is sweeter on the nose, nuttier on the palate, and pushing a touch savory on the finish. The 2020 bottling seems to carry heavier char and “burnt” notes, especially on the nose and palate, though minimal in bearing overall.
All said and done, neither Rare Breed particularly stands out over the other; both are exactly what they should be – barrel-proof, “on-profile” Wild Turkey. Will it always be this way? Tricky question. Yes and no. With the launch of the new distillery in 2011, it’s highly possible – even likely – that Wild Turkey’s profile will experience change. Single-barrel expressions may display these sorts of traits more than others, as discussed back in January. Batched expressions of varying maturations should maintain their consistency year to year. If there are any changes of note, they should occur slowly. Besides, Wild Turkey 101 and 101 Rye have contained whiskey produced at the new distillery for years now. As far as I’m concerned, those expressions, as well as Rare Breed, have only maintained quality or improved.
For now, let’s just keep our fingers crossed that Wild Turkey can roll out enough well-aged, affordable whiskey to keep us all satisfied. I’d hate to see a day when Wild Turkey finds itself as scarce or insanely priced as Buffalo Trace products. Yes, it’s easy to point a finger at the mania surrounding Buffalo Trace expressions (it’s practically obligatory at this point), but facts are facts. It’s fantastic whiskey if found and priced at its suggested retail price. If not, there’s plenty of options (and I’m not just talking Wild Turkey). If I ever find myself in a world where Wild Turkey becomes the new Buffalo Trace (shivers), please put me back in the Matrix, Morpheus.
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