Buffalo Trace announces George T. Stagg will be excluded from 2021’s Antique Collection and everyone loses their minds, right? Wrong. The unexpected news means very little to me, and honestly, plenty of whiskey fans as well. Besides, most enthusiasts rarely see George T. Stagg, and when we do, it’s often marked up beyond its sippable worth. It’s a fantastic bourbon – my favorite of the Antique Collection – but you won’t find me losing any sleep over it.
Each fall it’s the same old story – bottles receive great fanfare that few have a chance to enjoy. I suppose Wild Turkey isn’t alone in this phenomenon. Last year’s Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond was surely the hardest of the series to find to date. But with a little effort and the occasional minimal premium, it was reasonably obtainable. Then came 2021’s Russell’s Reserve Thirteen-Year and things turned straight up ridiculous. A bottle priced at $69 retail selling for $400 or more? No thanks.
Suggesting alternatives to the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is familiar ground. Breaking Bourbon covered it in 2016, I wrote about it for Patreon a few years back, and more recently Fred Minnick approached the subject on a YouTube video. Unsurprisingly, Wild Turkey ended up on Fred’s list twice, with Rare Breed in substitution for George T. Stagg and Russell’s Reserve Six-Year Rye for Sazerac 18. Each are excellent replacements and I encourage you to give them a try, but what do I think? Well, with George T. Stagg out of the picture, that leaves only four releases to replace.
Before diving into my list it should be noted that Wild Turkey has only two mash bills – one bourbon and one rye. Also, Wild Turkey’s general profile, while just as high quality as Buffalo Trace’s various profiles, isn’t exactly apples to apples. That being said, Wild Turkey expressions are typically easier to find than those produced by Buffalo Trace, so you at least have that going for you. They also don’t command anywhere near the same premiums, though I can’t guarantee that will always be the case. People are rapidly catching on to Turkey, so this post may be moot in little time.
Love William Larue Weller? Try W. B. Saffell
If you think Campari’s W. B. Saffell has disappeared from shelves, think again. It can still be found online and in liquor stores across the United States (location depending). Saffell may not be a wheated bourbon, carry a double-digit age statement, or even a barrel-strength ABV, but what it lacks in specs, it more than makes up for in flavor. And yes, it’s $50 for a 375ml bottle, but if you look at it like $100 for 750ml, it seems like a steal in relation to William Larue Weller’s asking price (just Google it).
So what’s W. B. Saffell? While a detailed review is available on this blog, it’s essentially a blend of bourbons aged six to twelve years, masterfully crafted by Wild Turkey’s Eddie Russell. Saffell showcases notable complexity and stunning maturity given the range of its parts. From notes of burnt caramel and molasses, to sweet oak and ginger beer, Saffell is arguably the most overlooked modern Wild Turkey ever bottled. Granted, if it had a Turkey on the label that would likely not be the case. So, consider that a win and get one while you can!
Wild Turkey Father & Son Soars as High as Eagle Rare 17
Who loves a tasty oak-forward profile? I sure do. And if you do, chances are you’re a fan of Eagle Rare 17. Finding it (not to mention avoiding paying an arm and a leg for it) is the trick. But what if I told you a similar profile was out there at a very fair retail price? Enter Wild Turkey Father & Son.
Released as a travel-retail exclusive in 2019, Father & Son boasts a thirteen-year age statement with a hefty liter bottle. One might consider its lower bottling proof a turnoff, but as I learned upon first taste, assumptions can be silly things. In reality, Father & Son is a refined, yet full-flavored mature whiskey with a profile reminiscent of the seventeen-year Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond. And here’s the kicker – it can still be found in travel-retail outlets for roughly $80 (give or take). Of course, you’ll have to find a way to get to it, but it sure as hell beats waiting in line, driving cross-country, or selling a kidney to acquire Eagle Rare 17.
Rare Breed Rye: Handy Killer
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the single best thing about Buffalo Trace’s Thomas H. Handy is its sheer strength. Don’t believe me? Compare it to the 90-proof Sazerac (a/k/a “Baby Saz”) and you’ll taste what I mean. Sazerac is a mere shadow of the sweet & spicy complexity found in Thomas Handy. Yet, as delicious as Handy may be, there are other barrel-proof Kentucky rye whiskeys that give it a run for its money. Namely, Rare Breed Rye.
In my opinion, Rare Breed Rye is a game-changer for Wild Turkey. Though the brand has carried a respectable rye portfolio for the last decade, it wasn’t until 2020’s Rare Breed Rye that consumers got a taste of Wild Turkey rye whiskey at barrel proof (NCF, no less). Simply put, Rare Breed Rye does not disappoint. And while Thomas H. Handy cites a six-year maturation, the four-, six-, and eight-year maturation of Rare Breed Rye is just as impressive from nose to finish. And the best thing about Rare Breed Rye? It’s becoming easier to find and afford. Just today I was sent a picture of cases upon cases of Rare Breed Rye at Costco for $49. That’s right, $49. Thomas who?
No Luck Finding Sazerac 18? Pick Up Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye
Eighteen years for rye whiskey is noteworthy. Finding a Kentucky rye with that range is no simple task. As for Wild Turkey, the oldest rye whiskey produced to date is Master’s Keep Cornerstone (nine to eleven years). As much as I’d like to recommend 2019’s Cornerstone as an alternative to Sazerac 18, obtaining it in 2021 would surely require similar tactics to those seeking the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. Of course, you could get lucky and stumble across one in an out-of-the-way liquor store. I’ve seen stranger things. Regardless, there’s a Wild Turkey rye expression that’s much easier to acquire, and frankly, tastes nearly as good as Master’s Keep Cornerstone – Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye.
I can’t say enough great things about Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye. It may not be eighteen years – or age stated at all – but it more than gets the job done at its reported six to eight years. There is, however, a considerable proof difference between Sazerac 18 (90) and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye (104), but I’d argue less dilution tips the scale in Turkey’s direction. At the end of the day, you’ll have a flavorful, undeniably complex rye that won’t require you to max out your credit card. Not to mention, it’s probably the best Kentucky rye available year round.
And there you have it – Rare Bird 101’s 2021 “Wild Turkey Antique Collection.” It won’t match Buffalo Trace’s offerings pound for pound, but altogether it damn sure swings like a champ. If you’re a diehard Turkey fan, you’re well aware of these contenders. Hell, you might just wish I’d keep quiet about them. But if you think about it, that’s not what this hobby is about. I firmly believe that sharing does far more good than shushing, be it with whiskey or honest opinions. The more information available to those interested, the sooner we can cancel hype and FOMO like a 2021 George T. Stagg.
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