By now, many of you have seen photos of NCF Rare Breed 116.8 on social media. This Wild Turkey travel-retail exclusive has made its way to online retailers, most notably Must Have Malts, and surely secondary whiskey markets as well. But the question remains – is NCF Rare Breed worth the chase? I hope to answer question that today.

Before going any further, I suppose it’s important to discuss what NCF means. For those unaware, it stands for non-chill filtered, meaning the bourbon bypassed the standard chill filtration process that’s become commonplace today. What’s chill filtration? Largely a cosmetic process where whiskey is cooled and passed through a filter to remove residue. As a result, the liquid appears more translucent with an improved metallic sheen. It also helps in preventing whiskey from becoming cloudy or hazy when chilled or poured over ice.

In a nutshell, chill filtering makes pretty whiskey and that’s about it. Or, is it?

The NCF versus CF debate has raged for decades now. Unfortunately/fortunately I’m not a scientist. I can’t offer any hard facts or peer-reviewed studies. All I can give you is my opinion. The bottom line is this – any process that affects whiskey cosmetically is changing something. In other words, the whiskey dumped from the barrel has been altered, even if slightly. That’s a fact. Of course, this happens via dilution all the time. But we as consumers know by disclosure and accept that prior to purchasing an expression. We expect water to change the flavor and understand a flavor profile goes hand in hand.

Barrel-proof whiskey is a different story, however. At least, I’d argue it is. As an enthusiast, when I purchase “barrel-proof” or “cask-strength” whiskey, I’m looking for a straight-from-the-barrel experience. I’d wager most enthusiasts are. To offer a barrel-proof whiskey that’s been filtered – not so much conventionally (I understand most consumers don’t care to sip char bits), but via an extraneous process that removes a degree of fatty acids, proteins, and esters (flavor elements) – that’s not exactly “straight from the barrel.” In all fairness, Wild Turkey’s Rare Breed is a batched bourbon of various ages (six to twelve years). It’s not a single-barrel product – but – I’d still argue it should offer an unaltered sipping experience.

So, here we are. It’s 2021 and NCF Rare Breed 116.8 is out there, sitting on various travel-retail shelves in airports across the globe. It’s a hefty liter bottle in a nifty, fancy box. But is it worth your time, energy, and money to acquire? I can say before diving into my tasting, if found at a travel-retail outlet, yes. Absolutely. I’ve seen it purchased as low as $42.99. Remember, that’s a liter worth and cheaper than a 750ml of everyday Rare Breed 116.8 here in the States. NCF regardless, it’s a no-brainer.

But let’s take volume, packaging, and price out of the equation. Is NCF Rare Breed better than domestic Rare Breed? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s pour!

Wild Turkey Rare Breed NCF (2020 travel-retail exclusive) – 116.8-proof Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey – reportedly a blend of six-, eight-, and twelve-year 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: (rich, robust) English toffee, flame-toasted caramel, heavily steeped herbal tea, orange peel, charred oak, nutmeg, hints of clove & cinnamon

Taste: (velvety mouthfeel) caramel/candy apple, honey, dark citrusy spice, brown sugar, creamy nougat & milk chocolate, faintly sweet herbs & tobacco

Finish: long, warm & flavorful – vanilla bean, apple-cinnamon, fruit-infused maple syrup, oak char, blood orange, singed lemon peel, hints of sassafras & leather

Overall: As expected, this tastes like Rare Breed 116.8 – English toffee, rich caramel and vanilla, waves of layered baking spice laced with zesty citrus. It doesn’t get any more “Rare Breed” than this. When nosed and sipped on its own, there’s honestly nothing standing out as unique or extraordinary. In fact, those anticipating a tremendous jump in profile quality over everyday domestic Rare Breed might be surprised – disappointed, even. I’m not saying it’s a subpar bourbon. Quite the opposite; it’s fantastic, and an incredible value if found traveling abroad.

As for a side-by-side comparison, at present I have two bottles of domestic Rare Breed 116.8 open – one bottled in 2020 and another in 2021. Since the NCF Rare Breed was bottled in 2020, I’ll focus on that year. Granted, the two whiskeys were batched and bottled six months apart; however, it’s probable they shared similar maturation locations (as different rickhouses are in season annually).

Sparing the repetitive details, there’s very little contrast between NCF Rare Breed and domestic Rare Breed. Each shares the same general profile, with subtle rearrangements of notes in sequence and depth. The only areas I find distinctions between the two are color and mouthfeel. Even so, the degree is minimal. It requires a stark-white background and adequate lighting to assess the color difference, which is more in density than tone. As for the mouthfeel, the viscosity of the NCF Rare Breed is noteworthy, but not so much that it alters the profile or imparts a “must-have” quality to the experience. I appreciate it, but never to the level of loving domestic Rare Breed less.

Rating: 4/5 🦃

Is NCF Rare Breed something you should chase or pay a premium for? At present, I’ll have to say no. By all means, if you’re traveling and have the opportunity to purchase a bottle or two at retail price, do so. It’s a steal of a deal. Outside of that, you’ll likely be just as satisfied with the Rare Breed you’ll find at your local liquor store. You’ll also be helping a local business, so consider that as well.

Before signing off, I have one last thing to reiterate. There’s no reason for domestic Rare Breed to be chill filtered. From all I’ve researched, chill filtration is completely unnecessary above 86 proof. Why push barrel-proof whiskey through an extraneous process that, if anything, is subtractive? Sure, you might get a touch more gleam out of it, but does it really benefit the consumer? I’d argue it doesn’t. And if it did, I highly doubt an NCF travel-retail Rare Breed would exist. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof states it’s non-chill filtered. Booker’s and Stagg Jr. each state they’re unfiltered (which infers NCF). Hell, Rare Breed Rye is non-chill filtered. I think it’s past time we make NCF Rare Breed the standard – for all markets. Who’s with me?


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