It may be hard to believe, but as of today this blog is officially five years old. Was I confident I had five years of Wild Turkey articles in me when I began? No, but it was fun. Thankfully, it’s still fun and very much rewarding.
I’ve come a long way since 2016. Wild Turkey and bourbon itself has as well. The landscape is quite different than it was then, with most whiskey content limited to print media, blogs, and message boards. Nowadays, it’s YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter occupying a majority of whiskey enthusiasts’ leisure time. Not that it’s a bad thing. Hell, I’m on a few of those outlets as well.
But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the old days. Today’s information comes hard and fast – buy now or miss it forever! There’s very little time to appreciate multiple reviews before committing to a whiskey purchase. Of course, this never really applied to Pappy or Birthday Bourbon when I started writing, but for everything else the window was considerably wider. Wild Turkey releases like 2014’s Diamond Anniversary and 2015’s Master’s Keep 17 barely moved. You could even find batches of Rare Breed from the early 2000s (more on that later). Now in 2021, some folks are lucky to find Rare Breed at all.
I suppose I’m due some blame. Sharing my excitement for Wild Turkey – making it contagious – was my objective from day one. It remains my goal, though I’m now careful to temper it with appeals for common sense. Such treatments simply weren’t necessary five years ago. To the astute consumer, bourbon is quickly becoming less of a drink and more of a lifestyle. While arguably a positive trend for the industry, it comes at a price. The less we care about what a whiskey actually is – how it was crafted, who made it and why – the more affordability and quality may slip.
I think it’s important, now more than ever before, for enthusiasts to familiarize themselves with brands – not just the corporations and distilleries, but the individuals, both past and present, that made what’s in one’s glass special (or not). There’s so much more to love about this hobby than bottles and booze. There’s old legacies being kept and new legacies being forged. There’s community and fellowship. There’s a world that exists far beyond your local liquor store and Facebook buy/sell group. Taking the time to invest in reading or watching well-researched video productions could mean you miss out on a bottle you’re chasing. But guess what? There will always be another bottle.
You deserve a break from the madness. We all do. I challenge everyone to take the time to study what you love. If you already take that time, excellent. But if you need a kick in the butt I’ll offer a few suggestions (authors in no specific order): Chuck Cowdery, Fred Minnick, Lew Bryson, Clay Risen, Brian Haara, Michael Veach, Aaron Goldfarb, Carla Carlton, Reid Mitenbuler, Steve Coomes, among others. And if you want to learn more about Wild Turkey, please consider my book, American Spirit: Wild Turkey Bourbon from Ripy to Russell.
But maybe you don’t enjoy books. Fair enough. There are countless interviews with whiskey legends on YouTube, many hosted by the University of Kentucky’s Nunn Center. There’s also channels like Bourbon Pursuit, The Fred Minnick Show, Weekly Whiskey, and The Mash & Drum that feature discussions with industry insiders. While I’m all about entertainment, sometimes it’s more beneficial to sit back and listen to the nitty gritty – what makes things tick. Perspective – something we could all appreciate a variety and abundance of.
Speaking of things I’d appreciate an abundance of, I have a sample I’ve been holding onto for a while now. But first, a little background.
In 2019, I gathered with friends and supporters in Lexington, Kentucky for an epic Wild Turkey tasting. Of all the noteworthy whiskeys available – CGF and Split-Label 101/12’s, dusty 101/8’s, rare Single Cask Nation bottlings, and various top-notch Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel selections – one expression stood above all, a 2001 “shiny wrap” Rare Breed batch W-T-01-99. I always dreamed of owning another, but by the time I was in a position to seek one out, prices had reached incredibly high levels.
Thanks to the kindness of a friend (cheers Brian), I now have the opportunity to experience a 2000 bottling of this legendary batch that spanned nearly five years (possibly the single best Rare Breed release to date). I’ll wager it’ll be an anniversary pour to remember. If it’s anything close to the 2001 I tasted two years ago, a bottle appropriately dubbed “CGF Killer,” then I’m in for one helluva tasting!
Wild Turkey Rare Breed – batch W-T-01–99 (2000) – 108.4 proof KSBW – reportedly a blend of six-, eight-, and twelve-year bourbon – bottled by the Austin, Nichols Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Nose: (dense classic Turkey) brandy, honey-maple, medicinal cherry, caramel creme, sweet oak, red licorice, herbal-floral spice, holiday citrus
Taste: (oily mouthfeel) cherry-vanilla, butter toffee, brown sugar, sweet herbs, lemon frosting, ripe plum, blood orange, Roman nougat, nutmeg
Finish: long, flavorful, and notably elegant – vanilla bean, cola, molasses, charred oak, sweet tobacco, antique leather, sassafras, faint pepper
Overall: I’m not sure I’d label this 2000 Rare Breed a “CGF Killer,” but damn if it doesn’t come close. Everything I adore about classic Wild Turkey (a profile era loosely situated between dusty and modern eras) is easily found in this bourbon. But what surprises me most is its distinctive elegance. I don’t recall bottlings of Rare Breed 01-99 showcasing this degree of finesse and intricacy. The various layers of flavor, from familiar notes of vanilla and caramel, to waves of ripe fruit and savory spice, are perfectly interwoven … seamless.
From nose to finish, this whiskey is a sensory journey – a throwback to days when astounding bourbon was everywhere, and relatively inexpensive to boot. And somewhat serendipitously, it’s a reminder of how this blog started. It’s expressions like this vintage Rare Breed, provided via samples from generous friends, that led me down this marvelous rabbit hole. I’ve said it before, yet it bears repeating. When a whiskey has the ability to transport you back in time, it’s undeniably special. Such is this 2000 Rare Breed, a genuine work of reflection.
Rating: 4.5/5 🦃
In closing, I’d like to offer my sincerest gratitude to you, my readers, for five years of Rare Bird 101. Your interest and support have made this dream possible. I look forward to celebrating additional anniversaries with you in the years ahead. I also look forward to sharing my new book, Wild Turkey Musings: A Whiskey Writer’s Retrospective, in 2022. If you think Musings might be a simple collection of blog posts, think again. It’s looking to be a whiskey book like none before (at least, none I’m aware of) – artfully whimsical and immersive.
And last but certainly not least, I’d like to thank the awesome folks at Campari and Wild Turkey, and most importantly, the Russell family. For five years you’ve put up with my skepticism, optimism, criticism, and devout fanaticism. I sure hope you’re ready for more. Cheers!
Enjoy this blog? Please consider supporting it via Patreon. In return you’ll receive access to exclusive rewards and weekly whiskey content. Thank you! dj