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Wild Turkey Rare Breed / Barrel Proof

Simple but significant

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@OdysseusUnboundReview by @OdysseusUnbound

23rd Apr 2018


  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

This is an abridged version of a review I will be posting on my blog in a day or two

Bourbon marketing leans heavily on appeals to tradition, authenticity and doing things "the right way". In an interview with Dave Broom, Jimmy Russell noted that the yeast strains Wild Turkey used for fermentation were "the ones Wild Turkey had been using forever" back when he started working at the distillery over sixty years ago.

Russell also states that the ratio of corn in the mashbill is "in the low seventies", allowing for more small grains (rye and malted barley) to contribute to the final flavour of the bourbon. Wild Turkey also goes into the barrel (after distillation) at a lower proof (alcohol percentage) so that less water has to be added to the final product. Of course, Wild Turkey Rare Breed is bottled at "Barrel Proof" meaning no water was added at all to the final product. Rare Breed is reportedly a vatting of bourbons between 6 and 12 years old that weighs in at a muscular 58.4% ABV (116.8 Proof). But how does it taste?

Tasting notes

  • Nose (undiluted): freshly sawn oak, cherries, orange peels, corn husks, light rye bread and a touch of light brown sugar.
  • Palate (undiluted): very clean arrival, rich mouthfeel, yet it doesn’t come across too thick or heavy. Lots of sour cherries, vanilla, caramel, more oak spice, barrel char, and fresh corn. Despite the high ABV, this is a very easy-drinking whiskey
  • Finish: long, clean and fruity. There's a mingling of sour cherries, toffee, a bit of coconut, some dried tobacco and vegetal, earthy rye spice. Terrific.

Adding water dampens the fruitiness of the nose quite a bit. Water brings out more brown sugar and barrel char aromas. The flavours change with water; the texture becomes a bit waxy and the rye spice comes forward a bit. The barrel notes are more evident on the finish with oak spice (nutmeg, cloves, black pepper) being the most apparent. Fantastic with or without water. There is a "clarity" to the flavour of Wild Turkey that I absolutely love. There's no murkiness, no haziness to the order of flavours. Some bourbons (and some Canadian whiskies) lack definition, and it reminds me of listening to music with all the mid-range and treble turned down. WT Rare Breed is beautifully balanced. I'd also point out that this is one of the best whiskeys for making an Old Fashioned. I realize it isn't the cheapest option, but the quality and strength make it a worthwhile experiment.

Eddie Russell, Jimmy's son, was named Master Distiller in 2015, after 35 years with the company. I can only hope he continues to make things "the right way". Doing things "the old way" might be a common marketing pitch in bourbon, but it also seems to be true in the case of Wild Turkey. Simple, but significant. Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a fantastic bourbon, and I highly recommend it.

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Victor commented

@OdysseusUnbound, thank you for your excellent review.

I very much like that you pointed out the strong char presence in Rare Breed. I consider heavy char influence to be one of the central definers of the overall house style of all Wild Turkey bourbons. Usually I find heavy char to be distracting to the balance of flavours in an American whiskey, especially in the many many cases of recent American microdistilleries using heavy char to extract maximum wood flavours in very lightly-aged whiskey, e.g. 3 to 18 months aged. Often the result is that the char with its accompanying bitterness dominates the final result and destroys the overall balance and ability to appreciate the subtler flavour components. Not so with Wild Turkey. Somehow Wild Turkey integrates the heavy char style extremely well, in my view the best I have seen.

The item I perceive most differently than you do with Rare Breed is that I do not experience it as simple. I count six descriptors from you for each of nose and palate. Tasting only one or two dominant flavours defines simple to me. My experiences of Wild Turkey Rare Breed have provided me a lot of dimension, aka complexity.

FWIW, having recommended Rare Breed to you I would also say that I could be completely satisfied starting and stopping with Rare Breed in the Wild Turkey bourbon line-up. Yes, I do like 101 too, and various of their other products. As far as the premium products from Wild Turkey go I do not see proportional improvement to the experience commensurate with the greatly increased costs relative to Rare Breed. At this moment in time, here in my local Maryland/DC market I consider Wild Turkey Rare Breed to be one of the relatively very few underpriced whiskeys on the market, relative to quality. I will not be surprised if I see a 20-60% price rise on Rare Breed in the near future. Don't be surprised when it takes place. I warned you.

3 years ago 3Who liked this?

OdysseusUnbound commented

@Victor The "simple" in the title is more indicative of the marketing, not the flavours/aromas. Wild Turkey's tagline "we make bourbon the right way", is simple and straightforward. I take responsibility for any misunderstanding. I would not categorize the bourbon itself as "simple".

3 years ago 1Who liked this?

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