Updated September 11, 2017
By Richard Thomas
Wild Turkey Rare Breed is often perceived as the first step up, from mass market to premium, in the Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery’s line. The bourbon is a blend of six, eight and twelve year old stock, making it a bit older than Turkey 101; bottled at “barrel proof” (actually barrel proof varies somewhat, so take this as a typical or average statement) this expression usually hovers around 108.2 (54.1% abv), somewhat stronger than Turkey 101. That is because the Russells prefer to have their whiskey come out of the barrel at close to the 101 mark, minimizing the need to cut it with water before bottling. However, the 2017 batch of Rare Breed came out at 116.8 proof.
Considering how Wild Turkey 101 straddles that line as a high proof, middle aged, bang for your buck bargain, it’s a wonder that Rare Breed doesn’t attract more attention. This is especially the case when you realize it’s been around since 1991, longer than even the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection (i.e. Knob Creek, Booker’s, Baker’s and Basil Hayden).
The whiskey has what I consider Wild Turkey’s trademark appearance: a strongly coppered amber, where red and orange are more prevalent that brown. Given that Turkey whiskeys invariably lean towards being just a little older and stronger than comparable offerings, that lighter color is a curious thing.
The nose has the waft of rich citrus zest and creamy vanilla, tinged with cedar. On the palate, it’s noticeably woodier and spicer than Turkey 101, with those two notes predominating over the orange and corn sweetness and vanilla flavor. The finish is clear, leaving a simple, warm afterglow that just lingers on and on. My view on Rare Breed is that it’s a close, but more sophisticated cousin of Turkey 101.
Since I sat down and reacquainted myself with Rare Breed in January, I didn’t try putting it in the freezer and taking it the way Jimmy Russell is claimed to. I may return to that some day and add some more notes, but if I do it will be after putting a bottle of Rare Breed in the refrigerator, not the freezer. I just can’t shake the idea that whiskey shouldn’t be out-and-out frozen. That is what you do to bad vodka, not fine whiskey.
Addendum by Father John Rayls
To me, flying SouthWest Airlines means drinking Wild Turkey 101. As a result, I resisted trying the Rare Breed believing it to be simply more of the same. That’s not necessarily a bad thing…it’s just not a great thing. That was an unfortunate mistake on my part. I have been very pleasantly surprised by this offering of Wild Turkey and it has earned a permanent place on my shelf. Of course, I’m the guy always looking for the perfect 5.00 cigar and the perfect bourbon for under 40.00. You can score a 750 ml bottle of Barrel Proof 112.8 for right around that price level. This makes the “price per sip” ratio and the “enjoyment per sip” ratio both just about perfect.
Toby Keith said it in his “Whiskey Girl” music, “…she needs something with a little more edge and a little more pain.” Not being a masochist, it’s interesting that Rare Breed brings that edge but the pain is pure enjoyment. The reddish-orange color is beautiful to see. In fact, I have a hard time taking my eyes off of it. Surprisingly, you don’t get much alcohol burn when testing the aromas and this makes the caramel nose even more enjoyable. The taste is of oak and sweet caramel and it has a long smooth finish. I drink it neat, but some would consider it hot. However for me, it’s right in my sweet spot. There are better bourbons and certainly better whiskeys, but you should consider visiting with Wild Turkey Rare Breed soon. Your flight might surprise you.
Addendum by April Manning
After I picked my jaw up off the floor when I saw that the best bourbon has only been given a rating of “B” I had to tell myself that I have not tried every bourbon out there. I am a picky bourbon snob and I know what I like, which makes it difficult to try the others. So maybe, maybe, there are others I would enjoy more… OK, let’s be serious, maybe I would enjoy them just as much as Wild Turkey Rare Breed.
As for flavor, I have heard a lot of different comparisons but for me the flavor is not overly sweet with a distinct vanilla undertone and it has a delightful smoky aftertaste that can only come from the premium-quality, #4 alligator charred, white-oak barrels. The #4 alligator char refers to the effect heavy charring has on the barrels. It causes cracks in the surface of the oak giving it the appearance of alligator skin. This process also allows the bourbon to penetrate the oak more easily and influence the spirit’s flavor. The char level determines how much of the woods sugars shape the essence of the bourbon. #4 alligator char is the highest level of the traditional char levels and the darker char levels will extract more vanilla flavors and color into the spirit.
I prefer mine to come from the freezer (as does Jimmy Russell) and this tends to enhance the sweet somewhat while downplaying the bitter. I also prefer drinking Rare Breed straight in shots. This gives you the full strength experience without worrying how the mixer is affecting the taste.
It will take a lot to compete with the long, warm lingering finish Rare Breed gives to the soul. Maybe I will find a rival to that beautiful amber color and remarkably smooth taste…but I doubt it.
In the U.S., the price for a full bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed has risen from the $35 of just a few years ago to around $45. Some retailers are charging as much as $50 a bottle. Internationally, the whiskey can be more expensive. I’ve seen it priced at £50 in the UK ($65), but in Europe I have also seen it priced (in euros) for comparable numbers as in the U.S., in the 35 to 40 range.