Revisiting: Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon

RARE BREED BOURBON
Batch LL/KB062313 – February 6, 2022

MASH BILL – 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley

PROOF – 116.8

AGE – blend of 6, 8, and 12-year bourbons

DISTILLERY – Wild Turkey

PRICE – $51

WORTH BUYING? – Yes

It had been quite a while since I’d had the Rare Breed Bourbon. Last year I enjoyed the Rare Breed Rye. The nose on that rye is what I imagine Kentucky smells like: baking spices and baked bread, long waving grasses, rye florals and spices, a nice cinnamon-caramel, red hots candies, spring and summer and autumn all at once…!

The Rare Breed Bourbon comes up often with whiskey bloggers and YouTubers, when discussing the increasingly rare good deals in bourbon. But somehow I hadn’t got around to picking up another bottle for a couple years.

Then I saw the Bourbon Junkies do a spot on it. Like me, they dig it yet hadn’t given it their attention in a while. They went nuts for it, saying it could beat some Master’s Keep releases. They named the batch they were drinking: LL/KB051115, bottled the morning of February 5, 2022. So when I spotted this bottle from February 6, 2022…

…I took it home and uncorked it.

And here we are, one full week after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using both a simple brandy glass and traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – bright, glowing, almost pumpkin orange

NOSE – baking spices on a cinnamon roll, dry oak cut for firewood, leafy dried herbs, faint sweet caramel, a distant peanutiness…

TASTE – a prominent yet reserved cinnamon hard candy note up front, also oak both dry and freshly axed into logs, some kind of nut butter, end-of-day cinnamon rolls, very faint Wild Turkey “funk”

FINISH – all the baking spices now lit on fire, dry oak, a metallic note like an old penny, that fleeting funk note still flitting about

OVERALL – an autumn baking spice medley served up on an oak platter

Not at all the wowzer that the Bourbon Junkies described, this bottle, corked the day after theirs, might be akin to what they tasted or may be different, I can’t know. Neither can I know whether it’s the same vatting having waited its turn for bottling, versus another vatting entirely. In any case, the dry baking spices and oak comprise the main event here. Very little candy sweetness and no fruit notes arrive to provide a balance.

Tasted blind I would never have guessed this to be Wild Turkey. Not at all. I’d have guessed Jim Beam. It’s that cinnamon hard candy note, something I’ve been getting with Booker’s lately and occasionally Knob Creek. Maybe Heaven Hill. A certain area of nuttiness. There’s also an interesting dried herb note that takes my sense memory to certain craft whiskeys, maybe Home Base or Breuckelen Distilling…?

Back in May 2022, I read David Jennings’ report that a notable shift in flavor profile had come about in the Russell’s Reserve 10 Year line. His tasting notes on a February 2022 batch of standard release RR10 do not coincide with mine on this Rare Breed from the same month and year. And Jennings makes the point that his 2022 RR10 still featured the core Wild Turkey experience, leaning more into what he’d normally recognize as WT101. Yet I can’t help wonder if the Rare Breed line has also been impacted by whatever tinkering Eddie Russell has been up to. (Do read Jenning’s article for the details on his informed speculations in that regard.)

Is it bad? Not at all. But if I wanted Booker’s or Knob Creek I’d reach for Booker’s or Knob Creek. When I reach for any Wild Turkey bourbon, I’m reaching for variations on the brand’s autumnal baking spices and sweet oak notes dipped in variations of cherry pie, cherry syrup, cherry compote, cherry cough medicine, cherry etcetera… Here the cherries are entirely absent, with no other fruit in their stead. Nor is the caramel so strong as to carry the brand’s usual sweetness.

Interesting. Disappointing as well. But interesting. This is certainly a first for me. Wild Turkey is arguably the most dependable bourbon out there. I’ve never before had a Wild Turkey product that strayed far enough from the brand’s flavor profile that I might actually mistake it for another brand.

Time may dissipate my discontent and allow me to take this bourbon on its own terms. I’ll touch base with it again just before going live with this post. Until then…

Cheers!

THREE WEEKS LATER

Shortly before posting this, I tried it again.

On the nose, cinnamon on thick dark caramel, with chocolate taffy, oak, and a faint copper penny note. On the taste, freshly dried herbs in sunlight, oak and oak tannin, chocolatey caramel, cola. The finish lingers with black pepper, cola, oak, caramel, a bit of the copper penny, and a peppery flare up from the proof.

The bottle has evolved in a richer, darker, more complex and interesting direction. I still doubt I’d guess it was Wild Turkey tasting it blind. Today it’s more like some small batch blend of barrels from MGP, well chosen by a non-distiller producer and aged further in their own warehouse in some other, hotter climate. That metallic aspect reminds me of 31n50 or Engine 49, themselves Indiana bourbons aged by Dry Diggings Distillery in the scorching dry heat of El Dorado Hills, CA.

It’s a mystery. And it remains a first for me: a Wild Turkey bourbon that doesn’t taste like Wild Turkey bourbon.

Unless this is the new Wild Turkey bourbon taste…?

Cheers!

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