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  • Writer's picturePeter Miles

Rare Breed. Live up to the hype?

Wild Turkey Rare Breed.

Never was a Wild Turkey guy. As a scotch fan new to the USA many decades ago I initially gravitated more towards Makers Mark and Jim Beam and then on to high ryes such as Four Roses, and finally onto more local craft distillers. However, the recent hype over Rare Breed finally got to me!

The whisky that would eventually become Wild Turkey was first distilled by the Ripy brothers in 1869 in Lawrenceburg, KY and sold in bulk to independent bottlers. The Ripy family was eventually bought out in 1949 by the Gould’s.

Austin Nichols was an independent bottler of this same whiskey for many decades and it was he who first put the ’Wild Turkey’ name on his bottle label. He finally bought the distillery and changed its name to Wild Turkey Distillery in 1971. In 1980 the company was purchased by beverage giant Pernod Ricard. The Jimmy Russel era as master distiller had begun in the 1960’s and lasts till today, with his son Eddie joining him as a Master Distiller in 2015.

The Wild Turkey Rare Breed was one of the earliest barrel strength bourbons and was first released in 1991. In 2000 the company survived a horrific fire and spillage accident that burnt much of the facility and killed 200,000 fish in the Kentucky River! In 2009 the Italian Campari group purchased ‘Wild Turkey’ from Ricard Pernod.

Mash bill: A relatively ‘low’ rye at 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% barley.

Batched (Unknown barrel batch size)

ABV = 58.4%.

Matured: A blend of whiskies aged from 6 to 12 years old. Believed to be char level #4.

Cost: $53 / 750ml bottle

Color: Russet Muscat 1.3 (Whisky Magazine scale).

Swirl: Puckered rim with thin/medium ‘legs’ fast running down the glass.

Nose: Wonderfully pungent with a classic bourbon caramel influence up front. Nice oak, vanilla, cinnamon, and hints of leather. Some faint floral and critic notes, orange peel perhaps. No roasted grain, dark spices, or smoke and not particularly complicated. Nothing phenolic and a surprisingly mild ethanol prickle considering the strength. Overall, a very pleasant, smooth, and integrated aroma.

Taste: Good body, with medium viscosity. On the sweeter side, and very consistent with the nose. Caramel with a just a touch of vanilla, rich chocolate, mild oak and some crushed almonds and just a distant hint of berries. Smooth as silk and provides a surprisingly gentle, pleasant warmth that never becomes astringent. Amazing given the strength. An indication of well managed maturation and very careful blending.

Finish: A little dryer on the finish, medium length as the soft caramel closes it out.

Verdict: A great easy-going bourbon. Wonderful sipper for the porch on hot afternoons yet rich enough for an after dinner dram. The barrel strength provides a full, rich classic bourbon flavor without being overbearing. Diluting this would be a mistake. At around $50/bottle this is great value and clearly a winner. While it may fall short in complexity and be lacking that emergent layered profile of the very best higher rye bourbons, it is hard to imagine anybody not enjoying this. Recommended.

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