Today is Thanksgiving, the obligatory Wild Turkey day, which means now is as good a time as any to talk about one of my favorite bourbons when I began my whiskey journey in earnest two years ago: Rare Breed. If you’re like me, you grew up regarding Wild Turkey with certain expectations. For my friends and I, this meant regarding the popular 101 expression as the best bang for buck because of its price and proof point. We were simple-minded 20-something dudes, and even today many adults more than twice my age look at Wild Turkey as a brand you grab to get trashed.
Yet here’s the thing: Wild Turkey produces some of the best, most consistent, and high-value whiskey on the market. Even their pinnacle expressions from years passed (see: Master’s Keep) can still be found on shelves. To the common, casual drinker, Wild Turkey isn’t one to seek for quality. To the established, more discerning drinker, Wild Turkey is one of the last brands to realize what bourbon should be: available, affordable, and high quality.
As I alluded to earlier, Rare Breed was something of a stepping stone for me while getting into bourbon proper. It was, at the time, the highest ABV whiskey I’d tried at 58.4%. Needless to say it did a bit more than just sting the nostrils. I remember sipping and looking at the bottle thinking “so, THAT’S what barrel proof entails.” What surprised me about the Rare Breed drinking experience, however, was what happened after my palate recovered from each sip. There was the sting of the proof upfront, but then it was like a host of flavors blessed me in a way that other whiskeys up to that point didn’t. I imagine this sensation isn’t unlike what people experience when smoking cigars or cigarettes.
Now, after two years and a plethora of other whiskeys under my belt, it’s time to revisit Rare Breed and see how we currently mesh.
Nose: Classic Wild Turkey sweetness and candied rye spice essence. A toasty blend of mild vanilla and caramel notes offset by baking spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, corn grain and apple. Traces of clove and brown sugar abound as well.
Palate: Lightly silky. Nutmeg-laced caramel with clove, vanilla and peppery barrel char to boot. There’s no mistaking the proof on this bad boy.
Finish: Lengthy, ongoing smoky barrel char warmth with Wild Turkey’s slightly spicy nut essence. A breeze here and there of caramel and vanilla, but they never come full circle. Burnt brown sugar, rye spice and bitter toffee.
Time is transformative for many of us, and comparing my first exposure to Rare Breed with today is a testament to that. There’s still a good amount of heat to find, but where it used to be borderline overwhelming, here it feels more tangible and nuanced. What surprises me most is how nutty I find the experience; it honestly treads close to Jim Beam territory for me. I’ve even put Rare Breed against Booker’s just to be sure and the main differences were that the latter was bolder and stuck around longer on the palate. It actually made Rare Breed feel tame, by comparison. Beyond that, the quality of each pour was strikingly similar. Considering Booker’s goes anywhere from $90 to $125 in my neck of the woods while Rare Breed sits comfortably at half that, I think it’s safe to say where my money and recommendation goes.
Removing comparisons from the equation, Rare Breed stands tall as a quality barrel proof bourbon from a trusted (and still underrated by the masses) distillery that’s priced so competitively, it’s almost a miracle these can sit on shelves collecting dust. Yet in a market where old favorites seem to be getting harder and harder to find, Rare Breed is like a beacon of light and hope, one that’s relatively easy on the wallet and ever pleasing to the senses.