There’s no shortage of love for the Russells at Wild Turkey. Eddie, Jimmy, and Bruce have a lengthy combined tenure with no end in sight as one of the bourbon community’s most beloved brands. Why are they so revered? Obviously it starts with the whiskey, which is almost always up to a quality standard. More than that, it’s that their products are well priced and readily available in most markets. They have their share of more premium, allocated bottles, but the love for Wild Turkey usually comes from three of their key bourbon expressions: 101, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, and Rare Breed.
Rare Breed bourbon is frequently called out for being one of the best values in bourbon, thanks in no small part to it being barrel proof and available for under $50. Between that, the recent rise in popularity for rye whiskey, and the fact Wild Turkey already have four rye whiskeys (81 Rye, 101 Rye, Russell’s Reserve 6-year, and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye) in their portfolio, it only made sense for a Rare Breed Rye to eventually be introduced. Like its bourbon counterpart, Rare Breed Rye is barrel proof (112.2) and has no age statement, but is allegedly a blend of 6 to 8-year rye whiskey. Time to see what this has to offer.
Nose: Dried apple, lemon, pepper, and cinnamon. Packing some rye spice and mint to go with the lemon and pepper notes. Lemon pepper cereal with almond slices, dried syrup, brown sugar, and barrel spice. Imagining a botanical garden at a southern state fair.
Palate: Apple and brown sugar at first, only to be swiftly inundated with pepper, rye spice, barrel char, and tart lemon. Unapologetic and dry. Mint and almond round out the back.
Finish: Lengthy, toasty, and spicy. Pepper and smoke. Has a dry, muddled (yet also mellowed) herbal quality to it. A bit of cinnamon spice and either chipotle or cayenne pepper. Get an air of mint and green apple on the tail-end.
I’ve affectionately come to refer to Rare Breed Rye as Gator, because it don’t play. Despite having a slightly lower proof than the bourbon, Rare Breed Rye has way more kick, no doubt thanks to the slight dominance of rye in the mash bill. Flavor-wise, this is a spicy lemon-pepper bomb with a strong barrel char presence. A host of other notes can be pulled out, but this is less of pour you pick apart and more one you reach for as an obligatory Winter whiskey. If you like your whiskey like your wild wings (Hot Ones style), then I doubt you can do better than this.
As for me? Rare Breed Rye is a whiskey I appreciate more than I enjoy. At roughly $50-$60, the value proposition is on the fence for me, which is unheard of considering how much I preach the value of Wild Turkey products. There aren’t many barrel proof rye whiskeys out there, and even fewer cost under $100. This quickly makes Rare Breed Rye look like a steal of a value at less than half the cost of some other options. However, statistics and pricing aren’t my only measures for value; quality and enjoyment are paramount to this. Based on that, Rare Breed Rye misses the mark ever so slightly in my book. I am willing to concede that this simply isn’t my preferred style of rye, since I gravitate towards those that balance spice with ample sweetness and a certain layer of depth. Rare Breed Rye is more of a mouth-coating one-two punch with lingering spice type of experience. It’s undoubtedly a solid, quality whiskey that I’d happily accept a pour of during a cold night. Otherwise? I’m reaching for Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye.