Whiskey Review: Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey

In the past, I haven’t really been enamored with the bottles coming out of Wild Turkey. It’s not terrible, but there are so many better options in the market, it’s hard to justify spending any money on this brand. That sais, it does seem like they are trying to make a move out of the budget end space — thank not only to their Matthew McConaughey backed Longbranch, but also this barrel proof expression of their rye aimed directly at that mid-tier market.


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History

Thomas Ripy built the Old Hickory Distillery in Tyrone, Kentucky in 1891. This first incarnation of the distillery closed down during prohibition and Thomas died in 1902, but the distillery was resurrected once that dark period ended and became a successful wholesaler for bourbon, with other brands bottling their whiskey under their own individual labels.

Legend has it that in 1940, Thomas McCarthy, an executive for one of the wholesalers buying from Old Hickory brought a bottle of the bourbon on a wild turkey hunt. The bourbon was so popular that his friends continued to ask for “that wild turkey bourbon” and in 1942, McCarthy’s company, Austin Nichols, began distributing a Wild Turkey branded bourbon.

In 1971, with the massive success of the brand, Austin Nichols purchased the distillery and renamed it the Wild Turkey Distillery. The brand changed hands over the years but is currently owned by the Campari Group, who built a new distillery near the original building in 2011 where the whiskey continues to be produced to this day.

Product

As a rye whiskey, this is required to be at least 51% rye in the mash bill — and it barely clears that hurdle at a reported 51% rye, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley are used for the base grains. Those grains are then cooked and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid.

That alcoholic liquid is then distilled and placed into new charred oak barrels where it sits for an undisclosed period of time before being bottled.

What makes this specific version of the rye interesting is that not only does it skip the usual “chill filtration” process (which cools a whiskey to remove lipids and particulates from the spirit) but it also gets bottled at a rather high 56.1% ABV — well above the typical 40% ABV.

Packaging

While the typical Wild Turkey whiskey comes in a fairly nondescript and typical bottle, this one it looks like they actually spent some time on the design.

The bottle itself is a plumper and shorter version of their standard bottle, with a cylindrical body that tapers to a relatively short and straight neck. There’s a little bit of a ridge in the neck that seems designed to make it easier to pour, and the neck is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. That wood portion is essentially disk shaped, making it very easy to grab the bottle… but also a little ungainly.

On the face of the bottle is an improved label, still prominently displaying their usual sketch of a turkey as their background but with more of a square design and with the “Rare Breed” brand information prominently displayed in a metallic gold font. Add in some green accents and lettering and it almost feels Irish in style.

My big complaint about this bottle is, as usual, the size of the label. It’s massive… and with a deep and beautiful rye whiskey like this, the spirit should really be the star of the show.

Neat

Just like with the standard edition of Wild Turkey, the first thing I get coming off the glass is a heavy dose of caramel sweetness with a brown sugar tone. But alongside that is also some nice crisp apple, which is a typical flavor component that shows up in high rye grain bills. There’s also a hint of that oatmeal-like maltiness from the malted barley that adds a softness to the aroma.

Taking a sip, the flavor here is remarkably well-saturated. At first, I get a solid hit of caramel and brown sugar, but there’s some apple that slides in and gives it a bit more of a crisp profile. That’s when the vanilla really starts to show through, alongside an unfortunate touch of bitterness, but it sticks the landing as that oatmeal flavor, some baking spices, and a bit of cherry all mix together and linger into the finish.

On Ice

The good news here is that, as you’d expect with the addition of some ice, that little hint of bitterness we saw up front has vanished. The unfortunate part is that it seems to have taken a bunch of other flavors with it as well.

What I’m getting at this point is primarily the brown sugar, vanilla, and a bit of black pepper spice all mixed together. There isn’t the same apple fruit component or the oatmeal quality we saw before — instead, this is acting more like a typical high rye bourbon.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

The flavors we initially saw with this spirit were well saturated and well rounded — something that usually indicates we’ll get those same flavors coming through when we add some ice and some mixers. Sadly, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Primarily what I’m getting from the spirit in this cocktail is the brown sugar note. That sweetness is trying to balance out the bitterness of the bitters and, to be frank, it is losing the fight. I’m not sure if that’s because the brown sugar isn’t strong enough or the bitterness we saw up front is back, but there’s something off about the balance of this cocktail.

Aside from being imbalance, there also isn’t really a whole lot going on here. The herbaceous notes from the bitters are all present, but with the exception of that sole brown sugar note from the rye whiskey I can’t really taste anything else. It makes for a flat and disappointing old fashioned.

Fizz (Mule)

While this might not have made a great old fashioned, it does at least make for a serviceable mule.

That brown sugar note is back, and thankfully balances out some of the brighter notes from the ginger in the ginger beer. The black pepper spice also adds a nice kick to the texture of the drink, making it more than just a flat one-note concoction like a typical Moscow Mule. I might even see a touch of the apple flavor streaming back in and trying to add something to the complexity.

It isn’t deep or rich, but it is a drinkable mule for sure.


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Overall Rating

This is definitely the best thing coming out of Wild Turkey, but that’s an unfortunately low bar. And when it clocks in at twice the price of their Longbranch bourbon, I’m expecting something that will really knock my socks off. Unfortunately, though, what I got was a mediocre rye whiskey bottled at a higher proof.

This is perfectly fine as a sipping spirit, despite the twinge of bitterness. And it makes a decent Kentucky mule. But honestly… there are far better bottles out there for this price point, all of which do a much better job at all of those things.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof Rye Whiskey
Produced By: Wild Turkey
Owned By: Campari Group
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 56.1% ABV
Price: $59.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 2/5
A good rye, but the basic flavor profile and the slight bitterness taken neat make this sub par for the price point.


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