Sitting atop Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceburg, KY, the Wild Turkey Distillery produces one of the most iconic bourbon whiskey brands ever made. Coming from a long history of distillation pedigree that began with Irish immigrant brothers James and John Ripy, the Wild Turkey brand wasn’t introduced until 1942 and has followed the same recipe since 1869. According to Wild Turkey, the brand was so named after then-Austin Nicholls president Thomas McCarthy took some friends out on a turkey hunt and brought with him some sourced 101 proof 8 year old bourbon. The following year they asked him to bring some more of ‘that wild turkey whiskey’ and the brand was born. Originally the whiskey was sourced and sold by the Austin Nicholls Co. as their in-house brand and Wild Turkey came from many distilleries over the years including the Ripy Brother’s Distillery (via Schenley Distillers), and the Anderson County Distilling Co. (which later became the J.T.S Brown and sons Distillery). Since 1954 the Anderson County Distilling Co. (later becoming the J.T.S Brown and sons Distillery) was the sole producer of bourbon for the brand and in the same year hired future bourbon rockstar James ‘Jimmy’ Russell as a still room worker. In 1967 Jimmy was promoted to Master Distiller at the then J.T.S Brown and sons Distillery, so when the distillery was purchased by Austin Nicholls in 1972 he became the first Master Distiller of Wild Turkey bourbon. After several more decades of ownership changes, distillery name changes, a bourbon glut, and Jimmy’s son Eddie joining the distillery and progressing through the ranks, in 2011 the new Wild Turkey Distillery began operations on Wild Turkey Hill. Since then the brand has seen continued growth internationally and to date has 11 permanent releases and several annual and once off releases of both their bourbon and rye whiskey; including their very popular 81 and 101 proof variants of bourbon and rye, their American Honey Liqueur, the newly introduced Longbranch bourbon, Russell’s Reserve Bourbon and rye, Kentucky Spirit bourbon, and Master’s Keep series.
Before I get into this review I wanted to get into my personal history with Wild Turkey a little so you guys understand why I’m such a big fan of their whiskey.
I still remember the day I bought my first bottle of Wild Turkey. It was 2013 and at the time I had just finished working as a bar man in a restaurant that had closed down, was looking for a job, and on the side was teaching myself about whiskies from around the world to up-skill my bar knowledge. At this point I had transitioned from being a Jack and Coke guy in college to appreciating the Scotch whiskies my father and grandfather drank, and had even visited Edinburgh with my then-girlfriend (now wife) to explore Scottish whisky further. On that particular day I was looking for an excuse to get out of the rain and so was scoping out any unusual Scottish blends and malts that were available from a run-of-the-mill supermarket in the town I was living in. As I scanned the minimal selection of standard bottles such as Famous Grouse, Teachers, and Vat 69, a very dusty bottle that was pushed to the far edge of the bottom shelf caught my eye. Looking back was a bottle of 101 proof bourbon with a retro depiction of a turkey on the label and a proud 8 year old age statement. I had heard of the brand before this encounter (probably picked up from a book or my endless reading on the internet) but I had never seen a bottle and for around €30 who was I to say no? That bottle was both my introduction to and the whiskey that converted me to bourbon, and it has remained my favourite bourbon of all time ever since.
Wild Turkey Rare breed was the second barrel proof bourbon on the modern market and first introduced by Jimmy Russell in 1991 in response to his friend and fellow Master Distiller Booker Noe releasing his barrel proof bourbon, Bookers. Although not age-stated, Rare Breed is an uncut blend of 6, 8, and 12 year old bourbon blended from batches of around 150 barrels picked from the best spots in the Wild Turkey warehouses. Over the years there have been four label-specific iterations of Rare Breed with the current release hitting a lofty 116.8 proof.
Name: Wild Turkey Rare Breed (Bottled 2nd of April 2018)
Age: NAS (confirmed by Wild Turkey Ambassadors to be a blend of 6, 8, and 12 year old bourbon)
Proof: 116.8 proof (58.4% ABV)
Type: Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Mashbill: 75% Indiana corn, 13% rye from North Eastern Germany, and 12% barley malt from Minnesota – all non GMO.
Producer: Wild Turkey Distillery, KY
Nose: Deep almost burnt caramel meets earthy rye, thick vanilla, and warm peppery baking spices like clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, coursing with an undertone of juicy black cherry, orange peel, leather, and lightly toasted but minty oak.
Palate: Viscous on the tongue opening with burnt caramel, herbaceous rye spice, floral vanilla, smoky barrel char, black pepper, dark chocolate, orange peel, and dark stone fruit with hefty cinnamon spice.
Finish: The finish opens with a kick of rye spice before notes of toasted oak, leather, black stone fruit and pepper continue to dance across the tongue leaving a delicious peppery and herbaceous aftertaste.
As my first review of an individual Wild Turkey whiskey on this site I feel like I may have inadvertently entered too high and it may not get much better than this, for the time being. This bourbon is a work of art and a great example of Wild Turkey’s modern profile that is bursting with intense and layered flavours. It’s robust, complex, and wholly enjoyable as it blends and balances grain notes, viscosity, and barrel influence beautifully. The palate adds further intensity to the notes from the nose with layers of flavour that melt away on the tongue to give a deeply flavourful bourbon. There’s no getting around this being barrel proof and a splash of water brings out more subtle brown sugar, leather, dark stone fruit, and a warm toasted oak note on both the nose and palate whilst cutting through some of the charred oak. This is a prime example of amazing barrel proof bourbon and a drop of water does great things to open up the flavours whilst muting the alcohol kick on the nose.
This release is a massive step up from the previous Rare Breed (112.8 proof) and is more reminiscent of a really good Russell’s Reserve pick with its uncut and bursting-with-flavour complexity. It’s delicious bourbon like this that reminds me why Wild Turkey will always be one of my very favourite distilleries and as a fan I have to say this release excites me for what’s to come in the future. Another interesting thing about this bourbon is that the younger part of the blend contains a small amount of the bourbon that’s been distilled at the new distillery that went operational in 2011.
It’s by the grace of the bourbon gods that I even had this bottle to review for you fine readers. When I pulled it out of its tube this is how it emerged and only for the plastic shrink wrap around the cork being of good thick quality I would no doubt have been the owner of a beautifully-scented Wild Turkey Rare Breed air freshener tube and empty bottle.
Try or Buy?
If you are a fan of Wild Turkey 101 in any capacity then this is a bottle to add to the list of what to get next. This is a fantastic bourbon and also definintely one for those who like high-proof, uncut, and well put together bourbons. At around £50 in the UK this really is no-brainer and should be jumped on at the next available opportunity.
This review would not be half of what it is if not for my fellow blogger and Wild Turkey expert Rare Bird 101. David curates more than just a website dedicated to expertly-written reviewing and thought-provoking discussions of Wild Turkey whiskies, he provides a credible source of information for bourbon nerds like me on the brand and knows almost as much about the brand as the Russells themselves. If you’re looking for any more info on the Wild Turkey brand, or just want to read even further into the complexities and history of the brand I highly recommend you check out his blog by clicking the banner below.