Over the month of November 2017, Flight Club will be bringing you “30 Turkeys in 30 days.” Each day, we will post a review of a different Wild Turkey product. Throughout that journey, we will provide you with background information on the company, the products and the people behind the products, all of which we hope create a better understanding of what Wild Turkey brings to the world of bourbon. A table of contents for each of these posts can be found here.
In Chapter 2, we brought you the history of Wild Turkey’s first single barrel bourbon – the Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. A few years prior, in 1991, Wild Turkey introduced their first barrel strength bourbon, the Wild Turkey Rare Breed (being batch W-T-01-91).
Rare Breed is a batched barrel strength bourbon, meaning multiple barrels are blended together and bottled, but not diluted. What this means is that each barrel going into the blend may not be the particular proof at which the final product is bottled at. Instead, blenders may add lower proof bourbons and higher proof bourbons to reach the final desired profile.
Rare Breed is also known to be a blend of 6, 8 and 12 year bourbons. It is alway released with a single proof statement for each batch (i.e., batch WT 03RB was released at 108.2 proof)
These factors tend to suggest that with each particular release (there now being over a dozen different releases) is produced from a single “batch.” How else could Wild Turkey arrive at a single proof, undiluted, 6-8-12 year blend?
Well, earlier batches supported this theory, as releases came nearly annually or even more frequently. But beginning with at least the WT 03RB batch released from the early 2000’s until probably 2014, that theory falls apart. It is now suspected that Wild Turkey creates an initial batch with a specific profile, and then creates subsequent batches that hit that same proof, but which may be a slightly different profile with slightly different blends of ages and proofs of barrels. Whew. That seems overly complex and unnecessary. Why not just release a new batch?
Barrel Entry Proof
The story of Rare Breed also mirrors the story of Wild Turkey’s increased barrel-entry proof over the past few decades. While the timeline is not easily confirmed, it is believed that Wild Turkey increased the barrel entry proof* on the following approximate schedule:
105 proof – unknown era (or possibly not at all)
107 proof – pre-2004, and maybe dating back to the entire (now 35+ year) tenure of Eddie Russell.
110 proof – increased to 110 proof in 2004
115 proof – increased to 115 proof in 2006
[*Bourbon comes off the still, by law, no higher than 160 proof, although most distillers pull it off the still at a much lower proof. Wild Turkey pulls it off at 130 proof. Nonetheless, many distillers dilute the distillate with water before putting it in barrels – which is done to change the flavor profile as higher alcohol pulls more and different flavors from the barrel. The proof at which it goes into the barrel is known as barrel-entry proof. A lower barrel entry proof naturally means a lower proof at the time the barrel matures, but it also means that diluting the product to the desired proof (like to a Wild Turkey 101 proof) requires less water. Conversely, a higher barrel entry proof would logically yield higher proof bourbon after maturity, which would yield more product when diluted down to proof, and mean more water needs to be added to bring to bottling proof.]
The cause of the increase in barrel proof is suspected to be a result of lower entry-proof barrels that were aged at lower rick house floors being less than 101 proof at the time of bottling, which is fairly detrimental to Wild Turkey’s often-used 101 proof bottling strength.
It naturally follows that the bourbons put in barrels before 2004 (and 2006) would result in lower barrel proof bottlings. With the latest 112.8 and 116.8 batches reviewed later this chapter, each likely entered the barrel at a higher proof, and thus will have a higher final barrel proof and slightly different profile. Older batches (like the WT 03RB batches also reviewed later this week) may be a mixture of barrel entry proofs. And if a particular “batch” of Rare Breed is in fact multiple batches (like the WT 03RB which was utilized for over a decade), then we can expect to see some variation even within a “batch.”
Today, we begin with our oldest Rare Breed bottle, the RB W-T-01-99 (108.4 proof) batch. We will follow in subsequent parts with two bottles of WT 03RB, the 112.8 and the current 116.8.
Nose: Dusty; earthy; tame butterscotch; dark fruit leather; grape soda; golden raisins; bittersweet chocolate. Excellent. (4/5)
Palate: Grape soda; leather.; butter; chocolate; all spice; light fresh herbs; salted peanut shells; butterscotch; rye bread. Rich and complex. Remarkably balanced. (4.5/5)
Finish: Very long. Deep rich dark chocolate and leather; some light smoke; earthy. (4.5/5)
Overall: Admittedly, we came into this wanting to love this bottle, due to its age and the previous reviews we have read. But each of us was shocked on how much we loved it. It is mature and delicious. The dusty/earthy notes on this Rare Breed (W-T-01-99) meld with the chocolate and butterscotch notes unbelievable well. (4.5/5)
Value: This bottle was purchased at retail in Wichita, Kansas within the past year. The 375ml bottle cost us $24. We have seen these on the secondary go for over $200 for a 750ml bottle. We will rate this at retail. Even at secondary, we think you would be reasonably satisfied. (5/5).
“The dusty/earthy notes on this Rare Breed (W-T-01-99) meld with the chocolate and butterscotch notes unbelievable well.”
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.