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Bourbon Style Comparison: Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Bourbon Whiskey has a vast range of styles. Here’s an example of two on opposite ends of the spectrum: Rare Breed with it’s rye-heavy and barrel proof offering and Maker’s Mark with it’s soft, younger, wheated style. There’s something out there for everyone – give ‘em a try.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky, 45% abv (90 Proof), $25/bottle

To many folks, Maker’s Mark IS bourbon whisk(e)y. Regardless of your stance on where it sits amongst its peers, Maker’s Mark is a well executed wheated bourbon made with a “forward” flavor profile in the mouth. The nose and sip mirror one another with chewy caramel, vanilla, nougat, toffee, toasted nuts, and light oak. Very minimal spice, moderate body in the mouth, and a clean finish that falls off sharply leaving little trace of warming heat or spice. A great “gateway” bourbon for those that are looking for some classic bourbon flavors without the burn and spice. But you sacrifice complexity, nuance, and finish mightily. Still, it’s well crafted and extremely easy to drink.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.4 (Good/Solid)

AND

Wild Turkey Rare Breed Bourbon Whiskey, 54.1% abv (108.2 Proof), $40/bottle

Wild Turkey Rare Breed is a barrel proof, uncut, and rye-forward Bourbon Whiskey. The nose is almost savory with tobacco, leather, barrel, charred oak, sour dough bread, pancake batter, and maple syrup. There’s some rye spice lingering, ready to assert itself with that first sip. The flavors of this bourbon are somewhat bracing and hard with a leathery, resiny grip from the barrel, some maple syrup sweetness, and then a punch of rye spice that moves along the spine of your tongue. The finish is long and hot with plenty of spice. Unfortunately, bitter tannins assert themselves a bit too heavily on the mid-palate through finish. In lengthy tasting sessions with this bourbon I found it best straight up without any water added. The high proof seems to combat some of the bitterness. Diluting with water subdued the alcohol punch and sweetness, thus elevating the tannins. I can’t help but wonder how good this whiskey could be if it had more balance. Personally I find this whiskey very solid, if unspectacular, and a bit overrated. Still, it’s a good expression of barrel proof, rye-heavy bourbon.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.8 (Good/Solid)

26 Comments

  1. Texas says:

    A bit surprised to see that you don’t like WTRB. I love the stuff. However in general WT is a love/hate whiskey for most folks…not much middle ground. Do you like the standard WT 101?

  2. Texas I definitely like Rare Breed. I think it’s a good, solid whiskey and hits at the upper level of my “Good/Solid” rating category. I just feel it’s too rough around the edges and not balanced enough to earn more than that rating. Secondly at $40 I expect more from it than what I got, especially considering it has an almost cult following. But it is a good whiskey for sure.

    Quite honestly, i’d say the standard 101 is a better whiskey. You’ve given me an idea to taste them off and find out.

    Thanks for the comment man. Appreciate you continuing to visit, return, and comment. Thank you.

  3. Kira says:

    You’re going to talk about overrated and having a cult-following with WTRB and not Maker’s? I find the Maker’s cult much stronger and more vocal than the WTRB people. And overrated? Maker’s is not cheap. Of course, you’re paying for a lot of their advertising, etc. There are much better wheated bourbons for the price of Maker’s. Granted, my tastes lie in the heavier-rye category anyway. I guess I think this is just a bizarre comparison given how different these bourbons are!

  4. Kira, the purpose of the comparison was to showcase two bourbon’s on opposite sides of the spectrum. One, a younger wheated bourbon with an extremely soft profile. The second a barrel-proof rye forward style. I simply wanted to illustrate how vast the differences in Bourbon Whiskey can be. I certainly wasn’t trying to insinuate they are two similar products – in fact quite the opposite. I’m sorry that wasn’t clear.

    As for Maker’s I do agree that it’s an overrated product. Hopefully my review score demonstrates my opinion of it. It’s well crafted, and well executed, but certainly lacking in flavor, depth, and finish. Therefore I gave it a rating fairly in the middle of my “Good/Solid” scale. Maker’s intention was to produce a soft wheater with the flavors concentrated at the front of the mouth – they did that well. However, I’m in your camp – there’s much better products at or around that price.

    In terms of the “cult” following I was really referring to something a bit more underground. A lot of insiders love WTRB. Love it. I suppose I was addressing that following. Maker’s following is a lot less cult and behind the scenes and very much out in front. I don’t get that either and I agree it too is overrated.

    Sorry you felt the comparison bizzare, but it’s important to me to showcase the varying styles in Bourbon.

    Thanks for the comments!

  5. Tommy Viola says:

    Informative and fun, Jason. Good concept. Thanks.

  6. Texas says:

    Hey Jason. I guess I really did not mean “don’t like”..I guess I really meant don’t love. But I can see that. WTRB is a challenge. What I like about it (the roughness is the best way to put it) is what you don’t like about it!.

    I must say that there are certainly times when the WTRB doesn’t call to me, but the 101 (or especially WT Rye) does. How about a 3-way tasting..WTRB, 101, 101 rye?

    Love your site. I think you combine good elements from two of my favorite places..Ralfy (the vids) and WDJK (the very good notes).

  7. sam k says:

    Once again, I’m on board with most of your observations, Jason. Maker’s is good, not great, and has done an outstanding job of “premiumizing” their brand and image. They have a great distillery tour, too.

    I like the Rare Breed more than you do, but once again, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Texas and I are about on the same page, and I too would like to see the comparison he suggests. Wild Turkey Rye is my go-to whiskey. Big flavor and high proof in a $20 bottle are tough to beat.

    PA closed out Rare Breed a couple years ago except in the 50 ml, in their weird and infinite wisdom, but that 50 ml is only three bucks, and a steal at that, if you ask me. I always keep a few handy for emergency use!

  8. Sam, you asked for it. I will have to give it a 3 way run based on Texas’ suggestion. I’ll get things arranged to do just that.

    Thanks for the comments and the visit!

    -Jason

  9. Appreciate the feedback Tommy. Hope you have an opportunity to sip some whiskey this weekend.

    -Jason

  10. sam k says:

    Jason, Wild Turkey is offering what they’re calling Wild Turkey Rye 6 year old during the VIP hour at WhiskyFest New York on Tuesday, and you can bet I’ll be getting a taste. I’m assuming this is their standard rye with two more years under its belt. Are you familiar with this bottling? It’s the first I’ve run into it.

  11. DavindeK says:

    Jason, Another excellent review. What a great concept comparing two such different whiskeys. You are the first person I have heard using the analogy of rye bread versus wheat bread. Crystalizes the difference. I’m looking foward to your three-way.
    Davin

  12. Thanks Davin, I appreciate the comment. This one was a bit unorthodox as I just wanted to talk about two whiskey’s on opposite poles (or pretty close to it anyway). As for the analogy, I read about someone describing it in that way before. Wish I had thought of it myself, but it does help to understand the rounded flavors of a wheated bourbon vs. that of a spicier, edgier rye-forward whiskey.

    Take care!

    -Jason

  13. Sam, I think I missed this one for some reason. Sorry for that. I actually had a Russell’s Reserver 6 year old Rye whiskey today at the Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ festival here in Nashville. It was really good – I was impressed. Certainly not enough time was spent with it to give it any sort of rating (the pours were about the size of a thimble and there were many other whiskey’s to get too), but I though it was very solid stuff. It was actually one of about 2-3 whiskeys that stood out for me today.

  14. Texas says:

    samk..the RR Rye is a 6 year old. I really, really like it, although at $28 not as good of a deal. Maybe that is what they were referring to.

  15. Shark says:

    Rare Breed overrated? Nah, maybe you had one too many bourbon reviews that night. Kidding. TBH, my first assessment of RB matched yours. I had to go through a few bottles before I started to “get it”. Different strokes for different folks and it’s about bloody time someone else called Maker’s overrated! cheers

  16. Shark, RB is a good whiskey and one that many consider their favorite. I’ve had it a lot over the years and have always felt there’s this off balance wood influence that makes it kind of clumsy. But as you rightfully mention – we all taste things differently and I can understand how some would really love it. Thanks for the comment!

  17. Ryan says:

    Hi Jason,

    I am wondering if price affects your rating of a whiskey? Because I am having a difficult time resolving the 7.8 score for Rare Breed vs. the 9.0 score for WT101. I wouldn’t argue if you said that WT101 is a better value for its price, but I can’t believe you think that Rare Breed is simply that much worse! I certainly find it to be a better whiskey than WT101, which I find a little too young.

    Thanks, and even if you just don’t like Rare Breed you’re still my favorite bourbon blog!

    -Ryan

  18. Ryan, price does not enter the equation on ratings. I keep that absolutely separate. For me Rare Breed was disjointed whiskey that’s grabbed a lot more oak than I think it should have in order for me to call it a well balanced whiskey. It has some great properties but they way they are delivered is not ideal in my opinion. 101 on the other hand does not fall in this trap. I think it is still WT’s best bourbon to date.

    But, the bottom line is it doesn’t matter what I rate something – those are simply my thoughts, what I like, and what I dislike. Drink what you like and ignore “the experts” always if you enjoy it. Cheers!

    -Jason

  19. Andrew says:

    Jason, once again we agree. I was just in a discussion the other day at the local liquor store with a Maker’s lover and he looked at me like I had three heads when I told him that I felt it was overrated and overpriced. I told him it was good, but for the price and for the amount of attention it receives, it should be great. Elijah Craig 12yr at $22 is heads and shoulders above Maker’s.

  20. Agreed Andrew!

  21. Mel says:

    I have a 750ml bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed of unknown age. Is there any way to determine its age fron any label markings?

  22. Josh says:

    Did everybody read about how Maker’s is cutting this bottling back to 84 Proof?
    http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/alcohol_abuse_maker_mark_watering_AZ4jgR0ULxevDXLlE6uRRO
    …no more for me. Between this and the 46 its clear that this company’s philosophies no longer agree with mine. Good luck to them, it was fun while it lasted.

  23. Andy says:

    Re: Dilution. LAME in my opinion. Does MM believe that the demand for their bourbon is so elastic that any price increase would mean less product would be bought? If there is such a high demand for MM, you would think that the price would rise to meet the demand, thereby mitigating the supply issue. Looks like they’re capping the price, but offering a cheaper product.

    Long live Wild Turkey 101!

  24. Iskch1 says:

    Got a W.T Rare Breed for my birthday and I can say that is above the regular W.T 101. I have both. The Rare Breed has less of a char taste than the regular. In simple words: more balance. But one thing for sure; let it breath some and swirl a little bit, then it will open up.

  25. harry says:

    Wow, jason, I think you don’t give makers enough love, its one of my favorites, sweet, delicious, smooth and easy to drink, I would have rated it over 8, there is a reason why it has such a huge fan base.

  26. Joshua says:

    Jason, I’ve been a silent fan of your blog and YouTube channel for over a year now, and a word of thanks is in order. That being said, I should have listened to you about Wild Turkey Rare Breed. As you say, it is good whiskey. The thing is that it’s a little one-dimensional on the spicy rye side of things. I purchased a bottle a few months back along with a bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel and Buffalo Trace, and both of those seem better balanced. Well, I’ll see what others think. I’m having a little tasting visit with friends tonight, because there’s nothing better than sharing some good whiskey.

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