I’ve always been a fan of Wild Turkey, especially the baseline 101 expression because it has always represented classic bourbon value to me. You pay less than $20, you get a bottle of classically-styled bourbon without any off-notes. Reliable. Simple. Inexpensive.
Lately, though, Wild Turkey has been trying to buck that reputation and compete with the (other) big names in bourbon by releasing special edition this and distiller’s own that, which initially struck me as a bit of a betrayal of the brand. Still, if you can’t beat ’em…
Today we have another special edition, this time with a celebrity endorsement. Ugh. Say it ain’t so, Turkey. Yes, indeed, Wild Turkey Longbranch is the brainchild of actor Matthew McConaughey. Luckily, I discovered this fact after buying a bottle or I might have been dissuaded from purchase by the sellout-ish-ness of it all. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy me some McConaughey. But I’m also a big Ryan Reynolds fan and you don’t see me espousing the glories of Aviation gin. So, we are putting aside The Lincoln Lawyer and whether or not he actually worked hand-in-hand with Jimmy and Eddie Russell to select casks. We also won’t wonder whether the concept of mellowing Wild Turkey bourbon through Texas Mesquite charcoal was his idea or not. We’ll firmly ignore the fact that McConaughey is actually on payroll at Wild Turkey as Creative Director. At the end of the day, this is some damn fine bourbon for what is these days a reasonable price.
For less than 40 bones you get 8 year-old Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which has been mellowed using a similar process to Jack Daniel’s and other Tennessee Whiskies. Instead of filtering it through 10 feet or whatever of sugar maple charcoal, Longbranch is circulated first through American white oak charcoal (the same oak used for barrels) and then through mesquite charcoal from McConaughey’s native state of Texas. Barbecue fans will be familiar with the flavor of mesquite smoked meats, which is definitely a departure from oak.
The resulting bourbon is bottled at a reasonable 43% ABV and does not provide an age statement, which means future batches could dip below that 8 year-old mark. McConaughey and the Russells say they were going for a sweeter, mellower, easier-drinking style of sipping whiskey but with a hint of Texas smoke. Let’s see how it turned out.
Nose: Deeply oaky and with more smoke than commonly found in bourbon. It has aromas of charred corn, drippy oak resin, horehound candy, and Moxie. There’s also something vegetal, perhaps tobacco leaf. Potent.
Palate: Medium body. Dry, despite the sweet aroma notes. Tons of oak, heavy root notes (root beer, sassafras, etc.), and balanced charcoal. I might taste mesquite, or it could be marketing. Either way, this is a tasty slightly-sweet bourbon with just barely enough tongue burn to feel legitimate.
Finish: Long. Most of the palate notes continue through the finish, including the mesquite/marketing. Fades slowly without getting bitter. Very nice.
With Water: Several drops of water initially amps up the nose tickle, so give it a rest in the glass. Even after the rest, it remains overly astringent. This bourbon does not benefit from added water.
Overall: This is a very capable bourbon. It ticks all of the boxes while also having a little “extra” in the form of mesquite charcoal and derived mild smoke flavors. I would have preferred an age statement and a bump in ABV to 48% or 50%, but even at the suggested retail of $40 this is right on the money – literally! Hah! So I can’t really complain. It can easily be found for cheaper, even under $30, which is quite a good deal.
Honestly, it’s been a little while since I’ve had a new bourbon and thought, “Yes, I’d buy that again,” so I’m going to call this a “Must Try”, especially if you already appreciate The Turkey. Or Matthew McConaughey. Whatever.