It seems like every celebrity has their own product line these days, and that’s especially the case with spirits. George Clooney has a tequila, Danny DeVito has a limoncello (for some reason), and Dan Aykroyd has gone completely off the deep end and produced a crystal skull vodka filtered through diamonds (seriously). Today we’re looking at one such celebrity whiskey that’s a bit more down to earth and relatable — and with a twangy Texas twist, just like the famous actor who was instrumental in its design and branding: Wild Turkey Longbranch.
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, which other brands bottled under their own 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.
For the Longbranch version of this whiskey, notable Austin, Texas resident Matthew McConaughey worked with master distiller Eddie Russell to come up with a signature whiskey designed to Matthew’s tastes. The “Longbranch” name comes from the idea of reaching out an invitation — extending the olive branch so to speak.
The standard Wild Turkey bourbon reportedly starts as a dry mix of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley. From there, the mash is fermented and distilled.
Normally, their whiskey is put into a charred oak barrel for around four years and then shipped out to bottling. But according to the marketing, in this case the whiskey is aged for a much more luxurious eight years (although this isn’t listed on the bottle — probably to allow some blending behind the scenes) before being further processed.
Once aged, the whiskey is “refined” using Texas mesquite charcoal. What exactly that means is unclear, as they don’t describe the process in any of their marketing materials. There’s a couple different ways to use charcoal to refine a whiskey, from the Lincoln County slow filtration process to just dropping chunks of the stuff into a barrel. My guess is that this is filtered through Texas mesquite charcoal based on the way they attribute the smoothness of the whiskey to that process.
This is fantastic.
The bottle of this whiskey is wide and shallow, with a thick base that should look great on an under-lit bar. The walls of the bottle are generally straight, but there’s some molding going on that almost makes the bottle look like it’s wearing a poncho. This design element creates some additional ridges up at the shoulder, and the bottle is finished off with a medium length neck of significantly thickened glass walls and an appropriately oversized wood and cork stopper.
As for the labeling, this is a textbook example of what a good whiskey label should be. There’s the minimum required information on a white label, cleanly set in bold block letters, with the distiller’s and McConaughey’s signatures on the label. That only takes up a small portion of the bottle’s surface, with the majority of the area left transparent to allow the beautiful color of the whiskey to shine through. And what other details they wanted to put on the bottle are embossed into the glass rather than printed on a bigger label, ensuring it does not interfere with the view of the whiskey inside.
This might be a bottling masterpiece.
Just like the original version, the primary aroma coming off the amber colored liquid is caramel with a touch of vanilla. That said, there’s something else here, too: a little bit of fruitiness that’s like a bit of sweet apple. It’s the same kind of fruity, sweet note that I get from some other charcoal filtered spirits, especially Lincoln County process manufactured ones like Jack Daniel’s.
One thing I don’t get: any smoky notes. I didn’t expect it to be as pronounced as something like the Balcones Brimstone (which infuses scrub oak smoke in the whiskey) but a stronger indication of the Texas mesquite would be appreciated. It might just be that the mesquite isn’t strong enough to make itself known through the other flavors, but that still isn’t great in my book.
Taking a sip, what stands out to me is that the flavors here are really well balanced. There’s the orange citrus, the sweet caramel, and the vanilla that I’ve seen before in Wild Turkey — but instead of being assaulted by that orange flavor, it’s now a contributing part of the cast. It plays nicely with the other flavors, toning down the zesty acidity to almost be more of an apple note, and the combination is really remarkably good.
And, as you’d expect, there’s just a touch of black pepper spice on the finish thanks to the rye content.
I’d actually say the whiskey gets damn near boring with a couple added rocks.
The problem here is that the flavors that really define this whiskey are lighter and sweeter than normal. There aren’t a lot of rich dark notes to balance out, so those light aspects take the majority of the changes. And as we know, ice often tones down flavors — which is often a good thing, but can just as easily be to the detriment of the flavor profile. In this case, unfortunately, its the latter case. Here, what’s left tastes like vodka with orange bitters on the rocks — a little bit bitter, a little bit acidic, and without the subtlety and balance we saw previously.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This was already getting a little bitter before we added the bitters. So, as you can imagine, the bitterness has only increased. It definitely needs the added sugar to balance that aspect of the drink out.
That said, when you do add sugar, the flavors actually do a decent job making for a light and cheerful old fashioned. The angostura bitters balance nicely with the orange and caramel aspects of the whiskey to produce something that I’d almost call a summer cocktail. The only downside is that there just isn’t a whole lot of depth or complexity to the flavors that are in play here.
Now, this is a really good Kentucky Mule.
The sweet caramel and zesty orange flavors combine to make a delicious combination that’s almost like Orangina (if it were alcoholic). It’s off-balance on the sweeter and zestier side of the equation, but it’s still a good flavor and experience in my opinion.
Something else happening in the flavor profile is the black pepper spice from the rye content coming through in the end. It isn’t a huge dose (as one might expect from a paltry 13% rye content), rather it’s just enough to add some texture and complexity to the cocktail.
I’m not a huge fan of Wild Turkey, but this is a version of Wild Turkey that actually tastes pretty good to me. I think the charcoal filtration process was a smart move, toning down the more objectively offensive flavors and allowing that sweetness to shine through.
There still are some rough patches, and I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t get more of the mesquite aspects — but for the price they are charging, it’s a downright reasonable deal.
|Wild Turkey Longbranch|
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $35.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
It’s alright alright alright!