Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Campari Group
Distillery: Wild Turkey
Released: April 2018
Age: 8 Years
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Longbranch is a collaboration of Wild Turkey’s creative director Matthew McConaughey and master distiller Eddie Russell. The company says it was “inspired by McConaughey's Kentucky and Texas roots, this rare small-batch Kentucky bourbon is refined with Texas Mesquite and oak charcoals – a unique method that deepens the flavor and complexity of the whiskey.” This is the first time Wild Turkey has released a product that features a signature of someone other than the master distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell.
McConaughey said in the company’s press release, "Longbranch, in its simplest form, is an extended hand, inviting a friend into your family. So the branch that was extended to me from the Russells was a long one, one that reached from Kentucky to Texas and back again. I offered the Mesquite from my great state to add to their legendary Kentucky whiskey and together we made Longbranch."
Although the bottle doesn’t feature an age statement, the press release states that it contains 8 year old bourbon. This might because they wanted flexibility in the future to change the age of the bourbon depending on their supply without also changing the label.
A very sweet bouquet of caramel, vanilla, and toffee. Nutmeg and oak flow throughout providing additional layering. Overall the aromas are bright and enjoyable and hard to dislike. Although the nose is overall mild in intensity, it still has a satisfying impact despite its 86 proof.
Its creamy mouthfeel nicely compliments the bourbon’s sweeter notes of honey and orange. Spice is layered throughout and seasoned oak provides a sturdy base. It’s well balanced and pleasant.
A pop of heat followed by a mild dryness powers the finish. Caramel and spice trail off giving way to a hint of smoke on the backend that is gratifying but fleeting. Nicely constructed and a fitting end to this bourbon.
When Wild Turkey hired McConaughey [making him the highest paid creative director in the ad industry] they were most likely going to want to get the most out of the arrangement. They not only wanted to bank on McConaughey’s name and have him write and star in their commercials, but they also wanted his help developing a new Wild Turkey expression with his name on it. Enter Longbranch.
A new release typically needs a story and Wild Turkey is never one short on stories (e.g. Forgiven). You can read about Longbranch’s extended story from the company's press release, but what really sets it apart from Wild Turkey’s other products is its charcoal filtering. While certainly not revolutionary, the two step process, first with charcoal made from American white oak and then with charcoal made from Texas mesquite wood, is impactful on the final product. The smokiness isn’t as heavy as say a Corsair whiskey, but Wild Turkey probably wasn’t going for that either. It’s a mild flavor alteration to their standard bourbon and when it’s combined with older stock (the current release contains 8 year bourbon) it produces a bourbon that gently offers something different. It’s less fiery and spicy, more sweet and oaky with a hint of smoke that makes it come off as a bourbon that was made to please. Its 86 proof complements this idea as an easy-to-drink bourbon that’s inoffensive in every way.
Longbranch squarely fits into an open spot in the company’s portfolio. Proof-wise, it’s nestled between their 80 and 101 bourbons, with Russell’s and Rare Breed filling out the high proof range. It’s $40 price fits between their $20 range 101 Bourbon and their $50 and creeping Russell’s line. The issue is with Rare Breed. Generally found in the $35 and 115 proof range, it conflicts with it. The obvious explanation for this is that Wild Turkey hopes Longbranch swings wide. Competing more with the Woodford Reserve and Basil Hayden’s of the world for mainstream reach, Longbranch’s proof and flavor profile was crafted for such a task. It easily stands up to those bourbons in terms of quality and price.
Longbranch will unfortunately never escape the question of whether it's worth the $15 premium over 101 Bourbon at 15 lower proof points. This type of question is always hard to answer and arguable unfair, but when you factor in Longbranch’s age and altered Wild Turkey flavor profile, it offers enough to warrant its price. In fact, I’m a bit surprised the company didn’t price this closer to $50 based on its celebrity connection alone.
This easy-to-enjoy, crafted-to-please bourbon offers just enough uniqueness for a wide audience at a fair price.
For anyone who is a fan of the company’s flavor profile, Longbranch is more of the same yet slightly tweaked. In the end Longbranch might not blow you away but it offers just enough to keep it from being just another new bourbon on the market. It will be interesting to see if this release connects with bourbon drinkers and if it will become a permanent expression for the company. Wild Turkey may not have reinvented the wheel here but there’s enough to justify its place on the shelf.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of the Wild Turkey. We thank them for the sample and for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.