Sitting atop Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceburg, KY, the Wild Turkey Distillery produces one of the most iconic bourbon whiskey brands ever made. Coming from a long history of distillation pedigree that began with Irish immigrant brothers James and John Ripy, the Wild Turkey brand wasn’t introduced until 1942 and has followed the same recipe since 1869. According to Wild Turkey, the brand was so named after then-Austin Nicholls president Thomas McCarthy took some friends out on a turkey hunt and brought with him some sourced 101 proof 8 year old bourbon. The following year they asked him to bring some more of ‘that wild turkey whiskey’ and the brand was born. Originally the whiskey was sourced and sold by the Austin Nicholls Co. as their in-house brand and Wild Turkey came from many distilleries over the years including the Ripy Brother’s Distillery (via Schenley Distillers), and the Anderson County Distilling Co. (which later became the J.T.S Brown and sons Distillery). Since 1954 the Anderson County Distilling Co. (later becoming the J.T.S Brown and sons Distillery) was the sole producer of bourbon for the brand and in the same year hired future bourbon rockstar James ‘Jimmy’ Russell as a still room worker. In 1967 Jimmy was promoted to Master Distiller at the then J.T.S Brown and sons Distillery, so when the distillery was purchased by Austin Nicholls in 1972 he became the first Master Distiller of Wild Turkey bourbon. After several more decades of ownership changes, distillery name changes, a bourbon glut, and Jimmy’s son Eddie joining the distillery and progressing through the ranks, in 2011 the new Wild Turkey Distillery began operations on Wild Turkey Hill. Since then the brand has seen continued growth internationally and to date has 11 permanent releases and several annual and once off releases of both their bourbon and rye whiskey; including their very popular 81 and 101 proof variants of bourbon and rye, Wild Turkey Rare Breed, their American Honey Liqueur, the newly introduced Longbranch bourbon, Russell’s Reserve Bourbon and rye, Kentucky Spirit bourbon, and Master’s Keep series.
Released in early 2018, Wild Turkey Longbranch is the latest addition to Wild Turkey’s permanent product line. The culmination of a 2-year long collaboration between Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell and their Creative Director Mathew McConaughey, Longbranch features a Kentucky Straight bourbon that is first filtered through oak and subsequently filtered through Texan Mesquite charcoal. As for the name, in the company’s press release McConaughey is quoted as saying, “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.” According to the promotional video to accompany the release and the Wild Turkey website there’s a generous helping of 8 year old bourbon in the mix and as a massive fan of old 101 8 year Wild Turkey I’m excited to see what having this has added to this release.
Name: Wild Turkey Longbranch
Age: Non Age Stated (confirmed to have a lot if not entirely made of 8 year old stocks)
Proof: 86 Proof
Type: Kentucky Straight Bourbon refined with oak & Texas mesquite charcoal
Mashbill: 75% Indiana corn, 13% rye from North Eastern Germany, and 12% barley malt from Minnesota – all non GMO.
Producer: Wild Turkey Distillery, KY
Nose: The nose opens with subtle but undeniable classic Wild Turkey nose of faintly nutty caramel, herbaceous rye, earthy baking spices, hefty vanilla, orange peel, a touch of cherries, an a touch of charred oak.
Palate: The palate is light but not watery, opening soft at first with honey roasted nuts with before a wave of earthy and herbaceous rye spice hits fading to a deeply flavourful burnt caramel, peppery charred oak, sweet stone fruit, some barrel funk, and a touch of dark chocolate and smoke.
Finish: The finish opens with a brush of lingering spice from the palate followed by nutty caramel, earthy rye, and charred oak leaving an aftertaste of rye and barrel char.
Finally Wild Turkey has released a bourbon that bridges the big gap between the 81 proof release and the classic 101 release. It’s easy to drink, packs in those classic Wild Turkey flavours with a bit more of a kick than the 81, and it tastes great when you consider it’s an 86 proof bourbon that’s double filtered. Instead of being the life-changing Wild Turkey bourbon that I suspect a lot of serious Wild Turkey drinkers were hoping for, this fits snugly in the category of premium entry-level premium or entry-level plus if you will. It sits snugly above the very basic entry level stuff whilst giving an insight into the premium category where fancy oak finishes, flashy bottles, and exotic flavour nuances exist. Instead of being another release completely aimed at new drinkers or those who like their proof low, this offers those in-between novice bourbon drinkers a very solid Wild Turkey option.
It’s also very well balanced in terms of flavour but one very important flavour I don’t get at all is mesquite, and here I think lies a misconception that arose when people heard mesquite was involved. Sure if you’re smoking your barbecue meat over mesquite chips you’re going to get a lot from it flavour-wise, however, there’s a big difference between using mesquite chips to smoke food and using mesquite charcoal to filter something. Similar to other charcoal filtered whiskies I don’t get any strong or even slight notes of charcoal from this bourbon. This either comes down to the fact that the notes imparted by the mesquite charcoal aligns perfectly with a classic Wild Turkey flavour profile- thus they are perfectly integrated and barely detectable, or filtering your whiskey through charcoal doesn’t add any noticeable flavour, instead only removing unpleasant flavours from the aged whiskey that has been filtered through it. In this case I would say that the use of mesquite definitely added a unique Texan touch to the finished product, but only by virtue of it being added purposely to the filtering process, not because it adds noticeable flavour. When I further consider this it also makes perfect sense, especially if you ask yourself, ‘did I really think Eddie Russell was going to adulterate his fine bourbon whiskey with something that would add a dominant flavour note?’ because the answer would be simple: not on your Nellie. Sure the use of this charcoal made a difference to the finished product, it’s very enjoyable, doesn’t carry a lot of burn and overall taste is ace, but it didn’t add any flavours that I could pick up, it just polished the finished product. In fact, in Mathew McConaughey’s own words (from the press video) he chose this particular combination because it was, in his opinion, perfect and he didn’t have to add his usual few ice cubes. Now why would you add ice to bourbon? Maybe because you like how the dilution that ice provides reduces the spicy influence that a high-rye mashbill would typically provide? So what if using a charcoal filtering process provided the same effect as adding ice would? That is why I think the mesquite combination made the cut – not because it adds mesquite flavours but because it smoothes out and rounds off some of the spicier notes that Wild Turkey would typically carry without losing any of the flavours that make it what it is at heart.
This bourbon is a great example of why collaborations like this are necessary in today’s bourbon market. It’s too easy for well-established distilleries to keep using the same ole traditional methods to make the same consistently good product, and plod along blissfully as drinkers climb over each other to buy up their bottles as soon as they hit the shelves. However, when this happens it typically comes at the cost of shunning innovation and in an ever-changing market where doing something different (but good) is what might give your brand a much-needed edge over its competitors. Wild Turkey has performed quite well when it comes to being innovative. In the past they have gone from producing only 101 proof 8 year old bourbon to also making rye whiskey, introducing the first bourbon liqueur on the market, have extended their permanent lines to include Russell’s reserve, bourbon and rye at a lower proof, interesting limited editions in the form of single barrel releases, and their very popular Master’ Keep series to name but a few. This collaboration is another step along that path and has, in my opinion, filled a gap in their portfolio at the perfect time. We are in an age where people are not only beginning to drink whiskey, but those who started a few months ago are now what could be termed ‘novice’ drinkers. This bourbon seems aimed straight at that category and plays its part perfectly. It’s a gateway bourbon to better things and will fall as either a step along someone’s Wild Turkey journey, or the first step they take along that journey – even if it’s only the celebrity status of this bourbon’s co-creator pulls them in. My point is the market needs more good collaborations like this, collaborations that stir up the purists a bit and also pull in new blood without sacrificing the soul of the product and damaging the proud reputation of the source distillery. Putting it plainly Eddie Russell is not known for double filtering his bourbon through two types of wood, but thanks to his open-mindedness when entering this collaboration we now have a great new Wild Turkey bourbon that wasn’t only missing from the existing line-up, but is also functional in both introducing those that are new to bourbon to Wild Turkey, yet is delicious enough that the old guard can also sip on and enjoy it.
The final thing I have to mention is the bottle itself – it’s really cool. Any Wild Turkey fans can tell you that the packaging on the modern releases of Wild Turkey is anything but minimal with attractive labels bearing some simple but important information. This bottle however, achieves the same result in a unique and striking fashion. The bottle is an imposing tombstone-style with a great weight and sleek modern look to it, the front and back labels are small and to the point without obscuring the whiskey’s colour, and the glass itself is emblazoned with the only 3 statements you should need to arouse curiosity in this product; ‘ Small Batch’ ‘aged in American Oak’ and ‘Expertly Crafted.’ It’s simple, to the point, elegant, and doesn’t give me the impression that it was made without the spirit it contains firmly in mind. I can also safely say no matter what my wife says this bottle is never leaving this house (don’t tell her I said that!)- when the day comes that I finish the whiskey inside I’m going to remove all the labels and use it as a Wild Turkey Decanter for when those pesky corks break.
I for one really like this bourbon and the innovative spirit it represents. It definitely doesn’t taste like a gimmick or a half-baked release, and instead excites me for what else is going to come from this creative partnership between Mathew McConaughey and the Russells. Hell, one might even go so far as to say that all things considered Longbranch is allright allright allright (sorry but it had to be done).
Try or Buy?
Honestly, I can’t see a reason everyone shouldn’t own a bottle of this stuff. Unlike similar ‘twice mellowed’ releases by competitors this release hasn’t sacrificed an inch of it’s classic Wild Turkey profile. Sure it’s an easy drinker but you’re under no illusion that it is Wild Turkey that you’re sipping on. This has now launched in the UK (thank the bourbon gods!) at the great price of £36.95 and will be exclusively available online until the 29th of July 2019 from the Whisky Exchange.