It’s been two years since I first reviewed Matthew McConaughey’s “best bourbon on the planet,” Wild Turkey Longbranch. Is it really the best bourbon on the planet? You’ll have to make that decision for yourself, though I think you already know where I stand.
But hold up. I’m not saying Longbranch isn’t quality whiskey. It damn sure is. Is it comparable to Wild Turkey 101, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, or even Russell’s Reserve 10-year? No, but that’s kind of the point.
Name one Wild Turkey expression that appealed to casual drinkers wanting a “smoother,” “fancier,” affordable bourbon prior to Longbranch? If you answer Russell’s Reserve, you’re wrong. Surprisingly, the majority of Americans have no clue that Russell’s Reserve is a Wild Turkey brand. Don’t believe me? Find a few random shoppers in your local liquor store and ask them. But here’s where I’m headed – Beam loyalists often “step up” from White Label to Black Label, and when nudged by friends or sales associates, Knob Creek or Basil Hayden’s. Jack Daniel’s drinkers reach for Gentleman Jack, while Crown Royal fans (okay, not an American whiskey but popular nonetheless) invest in Crown Royal Reserve or XO for an upgrade.
If you think along those lines, it becomes apparent – Wild Turkey needs an expression like Longbranch. Add the appeal and popularity of an A-list renaissance man like McConaughey, and you’ve got a combination that few whiskey brands can claim.
I last reviewed Wild Turkey Longbranch shortly after its debut in 2018. As a neat pour, I wasn’t entirely impressed – at least it didn’t sip with near the complexity or boldness of expressions in the same price range like Rare Breed. But as stated previously in this post, that’s kind of the point. I now have a different appreciation for Longbranch. It’s a modest appreciation, but a genuine appreciation nonetheless. I guess you can thank COVID-19 for that. How so?
Ever since pandemic guidelines have been implemented, I’ve been sipping whiskey outdoors more frequently … a lot more frequently. For some reason, I find Wild Turkey Longbranch to be an ideal warm weather bourbon. Perhaps it’s the lower proof without sacrificing maturity (as a majority of lower-proof bourbons are often youthful). Or, maybe it’s the proprietary charcoal infusion (not to be confused with conventional filtration) of mesquite and American oak that give the whiskey it’s pleasant character. Whatever the reason, it’s ultimately satisfying.
I’m sure there are some diehard Wild Turkey veterans reading this and getting a little frustrated with me. I get it. Wild Turkey 81 is $20, Wild Turkey 101 is $25, and Russell’s Reserve 10-year is $30. All three of those are cheaper than Wild Turkey Longbranch. How could I possibly assert that Longbranch is satisfying when there’s cheaper and comparable alternatives on the shelf? That’s a good question.
If you’re solely looking for value, Longbranch isn’t for you. Let’s go ahead and establish that right out of the gate. Pick up a pint, fifth, or handle of 101 (whatever fits your budget) and you’re set. But if you want to explore the Wild Turkey range and desire an easy-sipping alternative that doesn’t skimp on age, you’re left with Russell’s Reserve 10-year or Longbranch. While I’d place Russell’s 10 above Longbranch any day of the week, Russell’s 10 has an oakier profile that some enthusiasts simply can’t embrace. Longbranch, on the other hand, touts the eight-year backbone that Wild Turkey is historically known for, albeit at 86 proof. Not too shabby considering popular mid-shelf bourbons like Bulleit and Jefferson’s Reserve are similarly priced and only a few points apart in ABV. Not to mention Longbranch isn’t a mysterious sourced whiskey like those other two.
And here we are in 2020. Wild Turkey Longbranch has been occupying liquor store shelves for a couple of years now. How’s it holding up? Well, I’ve yet to find a 2020 bottle, but I did stumble upon an April 2019 bottle. Let’s give it a pour and see if the rumored eight-year profile still holds true.
Wild Turkey Longbranch (2019) – no age stated (reportedly eight-year KSBW) – “refined with Texas mesquite & oak charcoals” – 86 proof – distilled & bottled by the Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn after a few minutes rest …
Color: rich amber
Nose: butter toffee, vanilla, fresh-cut apple, caramel drizzle, honey-oak, nutmeg, orange peel, faint herbal spice
Taste: (pleasant, balanced) vanilla, salted caramel, toasted oak, light baking spice, hints of leather & pepper
Finish: medium-short – toasted caramel, vanilla, toffee, charred oak, roasted almonds (faintly smoked), diminishing citrus zest & light herbal spice
Overall: While it would be easy (and fair) to elaborate on Longbranch’s inferiority to other well-loved Wild Turkey expressions, that’s not my goal today. Longbranch is a good whiskey. Period. It’s filling my glass far more than I would’ve ever imagined back in 2018, and I can only suspect my aforementioned fancy for subtler neat pours, particularly outdoors, as the root. Simply put, it has everything I need in those moments – familiar core bourbon notes without the slightly youthful aspects found in Wild Turkey 81 (as well as the occasional Wild Turkey 101 batch). The bourbon’s maturity rounds the edges, as does the charcoal process (which is more like a “tea bag infusion,” rather than traditional filtering). Hell, it’s smooth. There, I said it. Longbranch is smooth. Are you happy now, Wade Woodard?
Look, I’m not going to bullshit you. If you’ve been into whiskey seriously, you probably don’t need Longbranch. It wasn’t designed for you anyway. But that doesn’t mean you won’t appreciate it should you give it a chance. It’s honestly no more or less “plain Jane” than Buffalo Trace or Elijah Craig Small Batch. And based on their barrel entry proofs, Longbranch (even at 86 proof) arguably suffers less dilution. It’s more expensive, which is the only indisputable negative I can find, though there’s some additional costs to cover, primarily the charcoal refinement, the hefty (and sexy) bottle, and of course, Mr. McConaughey’s name and talent. I can’t fault Wild Turkey for wanting to compete with Gentleman Jack and make a little money in the process. That’s how you maintain a healthy brand – a quality mainstream product that’s competitive and profitable. If whiskey enthusiasts have an issue with that, they’re forgetting these expressions in many ways pay for the exclusive “whiskey geek” releases. As to how well Longbranch is performing in terms of sales, I have no clue. But my guess is it’s doing alright, alright, alright. There, I said it.
Rating: 2.75/5 🦃
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