Something happened about a week ago and very few noticed. Wild Turkey Longbranch launched an Instagram account. While most die-hard whiskey enthusiasts would consider this a non-event, I don’t. Something is definitely afoot. The question is – what, exactly?
Outside of social media profiles for non-domestic markets (as well as a new Visitor Center profile and numerous Campari corporate accounts), there are two primary campaigns for Wild Turkey: @WildTurkey and @RussellsReserveBourbon. Each of these two accounts showcase their namesake products with very little crossover, even though both are 100% distilled, aged, and bottled by Wild Turkey Distillery.
Until this past week, Longbranch fell under the @WildTurkey account. There are numerous pictures of the bottle, it’s co-creator, Matthew McConaughey, and a few Longbranch-centered cocktails there as well. Sounds about right. It’s only one expression.
Or, is it?
Maybe I’m reading into things too much, but it seems Wild Turkey Longbranch is now just Longbranch – a unique bourbon brand in and of itself. What does that mean for consumers; moreover, what does that mean for whiskey enthusiasts and the familiar Wild Turkey products they cherish? Let’s take a gaze into the Glencairn crystal ball and see what might lie ahead.
Time is a Flat Circle
The first outcome (and quite possibly the more reasonable one) is that everything remains the same. Longbranch stays a single expression, possibly bottled in multiple sizes (I’ve seen European exports in liters already), but overall the very same non-age-stated, 86-proof, “mesquite-refined” Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. I’m fine with that – chances are you are too. Most of the whiskey enthusiasts I associate with have no issue with Longbranch other than its proof/price ratio. It’s seldom purchased, but when sipped there’s no complaints. It’s precisely what it’s marketed to be – a “smooth,” easy-sipping bourbon. Overall, more complex than Wild Turkey 81, but nothing comparable to Russell’s Reserve 10-year or Wild Turkey 101. It’s not supposed to be.
Herein lies the crux of today’s exploration: If Longbranch is aiming for an atypical Wild Turkey demographic, it’s doing so with a single arrow.
Wonder What If
Never underestimate the importance of words. Sure, the open-ended Longbranch slogan could be another quirky McConaughey-ism. I just don’t think so. Not this time. McConaughey’s no master distiller (doesn’t claim to be), but he’s undoubtedly a master envisionist. As such, I think it’s safe to say we haven’t seen the last of Wild Turkey’s enigmatic creative director.
Picture not one, but an entire line of Longbranch products. What do you see? I see something similar to another well-known, largely introductory yet classy whiskey brand, Basil Hayden’s. As such, possible Longbranch extensions might include a mature age-stated bourbon, a straight rye, or possibly ex-cask finishes of either or both. But why stop there? Imagine a barrel-proof Longbranch in the vein of Rare Breed or even a single-barrel offering. Want to really get crazy? How about an ultra-premium, extremely limited edition product hand-selected and personally signed by Matthew McConaughey himself. Whereas the taters go nuts for whiskey expressions the general public has never heard of, the right LTO physically associated with A-list star power might possibly spark “Bourbon Beatlemania.”
You laughed, didn’t you? A few years ago, I probably would’ve too. But then, I probably would’ve laughed if you’d told me that people would have public meltdowns over Blanton’s and happily pay $100+ for it. This is bourbon in 2020. Anything can happen. Speaking of which …
Whatever Can Happen, Will Happen
As a fellow whiskey enthusiast and dedicated Turkey fan, I know what worries you most – choice barrels that might be reserved for core or limited-edition Wild Turkey products could be diverted to future lower-proof Longbranch expressions. First, keep in mind that all of this – this entire article – is based purely on speculation. There’s no inside information, online rumors, or recent TTB filings referenced. All I have to go on is the creation of a new Instagram account apparently dedicated to Longbranch as a distinct brand (there’s also a tweet-less Twitter profile dating back to February).
Second, remember that Longbranch was credited by the Russells as one of the primary reasons Wild Turkey 101 saw a quality uptick in 2018. With Longbranch requiring eight-year bourbon, Eddie Russell supplemented additional ten-year bourbon to achieve the 101 profile he was looking for. With Longbranch still in production today, and based on my satisfaction with 2019 and 2020 Wild Turkey 101 batches, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if that practice still exists. Should new Longbranch expressions require choice stocks, I’m confident Eddie would find a way to achieve appropriate profiles for the whiskeys we rely on. After all, his and Jimmy’s names are on those labels.
Finally, regardless of what happens it’s important to recognize that judgement should always be reactive, not proactive. I’m quite guilty of forgetting this myself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve rolled my eyes or shaken my head after seeing new whiskey announcements or TTB filings. Sometimes I’m right. Sometimes the marketing bullshit is slathered on so thick impartiality is nearly impossible. But sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes only tasting is believing.
Whatever happens with Longbranch as a brand, know that it shouldn’t disrupt or affect your love for Wild Turkey or Russell’s Reserve. There’s plenty of Wild Turkey 101, Rare Breed, and Russell’s Reserve 10-year out there for all of us. And who knows? If McConaughey does venture into another creation or two with Eddie, they might just craft something remarkable. In fact, you could find yourself with a new favorite bottle in regular rotation. One never knows. As for now, keep your glass half full and just keep livin’.
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