Over the last three years, we’ve seen Wild Turkey’s Longbranch go from curious celebrity collaboration to a brand all its own. What Campari or Matthew McConaughey plans to do with that newly minted brand has yet to be seen. One can safely assume there will be an expansion of expressions (likely a rye at some point in time). Beyond that, it’s pure speculation.
Well, there was that TTB label approval back in July …
I suppose it only makes sense. We’re steeped in skimpflation. On the positive side, according to the filing, Longbranch will officially carry an eight-year age statement (as opposed to a hang tag or pure marketing speak). Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of six proof points and 50ml volume. Granted, it’s just a label approval. There’s no guarantee we’ll see it come to pass, though I can count on one hand the number of times Campari has filed a Wild Turkey label approval and failed to move forward. In other words, prepare for an eight-year, 80-proof Longbranch in a 700ml bottle. Such are the times we live in.
About a week ago, I was browsing my local bottle shop’s shelves (checking Wild Turkey bottle codes as I often do) when I happened upon a 2021 Longbranch. Considering this might be the last year we see McConaughey’s “best bourbon on the planet” at its original 86 proof, I thought it might be a good idea to give it a proper review. Besides, the last bottling I reviewed was filled in 2019. And let’s not forget, I set a goal to review every core Wild Turkey expression before the end of this year. With Longbranch outstanding and 2022 in sight, it’s now or never.
Wild Turkey Longbranch (2021) – 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 …
Nose: butter toffee, oak char, brown sugar, light baking spice, hints of orange peel
Taste: creme brulee, lightly toasted honey, nutmeg, charred oak, apple peel, faint citrus
Finish: medium in length w/ vanilla, smoky caramel, lemon pepper, licorice, almond
Overall: That’s some easy-sipping Turkey for ya. What it lacks in complexity, it counters with balance. Of course, many bourbon enthusiasts will desire more of an experience from Longbranch, but one has to keep in mind the target audience for this expression. (Psst – It’s not us.) This is the Wild Turkey you recommend to someone easing into bourbon, or maybe someone preferring a “smooth” spirit on rare occasions. And despite its rather spartan profile (largely vanilla, caramel, and sweet charred oak), there’s no graininess or youthful bite more frequently found in lower-proof bourbons. It checks the boxes it needs to check, albeit at a price higher than comparable alternatives.
As for how this 2021 release stands in comparison to past Longbranch bottlings, I’m appreciating it a bit more. At first I considered this batch superior, but after tasting it next to a 2020 bottle, I’m not so certain. I guess I’m simply finding more to like about Longbranch than I have in the past. Maybe my palate is changing, maybe I’m just getting old, or maybe I’m just learning to appreciate whiskeys for what they are. I mean, it’s not like Longbranch is being pushed as the next Master’s Keep. Like I said, it checks the boxes it needs to check.
Rating: 3/5 🦃
So where’s the value in Longbranch? I don’t mean that in the monetary sense, per se. But as a dedicated whiskey enthusiast, is Longbranch a bottle you need in your cabinet? For most, especially those fond of higher-proof whiskeys like Rare Breed and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, it’s not a must-have. That doesn’t mean you won’t like it, however. I’m just saying your $40 is better spent on other Wild Turkey offerings. Yet, I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit I buy Longbranch semi-regularly (about three or four times per year). Part of that is keeping up with how its profile is progressing, but the other part – well, I fancy a lower-proof pour more frequently than I once did. Typically, it’s Russell’s Reserve Ten-Year, but there is a craving for Longbranch’s profile when the mood strikes.
But I have a new dilemma. If Longbranch drops to 80 proof domestically as filed (it’s presently 80 proof in Australia), will it maintain enough complexity to set it apart from the budget-friendly 81-proof Wild Turkey Bourbon? While possible, I have my doubts. Should a significant profile downgrade occur, I’ll buy it occasionally to review, but I have no desire to pay a premium for whiskey that can be found at half the price (or less). Who would?
As for the impending decrease in volume, I believe this to be inevitable for all American whiskey expressions, not just Longbranch or Wild Turkey. As stated previously, we’re living in a time of notable skimpflation. If brands can profit for less, they most certainly will. It’s a business after all. Am I happy about it? No. I just accept it for what it is. At the very least, 50ml less in each bottle means more whiskey to bottle. That’s not saying much for Longbranch, but for more sought-after releases like Master’s Keep and Russell’s Reserve vintages, one could call it a compromising win.
Ultimately, time will tell. Until then, I encourage those who appreciate and love Longbranch to enjoy what’s available now. Please don’t consider that a cry to “bunker up.” I don’t think Longbranch will be flying off retail shelves anytime soon. But it’s certainly something to take note of. Personally, I think Longbranch as a brand should look in new directions instead of tweaking what they already have. How about a liqueur or RTD? I’d wager a Longbranch slender-can beverage would be a hit on the golf course. But who am I to say? I’m just a whiskey blogger with a preference for Wild Turkey. There’s plenty of in-house alternatives. For that, I’m grateful.
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