The aroma has everything about Wild Turkey that I love with an extra hint of charcoal packed in.
The palate is very thin and shallow and the finish is overly bitter.
Wild Turkey’s newest year-round bourbon release, titled “Longbranch”, is a result of collaboration between Master Distiller Eddie Russell and famed actor (and bourbon drinker) Matthew McConaughey. The marketing for this release is heavy handed, but artfully done and not ridiculously over the top. Whether McConaughey is little more than a new celebrity endorser, or was an actual hand in the creation process of this bourbon (I believe the latter to be true), Wild Turkey has successfully made a unique bourbon via their own customization of charcoal filtering.
You may be familiar with the charcoal filtering method known as the “Lincoln County Process”, which is a production standard in Tennessee Whiskey. In the LCP, new make spirit is often gravity-filtered through several feat of maplewood charcoal before it is filled into barrels. Despite common misconception, charcoal filtration does not disqualify a whiskey from being bourbon. Many bourbons are charcoal filtered in a similar process to the LCP, including Heaven Hill and Old Ezra. To make Longbranch, Wild Turkey put the spirit through a “charcoal refinement” process using both oak and Texas mesquite charcoal. Note that the marketing is very unspecific as to what “charcoal refinement” is, but my guess is that it is quite similar to other charcoal filtering – running the new make spirit through layers of charcoal before filling it into barrels to mature.
As a huge fan of Wild Turkey bourbons, I found myself both excited and trepidatious for this release. While charcoal filtration is far from a “gimmick”, I approach any whiskey cautiously that builds its foundation upon something new, innovative, and untested. Filtering bourbon through Texas mesquite is all three of those. Second, Wild Turkey typically shines at higher proofs – especially their famous 101 proof – but falls flat in their 80 or 81 proof whiskeys, and Longbranch sits a lot closer to the latter. A big thanks to my friend Amanda who lent me her bottle to conduct this review and find out if my cautiousness was justified.
- Distilled, aged, and bottled at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY
- Mash bill of 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley
- “Charcoal refined” with oak and Texas mesquite charcoal
- 8 year age stated (on the bottle’s leaflet and in online advertising)
- Bottled at 43% ABV (86 proof)
Nose: Initially, the aroma is a burst of one-dimensional classic Wild Turkey spice. I usually describe this peculiar note as baked oatmeal cookies with lots of cinnamon and brown sugar. It’s the signature note that sets Wild Turkey apart from other bourbons. Mellow and unconfrontational. As it rests, more subtle notes of vanilla and chewy caramel develop alongside a wisp of charcoal.
Palate: The arrival is bittersweet with a hefty presence of charcoal and slightly sour uncooked corn. Initially, it’s a bit astringent before balancing notes of dark caramel, brown sugar, spice, barrel funk, and a touch of overripe white fruits develop. The mouthfeel is very thin. The presentation of flavors is very shallow, and ultimately unfulfilling – like trying to hold water in your fist…no matter how hard you try to hold on to it, it keeps slipping away from you.
Finish: Oatmeal cookies, cinnamon, and charcoal smoke comprise a long-lingering finish that’s quite dry, save for a touch of caramel in the background. Even with the caramel the finish lacks balance and lingers a bit too bitter for my tastes.
Buying Recommendation: Don’t spend your money on it. I have a number of thoughts on this peculiar bourbon from my favorite Kentucky distillery. The first is this: whatever “charcoal refinement” is, it has a big impact on this bourbon. The charcoal presence is clear throughout, but outside of the aroma it’s a bit too pronounced for my tastes, and overwhelms that inherent Turkey goodness with too much bitterness. Second, at least in my area, Longbranch is the exact same price as Russell’s Reserve 10 Year, which sets the standard for non-overproof bourbons in my house. I tasted these two side by side, and Russell’s blew Longbranch away in flavor and also noticeably in texture and mouthfeel. Lastly, despite my first two thoughts, I think this bourbon is exactly what Eddie Russell and Matthew McConaughey want it to be: a lighter style of bourbon with mainstream appeal. It’s not so much a bourbon that Wild Turkey fans will flock to, but one that curious millennials will try due to its non-daunting proof, well-designed bottle and label, and interesting creation narrative. Wild Turkey made a bourbon to compete with the Basil Hayden’s of the world, and in that regard, I suppose they were successful. While I much prefer the boldness of Wild Turkey 101 for less money, or the refinement and depth of Russell’s Reserve 10 for around the same price, my non-whiskey anorak friends will likely praise Longbranch for how “smooth” and quaffable it is when drank from a rocks glass packed with ice. And to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that at all!
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: Truly Exceptional
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