Eddie Russell nostalgically recalls his first taste of bourbon straight from the barrel at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. It was a few decades ago, and he jokes that the sensation of the bourbon shooting through his veins made him realise that he should never leave the place.
He never did.
In 1981 Eddie started working at the distillery, and in 2015 he became its Master Distiller thus following in his Dad Jimmy Russell’s footsteps (Jimmy has been making Wild Turkey whiskey for over 60 years!). About 35 years after Eddie started work at Wild Turkey, he would enter into an unlikely collaboration with Matthew McConaughey to create a new expression of Wild Turkey: Longbranch.
At first glance, Longbranch comes across as yet another cringe-worthy attempt to use an actor’s name to push a product. Matthew McConaughey is a brilliant actor, but his name seems out of place on a bottle of bourbon.
That’s unless, of course, you’re new to bourbon.
Wild Turkey’s collaboration with McConaughey may raise some eyebrows among whiskey’s Olde Guarde, but my guess is that it is designed to lure new customers into buying Wild Turkey bourbon. That makes complete business sense.
What shouldn’t be denied, though, is that Eddie Russell’s and Matthew McConaughey’s co-created Wild Turkey Longbranch is darn tasty bourbon.
Wild Turkey Longbranch
Eddie and Matthew started working together about two years ago, in an effort to create a bourbon. “Matthew had always wanted to create a bourbon of his own”, Eddie says.
The process was simple enough: Eddie would send Matthew samples of whiskey, and then Matthew would send Eddie feedback on what he was looking for in a bourbon. Eddie recalls the precise moment when McConaughey finally found the one: “We tried many different samples and when Matthew tried the sample that’s now Longbranch, he immediately said ‘that’s it. I don’t want anything else with it, I want it served neat'”.
And the name? Well, Eddie reckons it “came out of the things we had in common from family connections to our hometowns … so we called it Longbranch”.
Wild Turkey Longbranch is 8 year old Wild Turkey bourbon that has been “refined” with Texas mesquite and oak charcoals. Eddie explains:
“Two separate charcoal filtration processes are used in the production of Longbranch. The first filtration is with charcoal made from American White Oak. The second filtration is with charcoal made from Texas Mesquite Wood. In each filtration steps, the bourbon is re-circulated through the charcoal for a specific amount of time.”
While filtration through charcoals made from the American oak “removes stronger notes”, filtration through charcoal made from “Texas Mesquite adds a sweetness and a hint of smoke”, Eddie says.
Wild Turkey bourbon of a particular character and flavour profile is selected for the Longbranch, so they don’t just randomly select any 8 year old barrel sitting in the Wild Turkey warehouses. When selecting barrels of whiskey for the Longbranch, Eddie says they “look at the middle of the warehouse because that produces … the caramels and the vanilla that we were looking for to create this bourbon.”
On Thursday 16 August 2018 we attended the Melbourne launch of the Wild Turkey Longbranch, where we sampled Longbranch neat and as part of different cocktails.
Longbranch Old Fashioned, my favourite cocktail of the night by a mile, was served with Scotch Quail Eggs. That particular Old Fashioned stands out as one of the better cocktails I’ve had. Ever. It was impossible to stop at one… so I didn’t.
Tasted neat, Longbranch struck me as a more-ish and light style bourbon whiskey, with bucket loads of caramel and vanilla, wisps of fine smoke, and flashes of spice that tied in nicely with its toasty oak and zesty citrus foundation. It was served with Crab and Asian Salad, Grilled Lime and Sesame. Boy, did that salad really bring out the spice and smoke in the whiskey! The highlight of my night, though, was tasting Wild Turkey Masters Keep 1894 neat – the caramels in this beauty were rounded and prominent, the spices big and bold, and the finish just lingered on and on.
We also tasted Longbranch Highball served with Cold Smoked Cured Tuna, Avocado, Wasabi and Chicken Wafer, and, Longbranch Manhattan served with Woodfired Pinnacle Short Rib of Beef. I’m not sure Longbranch was particularly suited to these cocktails, because in both of them the whiskey simply got lost in the Highball’s soda and the Manhattan’s sickly sweet profile.
Wild Turkey Longbranch retails for about AUD$55, quite a good price in Australia for a bottle of whiskey. Longbranch impressed with its approachable style, which melds all the usual bourbony notes with a hint of smoke. Wild Turkey say some of the smoke comes from the whiskey’s filtration through Texas mesquite charcoal, but to my nose it could just as easily be from wood smoke or charring from the barrels. The charcoal filtration does seem to be responsible for the bourbon’s light and clean character, but you can’t get too excited about this given distilleries in Tennessee have been filtering whiskey though charcoal for years. Celebrity and marketing aside, at its price, Longbranch is well worth buying and trying – it’s just tasty bourbon whiskey at a fair price. I’ll drink to that!