“If everything we did was right, we’d never know what was wrong.” – Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights
The late 2010’s saw a few high-profile celebrity pairings with big whiskey brands. I would argue none were bigger than Matthew McConaughey partnering with Wild Turkey to launch Longbranch bourbon. For me, the bourbon was a welcome entrant on paper and a perfect sipper alongside the Greenlights book that McConaughey authored. The process by which it was created is described by Wild Turkey thus:
“An 86 proof small-batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon aged 8 years and refined with American oak and mesquite charcoals.”
Imagine a celebrity endorsed whiskey that is aged eight years and touched by another wood like mesquite? Surely we would be looking at something north of $50, but Longbranch is found regularly for less than $40. Sure, it has a low proof, but if you have had it you would know that the mesquite turned up that typical Turkey bite with a peppery, tannic chomp. Any higher proof and I imagine the wood would run rampant and become quite bitter. This is also why I think we haven’t seen many variants of the Longbranch brand launch since this initial product showed up on the scene.
So, I began to wonder… I can’t increase the proof, but can I increase the sweetness. A whiskey gadget/accessory caught my eye. You see, the year was 2020 and we all had a lot of time on our hands. Most of us spent time scrolling and the Instagram algorithm did its job and introduced me to the “Bourbon Bullet Stick.” I found a deal online and began to formulate my plan.
The Bourbon Bullet Stick looks like it sounds. My selection was a three pack of Oak, Maple, and Cherry. The American Oak, I put into a bottle of Hibiki. The Cherry went into a bottle of Wheatley Vodka. The Maple seemed the perfect one to introduce some sweetness to combat the mesquite.
Oh, did I mention that I’m not great at following instructions?
The product made by BattleGroundFarm.com lists these “bullet” points:
- Makes bourbon or whiskey smoother
- Can be used 3 times to finish 3 bottles of bourbon.
- Works in 24 hours, but the 3-4 days is recommended.
- Adds a slight top shelf finish with toffee, caramel, vanilla, maple, or cherry flavors.
I’ll let Taylor tear into the marketing speak, as he is the best at it. I just decided to drop the maple into the Longbranch on a cold February in 2021. I left the bottle in my garage so it could be somewhat exposed to the cold of Chicago winter. I came back to the bottle after six weeks… far beyond the recommended three to four days.
What I experienced was an incredibly well-rounded bourbon. The sweetness from the maple actually came through and even stood out at the forefront on the palate. The spicy mesquite was pushed back and it was quite a nice whiskey now.
My score on Longbranch would probably be a 5/10 with an extra point for the sub $40 price tag. With this maple version the cost would still be under $50 (the 3 bullets cost about $30) and less expensive than the well-known and well-liked Rare Breed, which would have me bump it to a 6/10.
Then I let the bullet sit for a year. I wanted to see what a hot Chicago summer would do. Would it expand the bullet inside and offer more sweetness? Would it turn into an even woodier mess? Well, you probably guessed that the latter happened. I now had a 2/10 whiskey that tasted like an ashtray from an 86 old cutlass. Not sure if they used one of those for True Detective.
I was now faced with a conundrum. Drop the experiment? Why would I do that?
I’m not a distiller with multiple barrels of experiments that I can try and blend into a sellable product. I tried something and it was over. Or was it? I have heard many a distiller tell stories about bad barrels that turned magical after time. Maybe this would happen someday for my experiment.
Enter Thanksgiving 2022. That’s right: the day everybody goes to tag Wild Turkey and David Jennings on social media. I pulled out one of my favorite whiskies from my collection: Master’s Keep Bottled in Bond, which was reviewed very highly by Taylor. I think Taylor nailed this review and it is definitely a must-try whiskey for anyone out there. I also don’t like to completely kill beloved bottles like this, so I had to have a backup bottle to tag David in. Enter the Longbranch.
I figured another Chicago summer had passed and this holiday was a perfect time to check in on my experiment. Indeed, the whiskey had changed in flavor. I couldn’t quite trust what I was tasting, especially after finishing a generous pour of that Master’s Keep. I also had the task of cooking Thanksgiving dinner and in between sips I was manning three grills. Appetizers in one. Sides in another. My Turkey smoking and crisping up all morning into the afternoon. I texted Taylor and David Jennings. I wasn’t quite sure I trusted myself with a review on this one… so I knew only one man for the job.
Take it from here Taylor…
Longbranch Bourbon Bullet Experiment – Taylor’s Review
Color: Medium orange-brown.
On the nose: Smells like moderately-aged Wild Turkey. Dry, cracked old leather notes meet some faint wisps of candied cherry and dusty clumps of soil. There’s a faintly stony minerality and a salutary touch of black licorice here. After some time, a dried fruity scent of raisins and some more herbaceous notes of eucalyptus emerge. In total, this reminds me of some of the older bottlings of 101 I have tried, or perhaps the lower proof 17 year Master’s Keepexpression.
In the mouth: Thin and dilute on the entrance, this builds flavor very gradually, but never reaches the point of being terrifically expressive. There’s some astringency as the main flavor marker at the midpalate, but overall this remains watery and weak. Wood of an astringent and tannic variety – whether from the original barrels or Matt’s finish – is the principal element that stands out as this reaches the back of the mouth. The maple bullet influence is most evident on the finish, where the syrupy sweetness with which I associate that wood lingers as a faint aftertaste.
Having not tasted the original, unaltered bottle of Longbranch, it’s hard for me to say whether the experiment was a success. I like how closely this hews to the Wild Turkey profile on the nose, though the palate mostly underdelivers, which I will attribute to the dilution down to 86 proof (43% ABV). I’m also not sure whether the maple influence is imparted by the bullet, or by the suggestive power of Matt’s introduction,
How to score this? Well, I’d be disappointed if I paid $50 for a bottle. Even at the $35 for which unaltered Longbranch retails near me, I’d rather have a bottle of 101 and an extra 12 bucks in my pocket. In total, a score just below the middle of the range seems appropriate.