Review: With Matthew McConaughey’s Longbranch Bourbon, Wild Turkey Revives a Winning Formula
With the actor's help, master distiller Eddie Russell refined an iconic bourbon
What we’re drinking: Longbranch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Where it’s from: Wild Turkey, the iconic Lawrenceburg, Kentucky-based distillery that’s pretty much kept everything in the family until this release, which actually came out in 2018 but seems to be really getting its own push just now, starting with an Instagram account that moves the product a bit outside the, uh, nest.
What makes this unique is that Longbranch is a collaboration with actor and Wild Turkey creative director Matthew McConaughey.
“Matthew’s name is on the bottle, and that’s the only name that’s ever been on there besides me or my father,” says Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell, now a 40-year veteran of the whiskey world.
The idea of Longbranch was to connect bourbon’s home of Kentucky with McConaughey’s home state of Texas. To do that, the distillery used a charcoal filtering process for the first time that involved a bit of mesquite (“When I think of Texas, I think of brisket,” Russell notes). It was also finding the right and limited time frame for this extra step, as the first few batches came off more like a smoky Scotch.
Why we’re drinking this: Well, McConaughey knows why he’s drinking this. “I don’t have many affiliations outside of my family, God and the Texas Longhorns,” he explains, calling in from home via Zoom (and taking a break from PSAs and doing interviews with Dr. Fauci). “Outside of my immediate life, I really only want to team up with people in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Trust me, I’ve done movies, and I’ve been like, ‘Ooh, that’s gonna be a hard one to sell,’ because it’s not a very good movie! If I do a good movie, I can sell that all day long.”
In the end, the actor says he appreciated “the company’s values, the family side of the business and the idea that Wild Turkey hasn’t chased shiny or bright things — the core’s remained the same — but they’re open to new ideas.”
Russell and McConaughey started the collaboration a while back, and the whole process took nearly two years — which included sending samples to the actor while he was on set around the globe. And it was actually the movie star who was nervous during the process.
“I wondered, how do I talk to a master distiller? Is there a vernacular? But Eddie let me know in a cool way, ‘It’s just bourbon,’” remembers McConaughey. “So for me it became [like] talking music. I would say something like, ‘The bourbon has three waves. As it goes down, can we cut 8% of the treble, get more of a bass?’ And then Eddie suggested we move to working with an eight-year bourbon, which mellows it a hair and exposes some of the sweeter notes.”
Two years later, the winning formula emerged: an eight-year bourbon in which some of the spirit undergoes 24 hours of white-oak charring, some does 24 hours of a mesquite char, and then the results are married together for an additional 12 hours.
How it tastes: Some hints of smoke and citrus are definitely present — credit the mesquite — along with the bourbon’s usual vanilla and caramel notes. It’s very smooth on the backend, a preference credited to McConaughey.
“We have a lot of big and bold, but this is something a little easier,” says Russell. “Longbranch is a great summer bourbon or makes for a great cocktail.”
“It’s for quiet time,” explains McConaughey, while adding that he enjoys drinking Longbranch on his porch while watching shooting stars. “It gives me more of a distance between thoughts and stories when I’m sipping on this. It’s good for storytelling.”
As he leaves the call, he notes, “I’ll toast the sky with this tonight.” Because of course.
Where you can buy it: You can find Longbranch pretty much anywhere, but it’s on Drizly for about $40-$50.
Bonus: Here’s a warm-weather recipe that really showcases Longbranch’s mix of citrus, smoke and mellow.
Texas Mesquite Old Fashioned
By Wild Turkey brand ambassador Benny Hurwitz
1 dash Angostura bitters
8 drops mesquite smoked salt solution (4 parts warm water to 1 part mesquite salt)
1 tsp honey syrup (1 part honey to 1 part warm water)
2 oz Longbranch
Build in rocks glass. Add ice cube, stir and garnish with lemon peel.
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