Wild Turkey Longbranch

As this is billed as a collaboration between Matthew McConaughey and Eddie Russell, I'm guessing I'm supposed to start this post with some famous movie quote, something along the lines of "alright, alright, alright" or some other such piece of pop culture detritus. 

I'm not going to do that. 

I like Matthew McConaughey as an actor. I've liked him in most of the roles he's played. I was a bit curious when he came on as "Creative Director" for Wild Turkey, but he seems to have made a couple of good commercials. I paused a bit when Wild Turkey announced a collaboration between said Creative Director and Eddie Russell in the form of a new bourbon. I love Wild Turkey, and I wasn't sure what an actor could bring to a brand that was built under Jimmy Russell. 

However, the bottle was only $36, so I decided to find out. 

Wild Turkey Longbranch

Purchase Info: $35.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details:  43% ABV. Filtered...err...Refined with an oak and mesquite charcoal.

Nose: Brown Sugar, Wintergreen, nutmeg and a hint of day-old campfire ashes

Mouth: Thin mouthfeel. A lot of baking spices, wintergreen.

Finish: Full-mouth finish with a nice lingering tingle. Notes of mint and baking spice.

Thoughts: This is a version of Wild Turkey that turns down the "kick" but turns up the spiciness. I don't know that it will appeal to Wild Turkey die-hards, but it would probably appeal to those who are "Wild Turkey Curious." I like it. It certainly isn't my favorite Wild Turkey expression. It's better than the 81 proof. But I like 101 and Rare Breed much better. But then, I've heard of this compared to Old Grand-Dad 114's Basil Hayden. I think that is a good comparison. It's got a lot of the same flavors as it's more assertive brothers, but is accessible to the newcomer. And much like that, if it gets more people in the door, I guess it's done it's job.

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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets: The Championship Rounds

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it featured two of my favorite value bourbons. Ones that I try to keep on my shelf at all times. I was extremely curious to see if they were toppled in a blind bracket or if my favorites won on their own merits. I was also interested to see how the various Jim Beam products would compare to one another. With this many by the same producer, I was curious how much difference there would really be between them. 

The last thing that made this year a little more exciting for me was that there were very few that I would truly call "bottom-shelf" this year (value yes, bottom-shelf no). Many years, I wonder what the heck I am going to do with the very large bottles of very meh bourbon I have left over. This year I had to pop some of the contestants back in the closet so I wouldn't finish them before the contest was over. I mean, yes, the number four seeds were ones that would have been at home in previous years of the competition, but the other six I enjoyed quite a bit. Some more than I anticipated.

To make sure there were no flukes sneaking through on an off-day, I did each of these blind and as best two out of three. Two were done in Glencairn with the final done in a rocks glass. Why a rocks glass? Because when I'm not doing a tasting, that is how I drink my bourbon and I thought it made a fitting variable.

Division 1, Round 2: Jim Beam Bonded (A) vs Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond (B)

Nose: The nose on these are very similar. No winner based on nose. 

Mouth: Winner is B sweeter and a little less "harsh" than A

Finish: Winner is B. Less grain and more "Bourbon" flavors. 

Thoughts: In a show of how your tastes can be off sometimes, this came down to a tie-breaker in best of three. One time Bourbon A won, one time Bourbon B one and the tiebreaker came down to the rocks glass. In this case, Bourbon B was Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. A respectable showing by both, though. (The impressions above are from the Glencairn tasting that reflected the final outcome.)

Division 2, Round 2: Wild Turkey 101 (A) vs Jim Beam Devil's Cut (B)

Nose: A has a richer nose than B. Winner A.

Mouth: A shows more wood, but also more tannins. B is sweeter and "smoother." No clear winner as I liked both. 

Finish: A is warmer and longer. B is sweeter and a bit more grainy. Winner A.

Thoughts: This one was very tough. It really did come down to the nose and finish as I like both of them in the mouth. The impressions above are from the Glencairn tasting that reflected the winner. The interesting thing was that the winner was much more apparent in the rocks glass. I really liked A that way, but in the Glencairn they were much closer. The winner was A, Wild Turkey 101.

Championship Round: Wild Turkey 101 vs Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond

Thoughts: I like both of these bourbons. A lot. And, even tasted blind and with two out of three, it was a hard choice. In the end, it seems there is a reason I keep a handle of Wild Turkey 101 on my shelf at almost all times. It was the unanimous winner in all three of the blind tastings. 

Lessons learned

I was really shocked by a few of the results this year. I fully expected an upset in both of the Jim Beam competitions. I've gone on record stating that Double Oak was the first Beam product I actually liked. Yet it lost to a product I reviewed as a "meh" in the past. Is proof really that big of a factor? Do my preconceptions color the reviews? Or has my palate changed to the point where I need to give more Beam products another chance? I'd say that last one will happen for sure. I'll know more about how I feel as I spend time with the rest of these bottles. How often I reach for them when I don't "have" to should provide a good idea if I like them outside of a blind tasting. 

The one thing that didn't shock me was the final matchup. When I decided on the final eight I was hesitant to include those two because I knew they were two of my favorites. What if they won? Would it be because they were truly better or because I've become accustomed to them? Even after the results were in, I still can't answer that question. The good news is that this whole thing is just a bit of fun and really only does reflect my tastes. And that is the reason I eventually landed on for including them in the competition. Besides, I've had upsets happen, and it would have been interesting to see if it happened here. 

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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2017: Round 1: Wild Turkey 101 vs. Cabin Still

Round 1b of the 2017 Bottom Shelf Bourbon Brackets features Division 2 Number 1 seed Wild Turkey 101 versus Number 4 seed Cabin Still. 

Wild Turkey 101 is a product of Grupo Campari. It is produced by the father-son team of Jimmy and Eddie Russell at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. The product has no age statement but is rumored to be from 6-8 years old. Since this is the highest proof bourbon in this year’s competition, it gets the second number one seed. 

Cabin Still is a product of Heaven Hill Brands. It is a three-year-old, 80 proof straight bourbon. It has an old and venerable name, having once been the product of the Stitzel-Weller distillery. These days, Heaven Hill barely acknowledges the brand. It isn't even on their website.

These were tasted blind in the following order. My thoughts on each are from before the reveal.

Wild Turkey 101

Purchase Info: $29.99 for a 1.75 L bottle at Viking Liquor Barrel, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 50.5% ABV, no age statement.

Produced by: Wild Turkey Distillery (Campari)

Nose: Fruity sweetness, cinnamon red hots, and tobacco.

Mouth: Peppery and warm with brown sugar, baking spices, and bubblegum. 

Finish: Long and warm with lingering bubblegum and chocolate covered coconut.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: Heat, sweet and richness. This is a good one.

Cabin Still

Purchase Info: $10.99 for a 1-liter bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 40% ABV, 36 month age statement

Produced by: Heaven Hill Brands

Nose: Buttered popcorn, grain, and honey.

Mouth: Sweet and velvety with buttered popcorn, faint baking spices and the tiniest hint of soap.

Finish: Short and sweet with more buttered popcorn.

Pre-Reveal Thoughts: If this were on its own, I wouldn't mind it. Compared to something else, though, it feels a bit one-note.

Who wins?

Two brands, each with a long and storied history. One that is still a flagship brand, and another that isn't even acknowledged on its current owner's website. One has Matthew McConaughey as its spokesperson, and the other doesn't advertise. It should come as no surprise that the winner here is Wild Turkey 101. It will face the winner of the matchup of Jim Beam Devil's Cut and Jim Beam Double Oak in Round 2.

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What to try when you haven't tried much yet.

It's not unusual for people to send me an email me with questions about how they can get started on their bourbon journey. Often, they've dabbled, but are looking to get more serious. 

With Bourbon, there are a surprisingly significant number of flavor profiles on the shelf. It's weird. Almost all bourbon is made with the same three or four ingredients: corn, barley, and rye or wheat. And yet, the flavors produced range from floral and fruity to spicy and dry with an entire library of flavors in between.

I'd say that the quickest way to find out what you like is to try different things. But don't jump straight to the top shelf and only buy barrel-strength bourbons with age statements in the double digits. Don't get me wrong. These are probably very fine bourbons. But I wouldn't start there. First, they are expensive. And if the goal is to try as many as you can, it is helpful if you don't have to miss a mortgage payment to do so. Secondly, if you were to take a big swig of George T Stagg unknowingly, you are probably going to sputter and choke and possibly decide that bourbon is not for you.

So, what to do? Well since bourbon has so many flavor profiles, I think that the best idea is to run to the store or your local bar and try some of the delicious, yet affordable offerings out there that show off these distinct flavor profiles. And yes, I've compiled you a shopping list.

Maker's Mark

Due to being owned by one of the largest bourbon producers in the country, this red-headed darling is available at almost every liquor store and bar you'll come across. Made with wheat as its flavoring grain, Maker's Mark is a sweet and soft bourbon. It shows caramel, custard, fruit, and baking spice. It's inexpensive, ubiquitous, and very tasty. This is a great bourbon for trying to decide if you like sweeter bourbon flavors.

1792 Small Batch Bourbon

Produced by the Barton 1792 distillery in Bardstown, KY, this bourbon is a great example of a dry bourbon. Dry bourbon is a little different than dry wine, but it follows some of the same ideas. Namely, that sweetness is not the major flavor component. All bourbon is sweet, to an extent, but I find this bourbon brings a lot more peppery heat to the party. It feels like it evaporates in the back of your throat. This is a good one to see if you like drier bourbons and peppery spiciness. 

Buffalo Trace

When speaking of bourbon, spice can mean two different things. It can mean spicy like the heat of a red pepper or it can mean spicy like the ground spices you put in cookies. In the case of Buffalo Trace, we are talking about the latter. Buffalo Trace bourbon leads with cinnamon and nutmeg flavors before adding in maple and custard flavors. Buffalo Trace is the perfect bourbon to see if you like bourbons that feature baking spice as their main flavor component.

Four Roses Small Batch

Most of the time, floral flavors are a by-product of the yeast used for fermentation. Along with carbon dioxide and ethanol, these little guys create flavor compounds that, if treated nicely, survive through distillation and maturation. Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a perfect example of a floral bourbon. Floral and fruity notes start at the nose, mix with sweetness and spice in the mouth and hang around into the finish. If you want to know if you like floral and fruity bourbons, try Four Roses Small Batch.

Wild Turkey 101

At six to eight years old, Wild Turkey 101 is a good example of what some extra time spent in the barrel can bring you. It is filled with the flavors of sweet caramel, ginger, and oak. Think you don't like the taste of oak? Remember that 100 percent of the color and more than 50 percent of the flavor of a bourbon come from the oak barrel it is stored in. Wild Turkey is a complex, yet inexpensive bourbon, and it is a good choice to see if you like oakier bourbons. 

So there you have it. Five bourbons to get you on your way. After you identify what you like and what you don't like about each bourbon, then you can start expanding your horizons. And of course, it goes without saying that you should be taking notes along the way. After you've been at it for a while go back and revisit some of the ones you tried early on to see how your palate has changed. I think you'll be surprised to find out that you now like some of the ones you didn't previously or that you don't care for some of those you thought were favorites. 

And here's the sales pitch. Are you looking for a journal to take your notes in? Well, at BourbonGuyGifts.com I offer hand produced bourbon tasting journals for a reasonable price. Of course, I offer many other hand-crafted items for sale as well.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

I’m four-fifths of the way through the week and before the night is over I will have booked twice the billable hours of a typical week. Needless to say, this has been a hellish week for me on the work front. I’m getting to work on lots of fun projects, but free-time is in short supply. So since blogging doesn’t pay the bills nearly as well as working does, I’ll need to keep this short was well.

I tend to like whiskey put out by Wild Turkey. This is no secret. I tend to like Rye whiskey. This is also no secret. So when I saw a rye whiskey on the shelf produced by Wild Turkey, that I hadn’t yet had, I felt the need to buy it on the spot. And buy it I did. 

This is Russell’s Reserve Rye Single Barrel. It is a non-chill filtered rye whiskey bottled at 52% ABV. And it is delicious.

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Rye

Purchase Info: $59.99 for a 750ml bottle at South Lyndale Liquors, Minneapolis, MN

Details: 52% ABV. 

Nose: Tobacco, mint, Bazooka Joe bubble gum and oak

Mouth: Nice and spicy. Bubble gum, mint, baking spices, vanilla, black pepper and oak

Finish: Long and warm with lingering vanilla, baking spices and just the faintest hint of pickle.


Thoughts: This is an extremely tasty rye. It’s spicy and has enough sweetness to balance that. It has a wonderful mouthfeel. It pairs fantastically with a well aged cheddar. I can find no faults with the whiskey and look forward to buying another bottle. 

I can however find faults with the packaging. This is a single barrel whiskey. And a single barrel whiskey could allow the consumer the opportunity to learn a little something about the whiskey that they are buying. Is it older than the typical release? Was is aged in a specific place that seems to help create notes they like? What barrel did it come from in case they like it and want another of the same one? The packaging tells you none of that. It tells you how long Eddie and Jimmy have been working at the distillery, but not how long the whiskey was aged. It tells you it’s a single barrel, but not which barrel it came from. One bottle looks just like the next even though the whiskey inside might taste different. It’s a small thing, but for $60, the small things are sort of what you are paying for.

That said, I’ll buy another. It’s too tasty not to. 

BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!