Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.
It is always a gamble to name something after a legend. Expectation and skepticism turn the bid for approval into a treacherous climb. When the legend happens to be your father, this can be dangerous ground, indeed. Surely something Ethan Wayne and the other founders of Duke Spirits knew when they evoked the legend of Ethan’s legendary father John in naming their small batch Kentucky bourbon.
Skepticism is softened when it is discovered that not only did The Duke enjoy his whiskey on screen, he was also an avid collector of fine spirits in real life. Like most whiskey-philes, John Wayne entertained dreams of distilling his own spirits for friends and relatives.
Fast-forward to this decade, when Ethan discovered his father’s long-crated spirits collection – with some bottles dating as far back as 1967. Envision the friends enjoying The Duke’s passion for good whiskey, dreaming of creating a range of spirits worthy to bear his name. It’s quite a story, and lends a compelling credence to the endeavor. Our skepticism is softened. But does the whiskey live up to the legend? On the label is a quote from an early John Wayne film, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Well, why not?
The whiskey, for the curious, is described as a selection of 5 to 10 year old whiskies that were blended from sourced whiskey rumored to have been taken from Wild Turkey bourbon stock.
The color of Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon in the bottle is red-gold, like new saddle leather, lightening in the glass to – The Duke said it best – “cornsilk, all gold and tawny.”
Bottled at 88 proof, the nose is soft, with a hint of leather, honey and vanilla, and an undertone of smoke and maple syrup.
On the palate, honey and heather notes add complexity, as smoke pulls forward through ginger and burnt sugar.
The finish is medium in length and pleasantly full of vanilla flavors.
This is a nice debut whiskey, with little to distinguish it from many others which share its similar price point. It lacks the fullness of flavor of say, Buffalo Trace, or the innovative profile of Mischief. It is more civilized than Bulleit, but far less sophisticated than Knob Creek. Subtle and not too sweet, this whiskey pairs well with potatoes dauphine, or an early season barbecue.
I give it 81 points. Should you want to pick up a bottle, it is available online from a variety of retailers for an average price of $33.
If one remembers The Duke as his image on the screen, of his swagger and power and iconic Americanism, then no bourbon has a hope of living up to his name. If one remembers The Duke as a generous friend and father, and successful American craftsman, then Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon is right on the money.