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Review: The Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon

To honor the memory of movie legend John Wayne (and his love of whiskey), Duke Spirits has released The Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
To honor the memory of movie legend John Wayne (and his love of whiskey), Duke Spirits has released The Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon.Duke Spirits

The Duke Straight Kentucky Bourbon

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Marilyn Monroe has a wine named after her, Shirley Temple a mocktail. It's about time the ultimate movie cowboy had a whiskey in his name. Fortunately, that gap in the Icon Drinktionary has been filled, with the launch of "The Duke" Kentucky Straight Bourbon, a whiskey paying tribute to John Wayne.

"When I took over the estate in 2003, I looked over the products for sale that were representing my dad," says Ethan Wayne, son of The Duke. "It was kind of the acceptable, Franklin Mint sort of things used for any sort of icon or celebrity. But there was nothing in the myx that my father would have loved in his own life."

Ethan Wayne says he looked for items that might reflect Wayne's on-screen masculinity or his off-screen jovial nature: items crafted in leather, collectible pocketknives and… whiskey.

"When you live on location in Mexico for three months at a time or on your boat in Alaska, you end up loving certain things from that time period: a pair of shoes or a shirt," explains Ethan. "Our life was like that all the time—traveling. One thing dad did was he liked to have a drink. At dinner or with his buddies." According to Ethan, bourbon and tequila were John Wayne's go-tos, and he left enough of both (along with years of correspondence revealing his positive attitude towards life) to give Ethan and his business partners a sense of what he preferred in a whiskey.

Ethan Wayne teamed with Jayson Woodbridge and Chris Radomski of Monument Valley Distillers, a California company producing small batch wines, bourbons and brandies. They sourced the style of bourbon they wanted, aged in heavily charred new American oak. The custom bottles feature a steel gray label with a classic image of Wayne in full cowboy mode.

On the nose, it is, in fact, a classic bourbon with an old-school sensibility. Wood, vanilla, caramel and heat all dance through your olfactory glands.

On the mouth, it's bracing (at 88 proof), with that sort of smooth / bold character you could see Wayne and Robert Mitchum hissing at through their teeth while slamming down the empty shot glass. Notes of slate, oak, vanilla, tobacco and ripe apple dominate. The finish is long and restorative. It's time to head back out on the plains, or pick up the old guitar.

As you sip, your glass cries out to be picked up again. Fans of Jim Beam or Old Crow will appreciate its no-frills approach to whiskey. As a gift to dads and grandads everywhere who still hold The Duke in high regard, it's perfect, because it looks badass and tastes like it should.

"My partner is one of the top wine makers in the world," says Radomski of Woodbridge. "Just as Ethan didn't want to work with someone unless they could build the right dream, we didn't want to simply make a vanity whiskey and slap a celebrity label on it. I felt like there was skepticism about the product in sales meetings. But the minute we open the bottle and they taste it, the skepticism vanishes."

The Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon has an ABV of 44% and an SRP of $35.

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Thirsty for more? Check out National Spirits Examiner or NY Drinks Examiner.
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FTC Disclaimer: The author sometimes receives product samples for review, which carry no cash value and cannot be re-sold, and sometimes attends press events such as lunches or cocktail parties, designed to promote a given product. The author is not paid by any alcohol manufacturer, retailer or distributor, or provided compensation apart from revenue from an assigning publishing company for editorial publication. Opinions are the author's own. By the way, you should be 21 or older to read this page. Well hello there, pilgrim. Author received a sample of The Duke Bourbon for review. Wah-hah.