As far as whiskey brand origin stories go, Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a winner. The brand, founded by John Wayne’s son Ethan, purports to be based on a handwritten, 1962 recipe found among the acting legend’s papers.
Duke, which also produces a Grand Cru Kentucky Reserve Bourbon and a Double Barrel Rye, deserves kudos for its transparency, which is too-often lacking in the world of celebrity-connected whiskey. According to its website, Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon is distilled at the O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, and has a mash bill composed of 75% American bent corn, 13% rye, and 12% sixth-row barley. It’s been aged for a minimum of five years.
The whiskey pours a medium amber-gold in the glass and has brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon, and oak on the nose. It’s sweet from the first sip, not a surprise given the corn content, with notes of caramel, vanilla, and a touch of oak at the top. The spirit is light in body with a slightly chalky texture that becomes more apparent as the experience unfolds. Roasted nuts are picked up in the center, and the back-end starts with a pop of cinnamon, oak, and even a hint of sawdust before a slight touch of dry spice. The finish is lightly spiced, of short-to-medium length, and largely one-note.
It’s a perfectly pleasant ride, sweet from the corn content with enough crackles and pops from other notes to drive interest, but the thin body and anticlimactic finish prevent it from making too much of an impact. However, those looking for a smooth whiskey with just enough character should come away pleased.
— 44% ABV