I recently received a bottle of Duke Bourbon as a holiday gift. While many would be too young to appreciate the legendary Duke, I wondered if this would be solid enough to pay tribute to the legendary actor Marion Robert Morison – you may know him better as “The Duke” – John Wayne.
Celebrity bourbon continues to be popular, with new brands include James T. Kirk and the recently reviewed Bradshaw. As a youth, Wayne acquired the nickname “Duke”, which he also shared with the family dog – “Little Duke” and “Big Duke”. His love for bourbon and tequila traces back to his early days as an actor in the 1940's. Wayne’s son, Ethan, uncovered the Duke’s love for spirits, special blends and collections as he reviewed his memoirs.
In collaboration with O.Z. Tyler Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky, the Duke brand was born. If the O.Z. Tyler name sounds familiar, it’s because we tasted their rapidly-aged namesake bourbon. I wasn’t impressed with the O.Z. Tyler product – aged around 1 year. Some things shouldn’t be rushed. Bourbon may be one of them.
Duke Bourbon comes in a tall clear bottle, with a silver spur etched at the end of the word Duke and bears the signature of its namesake. The mash bill is a corn-heavy 75% American dent corn, 13% rye, and 12% six-row barley. Designed to replicate the profile Wayne preferred, the website indicates we should expect subtle charred oak, roasted nuts, hints of vanilla, caramel, and nutmeg with warm pepper spice and a deeply satisfying robust sweetness.
While some of O.Z. Tyler’s products are rapidly aged, the Duke indicates that it is Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (indicating an age of at least 2 years). The bottle further indicates that it contains a blend of bourbons that have aged at least 5 years, and has been bottled at 88 proof.
Eye: Medium amber. This has spent some time in the barrel. A few watery legs drip down the inside of my Glencairn glass.
Nose: A burst of vanilla and baked pears greets me. A second breathe picks up some light caramel. Not a bad nose; I wasn’t expecting this.
Palate: Light on the palate with vanilla and a little spice. There’s not a lot of complexity here. The Duke must have liked a smooth and easy drinker – this is it, though it’s a little too subtle for me to represent a giant acting legend.
Finish: Medium with a lightly charred wood and pepper spice. This is light and unimposing.
Overall: This is an interesting bourbon – not super complicated – and also not super pricy for a boutique, craft brand. I found this for about $31 at a regional liquor chain. At that price point, it’s rare to see an age statement other than perhaps Knob Creek 9-Year and Russell’s Reserve 10-Year.
I don’t think this is complex as either of the bourbons just mentioned, but then again, sometimes you don’t want anything too high-falutin’. It’s not like Wayne did Shakespeare or was a character actor. Sporting a square jaw, with soft comedy and solid action scenes, this simple spirit may just embolden one of my favorite actors of my youth.