Review: Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Review: Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon


John Wayne wouldn’t let something as silly as being dead get in the way of drinking a good whiskey, and neither should you. Now you can drink just like John Wayne by drinking, er, the very essence of John Wayne — by swilling some Duke.

Duke Bourbon (sometimes called “The Duke,” but that’s not what the label says) is emblazoned with an iconic picture of Wayne along with his fabled nickname. Designed to celebrate everything about his Wayneness, it is said to have been formulated specifically to Wayne’s personal tastes “learned when his son, Ethan Wayne, discovered a private collection of his father’s liquor, letters and tasting notes dating back to the early 1960s.”

Read that again: John Wayne kept tasting notes, people.

Though producer Monument Valley Distillers laughably claims to be an artisan distiller “crafting small batches of superior bourbon, whiskey and brandy,” Duke is really (undisclosed) sourced bourbon from Kentucky (so not MGP) and is bottled without an age statement (and, of course, without mashbill information), but some have suggested it’s being produced by Wild Turkey (which would be unusual) and is a five to ten year old product (which would also be old for sourced whiskey). No one knows for sure, but does this whiskey have true grit?

The nose doesn’t give a lot of hints. The aroma is gentle and slightly corny with some lumberyard notes. It’s racy with alcohol but not particularly with spice — leading me to believe it’s got only a small amount of rye in the mash. On the palate, again it’s very easygoing — much more than its slightly overproof alcohol level would indicate anyway — very gentle with notes of candied almonds, dried apples, Cracker Jack, and some milk chocolate. A slight hint of smoke and a touch of mint add layers of complexity, but the finish is sweetness, a bit of baking spice, and gentle vanilla caramels.

Sure, Duke is a vanity bourbon project — God knows there are dozens of them on the market now — but I’d be remiss if I dismissed it as mere plonk served up in an overpriced bottle. I can’t weigh in on whether this resembles anything John Wayne would have actually consumed in real life — his persona seems like it would surely have preferred something more fiery and frontier-like — but if he was a man of discriminating tastes, he wouldn’t have been wrong in making this whiskey his go-to tipple.

88 proof.


Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon




Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.


  1. Anonymous on June 14, 2015 at 6:23 am

    This has to be a good Kentucky Whiskey especially with a picture of the Duke on the bottle. I like a good smooth whiskey that you can drink straight or with soda or seven up.

  2. Kristofer Lacarrere on August 5, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    I am single malt drinker (Springbank man) never really liked Bourbon but damn this stuff is smooth as silk especially at the price point!

  3. Robert Androsko on September 17, 2020 at 5:11 am

    It’s the best bourbon I’ve ever had used to get in the Ohio valley but they no longer carry it.

  4. Robert Androsko on September 17, 2020 at 5:12 am

    The best bourbon I’ve ever had

  5. M. Ramic on December 29, 2020 at 10:51 am

    I got Duke Founders for Christmas and wooden box came later in mail. Founders bottle does not fit in the box. It looks like I need to have smaller bottle, like one on this page for to fit in box. I look around and could not find it. Does anyone know where I can get one? Thank you.

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