The John Wayne-inspired Duke spirits brand got its start back in 2015, complete with a stylized portrait of the man on the label, just so you didn’t get confused about which Duke they were talking about.
Since then, the Duke lineup has expanded from a single bourbon to more American whiskeys as well as tequila, at which surely John Wayne wouldn’t have turned his nose up. Recently, Duke rebranded a bit, changing up its bottles and labels — and losing the Wayne portraiture (a small photo is now on the reverse) in favor of a more understanded signature. Officially, the bottles now say “Legendary Duke” across the top. A band underneath includes the bottling year (2022 in this sample), a new age statement (5 years), a signature from Ethan Wayne, and the initials of the blender of the whiskey (EVR?). It can also be revealed that the whiskey is sourced from Green River/O.Z. Tyler, answering yet another mystery about the origins of the brand.
With that said, let’s taste a fresh sample of Duke Bourbon, released in late 2023 (though, as noted, bottled sometime in 2022).
If you’ve had other O.Z. Tyler releases, you won’t find a whole lot of surprises in store, for better or worse. Creamy notes of peanut, touched with the full spray of baking spices, immediately kick things off. Baked apples with brown sugar are evident, alongside a mild but insistent ethanol character that dulls things a bit. Not nearly as much lumberyard as I noted in 2015; it’s really not “woody” at all, with only the faintest hint of the barrel hitting the nose.
On the palate, peanuts and popcorn first rise up, followed by another helping of baking spice and a significant dose of brown sugar. This is a sweet whiskey, reminding me of Cracker Jack (which I noted in ’15), and following up with apricot, dates, milk chocolate, and some mint. Darker, toasty chocolate on the finish, touched with cinnamon and vanilla, particularly with mellowing time in glass. All in all, it’s still a solid whiskey that stands as one of the very best vanity projects in the booze business today.
Ya got that, pilgrim?