He’ll Have It Neat

Bourbon, Tequila, and Dom Perignon: Inside John Wayne’s Liquor Cabinet

As well as Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon neat, America’s most famous cowboy also liked to sip Château Lafite Rothschild and fancy Champagne.

On screen, John Wayne was the definition of a straight-shooting, tough guy who didn’t take crap from anybody. Off camera, the Duke (who would have turned 109 this Thursday), no surprise, liked a stiff drink, usually Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon neat.

That is unless he was on his annual summer pilgrimage to Alaska on broad his 136-foot yacht the Wild Goose, a former World War II-era Navy minesweeper. On those trips, remembers his youngest son Ethan Wayne, if they saw an iceberg they’d pull close and use the boat’s fire axes to break off a bit of what they called “glacier ice,” which would be kept in freezers built into the deck. John particularly prized the ice, since, Ethan says “one piece would last all night” and it wouldn’t water down the drinks.

“He always went for bourbon over generic whiskey,” says Ethan. However, he also had another favorite spirit. “If he wanted a drink it was bourbon or tequila,” says Ethan. John preferred to drink his tequila with crushed ice and a tiny sliver of lemon.

While the agave-based spirit was still catching on in the United States, every winter John would take his boat down to Mexico where, I imagine, he became well acquainted with tequila. By the early 1970s, when John would leave for several months to shoot one of his movies he made sure that his son packed a case or two of Wild Turkey Bourbon and Sauza Conmemorativo Tequila to ensure he had a steady supply on set.

Generally, after a day of shooting he’d grab a rustic cup and relax with a drink. (John would have certainly appreciated the current popularity of bourbon and tequila.)

But John, who famously remarked “I never trust a man that doesn’t drink,” would on occasion have other types of alcohol and in fact had a large chest at home that contained his liquor collection, including vodka, Swedish aquavit and Courvoisier Cognac. “Depending upon the occasion he drank everything,” says Ethan. (However, according to Brian Downes, executive director of the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum in the Duke’s hometown of Winterset, Iowa, he was “not a big beer drinker.”)

John also had a developed a taste for “really high-end French wines,” says Ethan—not that shocking given that he was “a guy who was dining with presidents and heads of states.”

But the family had no wine cellar, and instead John kept his cases of Château Lafite Rothschild and Dom Pérignon champagne in the garage near his prosaic Pontiac station wagon. (Sadly, after Wayne passed away in 1979 those cases were stashed in a storage locker where the wine baked and spoiled.)

For the Wild Goose, Wayne also ordered a range of table wines from Sonoma-based Windsor Vineyards, which created special labels for the bottles. One petite sirah says “Selected By John Wayne For Hospitality Aboard The Wild Goose.” (A number of these boat bottles were sold by Heritage Auctions a few years ago along with many different Wayne family possessions, including a ceramic Kentucky Derby set that featured 10 matching mugs, a decanter and a water jug.)

Given his father’s love of American whiskey, it’s no surprise that a few years ago Ethan co-founded the Duke Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey brand. The bottle’s label has a silhouette of John in full western regalia and bears his signature. Naturally, on Thursday to celebrate John’s birthday, Ethan will be pouring himself a glass of the liquor. He’ll, of course, be having it neat.