Here’s the Story Behind Matthew McConaughey’s Texas-Inspired Longbranch Whiskey

Matthew McConaughey‘s list of acting accomplishments runs long, but he keeps busy off-camera, too: He launched his Longbranch whiskey this year, and during our shoot, the Men’s Journal October cover star shared the story of how it came to be. It all started over three years ago, when he partnered with Wild Turkey to be the face of its brand. Pretty soon he was pitching ideas about what the company should do next.

“They liked those ideas, and all of a sudden I was having a good time coming up with them,” he tells Men’s Journal.

Wild Turkey eventually brought McConaughey on board as a creative director, and he soon started working with master distiller Eddie Russell to develop his own whiskey as a side project.

“I wanted to create my favorite bourbon with him,” McConaughey says.

Given the star’s roots in the Lone Star State, the pair decided to create a Texas twist on bourbon by steeping it in mesquite wood, which is native to Texas and often used in grilling. Then Russell got to work distilling, and sent McConaughey over 80 different samples over two and a half years. The recipe required lots of tweaking to get just right.

“Sometimes we over-smoked it, sometimes we under-smoked it. Sometimes it was too harsh, sometimes it was too sweet,” McConaughey says.

But he finally found the whiskey he was looking for—and on his birthday, no less. Up late with his wife after putting their kids to bed, he tasted one of the samples and immediately knew it was the one. Without tipping her off, he passed a glass to his wife for her to try.

“She picked up the one that I handed her,” he recalled, “and she goes, ‘this is it!'” And with that, Longbranch whiskey was born.