Situated in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, the Wild Turkey Distillery is an exceptional example for a whiskey distillery that follows its own vision of how bourbon has to be: characterful, very aromatic and last but not least full of power!
It hasn’t been very long that the distillery is called like the famous American bird. Before known as Ripy Distillery, it is now named after the brand that Austin, Nichols & Co developed. In 1940s Manager Thomas McCarthy, Manager of Austin Nichols, carried samples of his new bourbon with him when he went to hunt wild turkeys with his friends. Soon they started to call it the “Wild Turkey” whiskey and McCarthy decided to use this nick to be the brand name for his bourbon whiskey.
The Wild Turkey Distillery is home of the Wild Turkey 101, one of America’s bestselling Kentucky straight bourbons. With its high alcohol content of 101 proof (50.5% ABV) it is the strong flagship of the distillery. About 7, 5 years old is this straight bourbon, full of vanilla and caramel aromas with a little hint of smoke and nice sweetness.
Blended from barrels that are 6 to 12 years old and bottled in barrel proof is the Wild Turkey Rare Breed. So no additional water dilutes this premium straight bourbon and the full-bodied and smooth aroma can show up at its best. Creamy vanilla, honey, nice spices and light oak notes characterize the rich flavor of the Rare Breed.
But Wild Turkey also works with a second mash whose main ingredient (65%) is rye. Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey is spicy, delivers notes of citrus, orchard fruits and grain aromas. You also can’t miss a typical hint of black pepper. The Wild Turkey Rye is very popular in cocktails, especially traditional ones as an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan or a Whiskey Sour.
Just grain, yeast and water – these are all ingredients that are allowed to be used for making bourbon. And these are all good bourbon needs. Wild Turkey cares very much for quality and is very proud to use just the best materials. Grain that is not genetically modified. Water that is taken from the Kentucky River naturally filtered through the limestone shelf on which the distillery is situated. And a special yeast that produces less fusel oils than common distiller’s yeasts.
To guarantee the best quality of a whiskey one of the most important links in the chain is the master distiller. Here at Wild Turkey Distillery the famous and brilliant Jimmy Russel has been working since 1954 and most of this years he has been Master Distiller and ensured a constant high levelled quality. Since 1981 he has been supported by his son Eddi Russel with whom the fourth generation of the Russel family works for the Wild Turkey Distillery.
As the Wild Turkey Distillery produces rye whiskey as well as bourbon they use two different mash bills. For the bourbon they mash 75% corn, 13% rye and 12% barley and for the rye whiskey it’s 37% corn, 51% rye and 12% barley.
When the grain is cooked Wild Turkey doesn’t use high pressure and this is very uncommon in American whiskey distilleries. So the maximum temperature in the cookers is 100°C and the grain is boiled very carefully and slowly.
There are 21 fermenters in the Wild Turkey Distillery. Fermentation is only led by natural yeast; nothing else is added to the mash. There’s something special about the fermentation at this distillery: The “cake” that develops on top of the mash because of the activity of the yeast is not thick and formed as it is in other distilleries. This is because of the unique yeast strain we mentioned before that produces less fusel oil. Another result of Wild Turkey’s yeast can’t be seen but tasted: The beer develops a nice nutty aroma. At the end of the fermentation process the beer has about 10 to 12% ABV.
The column still of Wild Turkey Distillery is all made of copper. It’s 52 feet high with a diameter of 5 feet. Regarding the distillation Wild Turkey again works different from most other distilleries because it doesn’t distill to a high alcoholic volume but ends up with 125 proof (62.5% ABV). In the doubler this spirit is brought up to 128 proof (64 % ABV).
The philosophy of Wild Turkey is: It’s better to send as much water as possible through the mash than to use it to dilute the spirit before filling it into casks, which happens with 115 proof (57,5% ABV)
After careful examinations in the sensory laboratory to ensure the highest quality of the spirit the white dog is lead through pipes (tornado and hurricane resistant!) to the building where it is filled into barrels. They are made of fresh white oak and charred with char no 4 which is the highest possible degree. Lids they use are of char no 3. After being filled the barrels are carefully labeled.
Wild Turkey is a new and very modern distillery so they use an automatic transport system to take the barrels into the warehouses. Those are seven stories high and are home for the barrels for at least two years. But usually the whiskey at Wild Turkey is matured much longer. Since the modernization and upgrade of the distillery in 2010 a new warehouse with place for 20.000 barrels increased the storage capacity of Wild Turkey Distillery.
Founded in 1869 by the Ripy brothers the original Ripy Distillery was a traditional family business. Very soon their bourbon became famous and the Ripy’s had the honor to represent Kentucky at the World’s Fair in 1893. The distillery was closed during the prohibition for some years and reopened after modernization in 1933.
Austin, Nichols & Co, wholesaler from New York City, took over the distillery in the 70s and from then on produced their Wild Turkey Bourbon here. In 1980 it was bought by Pernod Ricard, but since 2009 it is part of Campari. They invested $100 million and replaced the old Ripy Distillery in 2010/2011 by a new, modern distillery.
When Campari bought Wild Turkey and modernized the distillery, they also built a new visitor center.
Tours through the distillery are offered
Mon–Sat 9 am–4 pm, Sun 10–3 (on the hour)