On the Trail at Wild Turkey
I awoke to a beautiful morning in Kentucky this past August and made my way over to Lawrenceburg, a small town of about ten thousand that plays host to Wild Turkey Distillery—a stalwart of the historic Bourbon Trail. I was scheduled to meet with both Eddy Russell and his legendary dad Jimmy at ten o'clock. I found myself right behind them in the parking lot as we both pulled into the facility a bit early. We shook hands immediately and made our way over to the guest center to check in, before heading out to the main warehouse to pop a few barrels and make some K&L exclusive single cask selections. I hopped in Eddy's pickup truck for the short drive over to the rickhouse. Naturally, we talked about business. I asked about the increase in Bourbon tourism, to which he said: "It's been just incredible. It's completely saved the main street in Lawrenceburg. Without it, I think a lot of those businesses would have shuttered up." I had read somewhere that Louisville had close to five million visitors last year, the majority of whom were interested in whiskey and venturing out along the Bourbon Trail. Eddy shook his head and confirmed that foot traffic was most definitely on the rise.
Once inside the building, we continued to talk about the changes within the industry and Eddy mentioned how excited he was to bring his son on board as soon as he moved home from Texas; hopefully to become the third generation master distiller at Wild Turkey. We mapped out a strategy for barrel selection and Eddy suggested certain barrels he liked in particular. I made a few inquiries into the type and location, and we began the process of digging them out. Eddy did most of the heavy lifting. I snapped photos and drank. When it comes to the Kickin' Chicken, I'm not looking to reinvent the wheel with our barrel selections. I'm not searching for the anomaly or the unique gem that stands in contrast to what made Russell's Reserve famous. I wanted classic, true to form Bourbon that tastes like vintage Wild Turkey—everything in harmony, just dialed up in proof with big vanilla, oak, creamy corn, and that youthful vigor that pops on your palate like a bag full of cinnamon candy. Jimmy Russell doesn't like any Bourbon older than 10 years old, which I think is awesome. I'm trying to be more like him (living large after six decades in the booze biz), so with this cask I relied completely on his guidance.
Our first cask from this expedition has just arrived, #998, which was one of my absolute favorites. If you've ever dipped your nose into a box of cinnamon red hots and inhaled all that sweetly-spiced goodness, then consider yourself well prepared for this one. Originally filled in October of 2008, we bottled this baby right after its 9th birthday, right about the time Jimmy Russell believes these Wild Turkey whiskies show their best. Emptied at 118.4 proof, everything about this whiskey showcases the textbook and trademark characteristics of the distillery style: loads of baking spices, vibrant oak tannins, creamy corn, and a finish of both savory pepper and sweet vanilla. Getting to select a barrel like this with the father and son duo is about as fun as our job gets—if you don't count the part where we actually get to drink it.