Wild Turkey. Campari's big hitter for Bourbon and Rye.
Wild Turkey. As you curve around the long, distillery road, you come to a dead end to then be welcomed by a beautiful, new visitor’s center. This is just one of the many extensive capital investments The Campari Group has put into Wild Turkey since they acquired it in 2009. Over the past few years they have expanded the distillery substantially investing over 100 million dollars in new warehouses, bottling halls and a general increase in capacity. Not only was I welcomed by a gorgeous visitor’s center, but also I had a private tour with “Bubba”. Bubba is pretty infamous around the distillery and with his charisma and knowledge of Wild Turkey, you can see why he has so many rave reviews on Trip Advisor! He may even be better known in the bourbon community than Wild Turkey’s newest brand ambassador, Matthew McConaughey.
Bubba and I started the visit by discussing the history of Wild Turkey. The distillery sits on over 685 acres, which gives them plenty of room to expand. Their capacity is much higher than I realized as well. They are producing about 11 million gallons of new make spirit per year. To put that in perspective, Jim Beam is producing around 13 million gallons per year. They source their corn fairly locally in Bagdad, Kentucky. Their rye and malted barley typically come from the west coast. A hammer mill is used for all of the grains and then they are then moved to one of two 15,000 gallon cookers. The total mash time is about 3.5-4 hours starting the corn and first water in at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, followed by the rye and malted barley all while the mash-in temperature is decreased. As you leave the cooker room you pass the yeast propagation tubs. This was unique equipment to see, since most facilities outsource their yeast. They propagate all of their proprietary yeast on site. Apparently the same yeast strands have been used since the 1950’s and they have frozen strands for safe keeping in multiple locations globally.
We then moved into the fermentation room where you could really start to grasp their capacity. They have 23 stainless steel fermenters each holding about 30,000 gallons each. Fermentation lasts about 72 hours. The 24th stainless steel tank is the beer well, where the distiller’s beer is held before moving on to the column still. The column still room was eerie. The column sits in a large room by itself with two employees/controllers just next door in the control room. The column still stands at 52 feet tall and 5.5 feet in diameter. In total there are 19 stripping plates. All of the copper and metal work is Vendome and by the time that 30,000 gallons of 9% ABV distillers beer goes through the still, it will produce only about 3,000 gallons of new make spirit.
Similar to Bubba, the master distillers of Wild Turkey are quite famous. They are a father and son duo of Jimmy and Eddie Russell. Jimmy being the dad and Eddie slowly taking over for him throughout the past few years. Jimmy has been working at Wild Turkey for 62 years and is still overseeing all new make spirit that comes off that column still; ensuring it is cut at the 115 proof that he likes. He also has been adamant throughout his career that after about 12 years of aging, whiskies become too woody for his pallet. This has affected what is released over the years, but this theory has begun to change with his son taking on more responsibilities along with the markets demand of older whiskey. I have put the link below to a WHISKYCAST podcast. They interview Eddie and it explains the dynamic of the father/son duo quite well.
All of their barrels are made by Independent Stave and they use a level 4 char. There are 23 warehouses on the distillery property. In total they have 30 warehouses in Kentucky and plenty of room to expand. As you head back to the lovely visitors center and tasting room, you end up in a tasting room that overlooks the Kentucky River. It is here that you can also watch people bunji jump off of the old railroad bridge that runs over that river! I was able to try quite a few drams, but here are my most memorable:
Wild Turkey Rare Breed Barrel Proof – a combination of 6, 8 and 12 year old barrels. Bubba’s favorite.
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Creamy caramel, apple pie, milk chocolate.
Palate: Tobacco, tangy fruit and pepper.
A lot of complexity and a great nose. One of my new favorites.
Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye- only two major distilleries make their own rye and that is Wild Turkey with Russell’s and Jim Beam.
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Cherries, spice, citrus and pine.
Palate: Caramel, apples, char, chai spice and rye/grain finish.
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit- Single Barrel Bourbon- about 10 years old.
Holly’ Tasting Note..
Nose: Peanuts, peanut brittle, coffee maybe even with a little Bailey’s in it.
Palate: Oak, cedar chest, sharp on the tongue, but finishes with coco and cream.
I won’t list the tasting note, but I did also try some of their flavored spirits. Apprehensively, I accepted a dram of the American Honey Sting. This is a spicier version of their top selling liqueur- American Honey. The Sting actually wasn’t that bad. It’s American Honey with pepper added in. This definitely helped tone down the sugary sweet flavors. I highly recommend visiting Wild Turkey and when you arrive ask for Bubba!