The distillery was founded in 1869 on Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceberg, Kentucky by the Ripy brothers. A year later, the distribution of bourbon was greatly improved after it was packaged in jugs, as opposed to shipping entire barrels. Whiskey made by the Ripy brothers was popular and received great acclaim; in 1893 the Ripy brothers’s bourbon was chosen to represent Kentucky at the World’s Fair. The distillery closed in 1919 with the advent of US Prohibition and it was not until 1933, after the act was abolished, that the Ripy distillery was renovated and put back into operation. It was in 1940 that Thomas McCarthy, a distillery executive, brought some of his whiskey with him on a wild turkey hunt and shared it amongst his friends. They enjoyed it so much that they requested he bring some more ‘Wild Turkey’ bourbon on the next hunt. The name stuck.
In 1971, the Ripy brothers were bought out by Austin Nichols Distilling Company who were subsequently acquired by the giant, Pernod Ricard in 1980. This opened up a massive infrastructure with a superb distribution network and sales improved drastically. On 9th May 2000, one of the warehouses was destroyed by a fire and thousands of litres of maturing whiskey were spent down the nearby Kentucky River, killing thousands upon thousands of fish. Accordingly, Wild Turkey paid the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife $256,000 in an effort to restore good faith in the brand. The distillery is unusual in that its standard bottling is at 101 proof, considerably higher than the 80 proof norm. Wild Turkey also enjoys a host of droll nicknames including ‘The Dirty Bird’, ‘The Kickin’ Chicken’ and the ridiculous ‘Thunder Chicken’. The current owners are the Campari Group who purchased the brand in 2009.
MASTER DISTILLER JIMMY RUSSELL
Dubbed the “Buddha of Bourbon” and “The Master Distiller’s Master Distiller” by his industry peers, James C. “Jimmy” Russell knows Bourbon like he knows breathing. For an astounding 60 years, Russell has been making whiskey at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and today, is the longest-tenured, active spirits Master Distiller in the world. Growing up five miles from the distillery, he followed his father, who taught him the traditions and techniques of Bourbon craftsmanship. From his first position at the distillery sweeping floors, he reached the apex of his career as Master Distiller in the 1960’s learning how to make Bourbon the right way – from the inside out and everything in between. No job too small, no task too tedious.
Jimmy’s passion for Bourbon led him to study under such Bourbon luminaries as Bill Hughes, Wild Turkey’s second Master Distiller, and Ernest W. Ripy, Jr., great-grandson of distillery founder James Ripy, Wild Turkey’s third Master Distiller. Even if his unparalleled tutelage wasn’t enough, his family history, impeccable knowledge of Bourbon, and possession of time-honoured Bourbon-making secrets have led to his reputation as “the Master Distiller’s Master Distiller.” A part of an exclusive brotherhood, Jimmy is a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame™ and a whiskey judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition. He’s involved through the entire distillation and aging process of Wild Turkey Bourbon; his experience and wisdom shining through in every single bottle.
Over the past 60 years, Jimmy has been responsible for the launches of a number of new Wild Turkey brands and expressions, such as Tradition, Tribute, 17-year-old Wild Turkey for Japan, Rare Breed, American Spirit, Kentucky Spirit and Russell’s Reserve, which he co-created with his son and distilling partner Eddie Russell. Jimmy broke new ground in 1976 with the first honeyed Bourbon, at the time called Wild Turkey Liqueur. Today, fans know the evolution of that product as American Honey. Jimmy is also responsible for making sure the legacy of Wild Turkey stays intact; overseeing the production of Wild Turkey 101, Wild Turkey’s flagship brand. While waxing poetic about “aging techniques” and “grain selection,” you can often find Jimmy enjoying his beloved Bourbon neat or with a touch of branch water.
WILD TURKEY RYE
A fabulous rye whiskey from the Wild Turkey brand - this is a top-quality choice for use in cocktails, but also tasted mighty fine splashed over a couple of ice cubes. Try it in a Manhattan or and Old Fashioned.