Wild Turkey is a Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery owned by the Campari Group. It continues to operate as the “Austin Nichols” division, after being formerly owned by the Austin Nichols company during the 1970’s. It has changed hands several times since its inception as the Old Ripy Distillery in the 1890’s.
The name “Wild Turkey” originates from in the 1940’s. Austin Nichols was a liquor distributor. One of its executives served friends some whiskey produced by the Old Ripy distillery during a turkey hunt. The friends started calling it the “wild turkey” and the Austin Nichols company then started marketing the product. That company would buy the distillery years later.
Jimmy Russell, a 60 year veteran at Wild Turkey, and his son, Eddie Russell, are the company’s co-master distillers.
Today, Wild Turkey produces whiskey under the Wild Turkey name, along with the Russell’s Reserve name.
Russell’s Reserve Singe Barrel
Wild Turkey 101
Over the month of November 2017, Flight Club will be bringing you “30 Turkeys in 30 days.” Each day, we will post a review of a different Wild Turkey product. Throughout that journey, we will provide you with background information on the company, the products and the people behind the products, all of which we hope create a better understanding of what Wild Turkey brings to the world of bourbon.
Distillation at or near the current Wild Turkey distillery site began as early as the 1850’s. Its history traces through names like Old Moore, Thomas B. Ripy and Austin, Nichols. It is now owned by Campari , and operated as The Wild Turkey Distilling Co., a division of Campari Group.
Read more about this history, and the origins of the “Wild Turkey” name in Chapter 1.
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit was launched in around 1995 and is Wild Turkey’s first single barrel offering. It is believed to be the second single barrel offering in the bourbon industry, after Blanton’s, which launched the single-barrel revolution in 1984.
Kentucky Spirit was released at 101 proof, effectively making it a single barrel offering of the Wild Turkey 101 – save age and barrel selection.
In this Chapter 3, we introduce Wild Turkey’s first non-Turkey branded products in modern years – the Whiskey Barons Collection and the “reproductions” of Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard bourbons.
In Chapter 1 we talked about the link of the Old Ripy (and now the Bond & Lillard products) to modern day Wild Turkey. This link, as you will read in this Chapter 3, may be as much play-on-names as it is lineage to historic products.
In 1991, Wild Turkey introduced their first barrel strength bourbon, the Wild Turkey Rare Breed (the first release being batch W-T-01-91).
Rare Breed is a batched barrel strength bourbon – not a single barrel, but instead multiple barrels blended together to reach an ultimate “barrel proof” of the entire batch.
While the nature of each batch is not known, the history of Rare Breed acts as in important study into Wild Turkey Distillery’s history of increasing barrel entry proofs.
Read more about Rare Breed and barrel entry proofs in this Chapter 4.
No history of Wild Turkey would be complete without the stories of Jimmy Russell and his son Eddie Russell, present day co-Master Distillers.
Jimmy Russell has now been part of Wild Turkey for over 60 years, beginning as in 1954. He now holds the title of being the longest-tenured active master distiller in the world.
Jimmy’s son, Eddie Russell, started with the company in 1981, only being promoted to Co-Master Distiller in 2015.
Together, the Russell’s launched Russell’s Reserve in 2001. It was a 101 proof, 10 year bourbon, named in honor of Jimmy Russell. It has more recently been reduced to 90 proof.
In around 2012, the Russell’s Reserve brand would be expanded to include a non-age stated, 110 proof single barrel bourbon called Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel. It is non-chill filtered.
In this Chapter 6, we bring you the finest Wild Turkey products that we have acquired over the past few years. Each product has its own unique backstory. Check out each below.
We hope you have enjoyed Wild Turkey Month – 30 Turkeys and 30 Days as much as we have.
Each chapter featured a different segment of Wild Turkey’s market. We attempted to bring you a solid sampling of Wild Turkey’s offerings in each of those segments. Often, that included multiple variations of the same products, such as single barrels from different warehouses and different warehouse floors. Other times that included identical products produced more than a decade apart.
We learned much along the way. Here are our five takeaways from the past 30 days.
Wild Turkey 80, 81 and 101
Wild Turkey's hallmark products appear as mere numbers on a label. But the history offers so much more. Read all about it here.