National Treasures

I remember the first time I visited Wild Turkey well because it was the moment I said to myself: why am I not drinking more Wild Turkey? I don't know if it's the name or some residual stigma passed on from previous generations, but for some reason the Kickin' Chicken always gets overlooked on the retail shelf by casual customers. Personally, I've made the Russell's Reserve 10 year my house staple. The 6 year old rye is maybe my favorite American whiskey right now—period. More importantly, Wild Turkey has been made the exact same way by the exact same guy for the last sixty years! While other distilleries play around with your age statements, change the packaging, and create pricier new versions of the exact same thing, Wild Turkey offers you nothing but consistency. Consistency is the most important thing in the world to Jimmy Russell. 

Jimmy Russell is also cool as hell. The man is 82 years old and he's sharp as a tack. He picked us up at the Wild Turkey visitor's center yesterday morning and drove us over to the distillery's warehouses so we could do our barrel selection. I have to say, riding around Lawrenceburg with Jimmy at the wheel is a magical thing. He took a few detours, told us a few stories, and pointed out some of his favorite landmarks on the way. You can't stop smiling when he talks. He's just the sweetest guy in the world and he's so humble despite his legendary status in the industry. "Eddy's in Europe," he said to us as we got in his car, refering to the fact that his son—Wild Turkey's other master distiller—would not be joining us. "So you're gettin' the B team instead." 

Part of the reason I think the Wild Turkey whiskies don't get the same fanfare as some of the other big Kentucky names is their generally mellow nature. They distill to a lower proof at Wild Turkey and they fill their barrels at 55%, so ultimately the whiskey is a physical manifestation of Jimmy's demeanor. It's smooth, mellow, and easy to like. Unfortunately for us, we're living in the big dick California cab era where nuance and subtlety might potentially allude to one's lack of manhood. As a result, strength and power are considered the ultimate virtues even if they come at the expense of inherent flavor. That's never been Wild Turkey's thing, however. Jimmy Russell doesn't have anything to prove. We found four casks from four different warehouses that showed four different sides of the distillery's character. One was creamy butterstotch. Another was all spice. The others more brooding and oak driven. Not one of the whiskies, however, was over 55%—even straight from the barrel. They were drinkable without water, right then and there. 

After saying our goodbyes to Jimmy, we had a few hours to kill so I suggested to David we take my favorite detour and drive past the formerly-abandoned Old Taylor and Old Crow distilleries. The Old Taylor distillery is now home to a new operation called Castle and Key that is currently refurbishing the site, but as far as I knew the Old Crow site was still haunted. I've been itching to get into that old distillery for four years. This was the year I was going to finally be a man and jump that fence no matter the consequences. As we approached the gate, however, we noticed the most curious thing: it was open. I'll have to dedicate an entirely separate post to that experience, but let's just say we spent a good hour digging through one of the most amazing old distilleries I've ever visited.

We had a few other appointments to see to before finishing our day at Copper & Kings with Joe and the gang. They've made some serious advances in their barrel maturation program and are doing amazing things with sherry casks and old Tequila barrels. Colombard brandy in Tequila cask? It's like the best parts of Cognac and reposado in one beast! Wait until you try the new apple brandy as well. It was more like Glendronach than Calvados.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll