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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Meeting the Buddha of Bourbon at Wild Turkey Distillery

We toured 5 distilleries during our time in Kentucky Bourbon Country. We really enjoyed our visit to Bardstown Bourbon Company, the tasting at Heaven Hill (where we purchased coveted Old Fitzgerald 14-year-old bottles to bring home) and doing the hard hat tour at the 1930s industrial complex still in use at Buffalo Trace. Yet, it was hard to top our visit to Wild Turkey in the serene bluegrass country outside Lawrenceburg. One look at those rickhouses blackened on the outside from evaporation and you can sense the history. In fact, a distillery has been operating at this same site since 1869. We had a wonderful guide, Edwina, who showed us the whole process of making bourbon, from seeing the mash bills and fermentation tanks to walking inside one of those old rickhouses and eyeing all those barrels stacked to the ceiling. Wild Turkey currently has 7 to 8 million barrels aging, forming the largest distillery on one site in Kentucky. Outside, the rolling hills led to a bridge over the Kentucky River and the countryside was aflame in late fall foliage. 

Then we were back at the newly revamped Visitors Center tasting the wares and meeting the Buddha of Bourbon, 84-year-old Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, who's been working at Wild Turkey the past 64 years. "When I started here, bourbon was a southern gentlemen's drink. Now just as many women are buying a bottle as men," says Jimmy. He also notes that Wild Turkey is the top selling bourbon in Japan and Australia, helping to create the current surge in popularity. We talked for another 15 minutes before getting Jimmy to sign a bottle of Russell's Reserve 10 year. Definitely a highlight of our trip. If you want to try and catch Jimmy, head to the Visitors Center on Sunday afternoons after he and his wife go to church. He just might be sitting at that table at the entrance. 
 

Posted by Steve Jermanok on 11/27/18 at 06:00 AM
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Longtime Boston Globe travel writer, Steve Jermanok, dishes out his favorite travel locales and provides topical travel information that comes across his desk.

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