Apr 21, 2020

On the Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Wild Turkey

Our second day touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail had begun with a drive south from Bardstown through the rolling hills and winding roads of central Kentucky to the Maker’s Mark distillery outside of Loretto.  From there, we found a quick and efficient route back north (the relatively new Ky. Hwy. 555 north from Smithfield, then east on the four-lane Bluegrass Parkway, then north on U.S. Hwy. 127) to Lawrenceburg and our next destination.  Punky was pleased, for much of mid-afternoon was being spent on Wild Turkey time.

It’s pretty easy to tell when you’ve arrived at the Wild Turkey headquarters on the east edge of town.  First, you’ll notice several distinguishable rickhouses along the roadside.  Then, as you approach the bridge over the Kentucky River, the visitor’s center comes into view. 

It’s a recent addition to the site, so it’s a very modern looking building in comparison with other welcome centers on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Nonetheless, the building – and the bird – look impressive against the backdrop of the Kentucky River valley and the hills beyond it.    

Once inside, the first place you’ll probably stop is the gift shop.  This is where you’ll get your tour and tasting tickets, too.  There is plenty of product and branded merchandise here for any Wild Turkey enthusiast (Punky included).  

Nearby, you can trace an easy-to-follow history of Wild Turkey along the gallery hall as you head toward the tasting room or a distillery tour.  With our time limited, the gallery hall was just enough information to get our taste buds interested in … 

… checking out the Wild Turkey drinks available at the bar. 

The weather that afternoon was nothing short of picture perfect, so we decided to make our drink purchases at the stand the distillery had set up outside.  Two Wild Turkey American Honey lemonades, please! 

It was a delicious combination of sweet, sour and boozy and a splendid refresher for soaking up some Kentucky sun. 

Plus, the view of the highway and railroad bridges over the Kentucky River from the back of the visitor’s center was something you couldn’t get tired of easily (especially with the right drink in hand).  

We did venture back inside eventually, as we had purchased tickets for a tasting and wanted to be armed with enough knowledge to make informed purchasing decisions before we left.  The featured pours were the same ones they were selling individually at the tasting room bar. 

But the sampler of five pours, along with an expert guide describing the story behind each bourbon, ensured the tasting package was a bargain.  There wasn’t a mediocre selection in the bunch, and both Punky and I left the tasting with a newfound respect for the Longbranch and Russell’s Reserve labels.

In fact, Punky didn’t leave without purchasing a bottle of Russell’s Reserve single barrel bourbon.  And as fate would have it, Wild Turkey’s master distiller for 60 years, Jimmy Russell himself (they don’t call him the “Buddha of Bourbon” for nothing), was greeting visitors at the distillery while we were there and signed her bottle.  Russell’s Reserve was named for him after all, so it seemed perfectly fitting.  It was an awesome way to end our experience at Wild Turkey, and Mr. Russell could not have been more friendly and approachable to his guests.    

It turned out that the Wild Turkey distillery was our last “official” stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and maybe in that regard we saved the best memories for last.  But we hit one more famous distillery later that afternoon in Frankfort which is no longer part of the “traditional” trail.  Next blog post:  Buffalo Trace.  

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