Anyone with a nose for bourbon knows the name Wild Turkey. Did you know, though, that it got its name from where it was first made? That's right. Just as Jack Daniels is named after a real person, Wild Turkey is named after a real place. The story goes beyond Lawrenceburg, Kentucky's Wild Turkey Hill, though. It actually is a long and fairly winding tale, and it dates back to mid-1800s. Alas, we're here to tell you the wild history behind Wild Turkey Bourbon.
The Civil War was undeniably a trying time for Americans on both sides of the battlefield. Two men, the brothers Ripy, trudged home from the war to their home state of Kentucky. In 1869, just a few short years after the war officially ended, the Ripy brothers had opened a distillery and their determined Kentucky spirit would live on through bourbon whiskey. Because what's more American than that?
The distillery started in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The location was Wild Turkey Hill, and it was the breeding grounds of incredibly great bourbon. For about 50 years, the Ripy brothers' distillery flourished in the United States making straight bourbon whiskey, bottling up their old fashioned product and selling to wholesalers instead of branding it themselves.
There was a World's Fair in Chicago by the time 1893 rolled around. The Ripy family behind the distillery on Wild Turkey Hill represented the entire state of Kentucky at the fair, and that's nothing to ignore. That state has some heavy-hitters since it is, after all, home to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the American Whiskey Trail.
Fast-forward to 1920. Prohibition hits America, and it doesn't leave for just about another 13 years. The whiskey distillery hadn't gotten its name yet, and the Ripy brothers unfortunately had to put an end to their business until Prohibition ended.
It did end eventually, though and that Wild Turkey Kentucky spirit prevailed. A man named Thomas McCarthy took some of the brothers' whiskey on a (you guessed it) turkey hunting trip. One year later, McCarthy's friends asked him to share more of the Wild Turkey whiskey. Alas, the brand was born. The name was solidified in 1940.
Ernest W. Ripy was the son of the original distillers. He and Bill Hughes, Wild Turkey's second master distiller, taught their craft to a man named Jimmy Russell, and it was one of the best decisions they could have made for the history of Kentucky straight bourbon.
Russell joined the Wild Turkey team in 1954, and he's still around today. A 60-plus-year whiskey veteran, Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell is the longest-tenured active Master Distiller in the world. He and his son Eddie Russell now run the show.
In 1991, Wild Turkey introduced the Rare Breed, one of the first barrel proof bourbons to go to market and it sparked a trend that we've seen in the whiskey world ever since.
The brand has followed America through its ups and downs, including the extension of the legal drinking age. In 2015, Eddie also earned the title Master Distiller. He and his father, Jimmy, are the only father-son Master Distiller pair in the world.
Now, in 2017, the brand is releasing the Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It is officially the first whiskey released since Eddie Russell joined his dear ol' dad as a Master Distiller. The whiskey was distilled in 1997 when Eddie decided to store the extra barrels in a stone warehouse over 200 miles away from Wild Turkey Hill. You can purchase it through Caskers here.
You can seemingly taste the history when you drink Wild Turkey and, after learning its history, it's no surprise. From the Civil War to a turkey hunting trip that started its major success, Wild Turkey is an American brand, through and through.