I take for granted sometimes, living where I do. The good thing about traveling often is coming home and appreciating my home anew. But sometimes there's just a day so beautiful, so full of only-in-Kentucky moments, that I close my eyes that night brimming with joy that I live in this place.
Yesterday was one of those days. On a perfect spring day, Wild Turkey hosted a group that included my husband and me for an afternoon touring the distillery, tasting some very special bourbons, and just hanging out with the co-master distillers, father and son Jimmy and Eddie Russell.
Anytime you can learn about bourbon directly from a master distiller is a treat, but these two are extra special. Jimmy is the bourbon grandpa everyone wants, and he and Eddie play off each other like the seasoned showmen they've become since bourbon's boom. To sit and chat with either of them, to pick Jimmy's brain about his long and legendary career, well, that's just about as awesome as it gets. Jimmy learned distilling not from books, but from trial and error, and from a mentor who'd been distilling before Prohibition. To have a chance to talk about his experience is to be treasured.
I snapped photos left and right to try to capture some of the magic of the day. They will never do justice to the pride I felt at being a Kentuckian, or reveal the breadth of the marvel and mystery that bourbon-making is, but maybe they'll show you enough to spark your own trip. The Kentucky Bourbon Affair is coming up next month, and they offer a Wild Turkey experience that just may be as enchanting. Cheers1
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Bourbon and bluegrass
This is pretty much a 'pinch me' moment. Bluegrass floats on the breeze as the sun starts to make its way down over the Kentucky River. The bourbon aroma wafts from the warehouse as ice clinks in glasses. Everyone is ravenous after a day of touring and tasting, but reluctant to sit at the flower-strewn table for dinner and relinquish *this* moment. (I didn't regret it though when Jimmy Russell sat down next to me to regale us with tales from his six decades distilling.)
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Tasting from the barrel
Bourbon tastes best when you drink it in the warehouse, the Russell father and son say. I'd have to agree. Standing in the cool and airy warehouse perfumed in aging whiskey, lounging in a pool of light filtering in through the windows as you sip barrel proof bourbon is about as magical as it gets.
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The whiskey thief
Eddie Russell drew whiskey from his 'sugar barrels' in Warehouse A. These are some of his favorites. With every Wild Turkey bourbon made with the same mash bill, aging and warehouse location make all the difference in their lineup. He wouldn't tell me the precise locations of these barrels, but between the 3rd and 5th floor is about the sweet spot, he says.
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Ever want to know what hot feels like, step into a still room with the windows closed on an 86 degree Kentucky day. Eddie worked in the still room back he first went to work at Wild Turkey 34 years ago. Employees wouldn't have respected him if he'd started right at the top, Jimmy explained. I have to respect anyone who can work in that kind of heat!
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WIld Turkey tasting
We were privileged to be some of the first to taste some very special new bourbons coming Wild Turkey. Masters Keep followed a circuitous route to our glasses, going into the barrel in 1997, being stored in an old Old Crow brick warehouse when they ran out of room on these grounds, moving on to another warehouse and ending up back home at Wild Turkey. These stories are as much fun as the actual tasting.
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Jimmy and Eddie may be rock stars of the bourbon world, but are endlessly patient with exuberant whiskey lovers who want photos with them.