Always on the hunt for good bourbon, we spent part of our recent vacation at the Austin Nichols Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., where they make Wild Turkey.
We expected a distillery tour, and we enjoyed that a lot. It’s a very different distillery from nearby Woodford Reserve, which we toured a couple of years ago. Woodford’s place is smaller, produces less borbon and is much more scenic. But the Wild Turkey distillery still was a cool visit. They crank out a lot more bourbon, but they still make it taste pretty damned good. We saw where grain is delivered, how it is conveyed to the cookers, how it settles in the fermenters, where it is barreled and where it is aged in huge old rickhouses. We learned the ins and outs of leaky barrels and whiskey blending, and enjoyed the angel’s share — bourbon that seeps through the charred-oak barrel and dissipates into the air, creating a wondrous aroma.
Alas, the Wild Turkey people did not offer tastes the way other distilleries do, but it seems something is in the works along those lines as they are building a new facility.
The highlight of our visit came before the tour, though, when we met master distiller Jimmy Russell in the gift shop. He is essentially the bourbon ambassador to the world. He was very friendly, and we got to talk a few moments with him. He mentioned that the tour of the Four Roses Distillery, featuring Spanish-style buildings, was very popular. I replied. “I heard that, but I also hear you make much better bourbon.”
With his diplomat hat on, Russell answered: “We all make good bourbon … but some of us make it a little better.”
He even signed a bottle of Russell’s Reserve for us, which was pretty cool. We met him again at the distillery gate, which he opened for us.
The Wild Turkey folks make bourbon and rye. The bourbon all is made from one recipe; the varieties are the result of blending bourbons of different ages. We had tried Russell’s Reserve previously and liked it, but it had been years since I tasted Wild Turkey’s signature bourbon and neither Gere nor I had ever tried rye of any kind.
We picked up a bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed, which is a barrel-proof whiskey. That means there is no addition of water to lower the alcohol content. Gere and I dipped into this 108.2-proof bourbon, which would be like drinking napalm if it didn’t taste so doggone good, and we wished we’d bought a bigger bottle.
Rare Breed is bolder in taste than Knob Creek, yet smoother. It has a good lingering finish; not as lingering as Blanton’s, but it lingers.
We also bought a bottle of Wild Turkey Rye, at 101 proof. The ingredients and techniques used in rye are pretty much the same as those used in bourbon, but using less corn and more rye results in a very different taste. We both liked this stuff a lot, too, although it will never replace bourbon in my heart.