Autumn typically conjures images of revered locations like Acadia National Park in Maine, Lake Superior in Michigan, or the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway in Oregon. But a scenic drive through the vibrant colors of central Kentucky might persuade even the most dedicated leaf peepers that Anderson County is a worthy addition to any curated autumn listicle. It’s the type of place ideal for setting an 80-minute Hallmark movie involving pumpkins, hay and spiced cider.
Situated just 20 miles from Lexington, Lawrenceburg, the county seat, boasts a history enriched by former Major League Baseball players and renowned submarine designers. However, in contemporary narratives, none stand out more than the Russell family, whom a group of writers had the privilege of meeting at the Wild Turkey distillery last month, to celebrate the release of a bourbon in the making for quite some time.
Recounting the mythos and legend of patriarch and Master Distiller Emeritus Jimmy Russell is a simple, straightforward task. He has devoted more years to the Wild Turkey Distillery than my father has been alive and has achieved as many Super Bowl victories as the Detroit Lions during that extended period. True to legend, time does not seem to be extinguishing his spirit. He still arrives at the distillery nearly every day, greeting customers at the gift shop, posing for photos, making people laugh with anecdotes, dropping into distillery tours without notice, and most importantly making sure his son/Master Distiller Eddie and grandson/Associate Blender Bruce are running operations up to the exacting standards he established as gospel nearly seven decades into his tenure. Make no mistake: for all of the new variations coming to market via Russell’s Reserve, Master’s Keep, Ryes and other limited releases, Jimmy’s opinions still form the backbone of the Wild Turkey empire, a statement with which all three men would agree.
Which is what makes the genesis of Generations so interesting. The trio started with Jimmy’s selection of nine-year-old whiskey as a starting point of conversation, delivering some of the hallmark characteristics that have defined Wild Turkey over the decades and helped to establish such diehard loyalists. From there, Eddie selected a 15-year-old bourbon and Bruce opted for a 12-year-old bourbon to deliver some heft. Lastly, the trio added a 14-year-old bourbon that was unanimously agreed upon as the best of the bunch. It was advised by Bruce to check expectations and perceptions at the rickhouse door, which is exactly what we did as he poured us all a very generous serving of Generations after much anticipation and tour of distillery operations.
The nose immediately pops with notes of orange peel, crème brûlée, and black pepper, with the slightest touch of cherry and menthol following suit. With a bit more time and a few swirls around the glass, the characteristic bourbon notes of vanilla, toffee, and caramel make an appearance. The pepper and orange peel remain at the forefront on the palate, complemented by notes of clove, ginger and eventually a faint touch of mint. The finish is long and constantly evolving from baking spice elements of ginger, graham cracker, toffee, and clove to a lovely, earthier blend of tobacco leaf and barrel char by the end.
There are anomalies in the Wild Turkey world that pop up occasionally, and not just Forgiven. Much like amateur fishermen regaling one another with tales, there are many anecdotes about single-barrel Russell’s Reserve store picks that have people shelling out top dollar, even prices higher than the asking price for Generations, for a bottle of these rarities. The customary big and bruising Wild Turkey pepper, black cherry and butterscotch notes are still here, but muted. But it doesn’t make for any less of an enthralling, highly satisfying experience.
Doubtless, there will be consternation and grumblings on price from the domains of social media, professional tasters and people in dive bars perched on barstools, perfectly content with their customary pour of 101. And admittedly, it is steep. However, as of this writing, there will quite likely never be another Wild Turkey offering in the portfolio like Generations, one with all three family members of the Russell family having their signature affixed to the bottle. Integration on this level takes work to get the balance right, with endless toiling on blend percentages to arrive at a consensus satisfying three men with varying, firmly entrenched opinions. Generations is a labor of love born from decades of trial and error, of expertise and study. It is one undoubtedly created over long, improperly punctuated text threads, breakfast discussions at the local Huddle House, and sessions in a quiet tasting room just outside the fermentation tanks. The result is a Kentucky whiskey meticulously shaped by the perspectives of three individuals, each with diverging opinions on the ideal taste, coming together to deliver something unique and exceptional. However, they all share a profound and unshakeable affection for the Kentucky spirit, and much more importantly, for one another.
120.8 proof. Edition of 5,000 bottles.
A / $450 / wildturkeybourbon.com