Wild Turkey’s roots trace to 1855, when Austin Nichols & Co., a wholesale grocer, set up shop in Lawrenceburg, Ky. That company eventually took over what would become Wild Turkey Bourbon, now one of the top-selling whiskey brands in the country.
With American roots and international appeal, Wild Turkey bourbon and rye manages to be approachable and affordable, while also having high-profile allure. (You may have heard of Wild Turkey’s creative director, Matthew McConaughey.)
Below are 10 more things you should know about Wild Turkey.
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Wild Turkey was named after a hunting expedition.
According to company lore, Wild Turkey got its name after a hunting expedition. A distillery executive named Thomas McCarthy brought some whiskey samples from then-owner Austin Nichols & Co. on a wild turkey hunt. His companions “liked it so much that the next year they asked him to bring some of that ‘Wild Turkey’ bourbon and the nickname became a famous brand,” The Guardian reports.
The product lineup today includes Wild Turkey Bourbon, Wild Turkey Bourbon 101, Wild Turkey Rye, Wild Turkey Rye 101, and several reserve bottles.
Wild Turkey has a lot of nicknames, too.
Since getting its official name in 1940, Wild Turkey has earned several nicknames. These include “The Dirty Bird,” “The Screaming Eagle,” and “The Kickin’ Chicken.” The whiskey is also a pop culture icon, counting references in films, songs, and even the 1990s vampire classic television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Wild Turkey has two master distillers.
At the helm of Wild Turkey Distillery are father-and-son duo Jimmy and Eddie Russell. Jimmy Russell is the world’s longest-tenured master distiller, having worked at the distillery since 1954. His son Eddie Russell earned the master distiller title in 2015, after working up the ranks for 35 years. Both Russells are members of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.
It was French for 29 years, and now it’s part Italian.
In 1980, Wild Turkey’s original owner Austin Nichols & Co. sold to French spirits conglomerate Pernod Ricard for a reported $100 million. In 2009, the distillery changed hands again, when Italy’s Gruppo Campari purchased the distillery for a cool $575 million.
Campari, which still owns Wild Turkey today, is credited with bringing the whiskey brand back to life. Wild Turkey Bourbon is now the group’s third-largest brand, after its own Campari aperitif and subsidiary Skyy vodka.
Wild Turkey Bourbon and Skyy vodka are bottle buddies.
Skyy vodka is packaged and shipped from the Wild Turkey bottling plant in Lawrenceburg, Ky. It’s transported there from the vodka’s Illinois production facility. Whiskey and vodka don’t mix, of course, so the packaging is entirely separate. A Wild Turkey bourbon in Skyy’s signature blue bottle would be one strange bird.
Wild Turkey’s bond with Matthew McConaughey is strong.
In 2016, Wild Turkey hired actor Matthew McConaughey as its creative director. The whiskey brand reportedly approached McConaughey to be a spokesperson to help attract more women and international audiences. However, the actor had bigger ideas. “[I]t became obvious that hey, you know what? I should be more than just the face,” he told “The Tonight Show” in 2018.
He wasn’t bluffing: In 2018, McConaughey launched Longbranch Bourbon in partnership with Wild Turkey. His whiskey ranks among VinePair’s best celebrity spirits in 2019.
Of course, he is still “the face.” In October 2019, McConaughey and Complex Media launched two digital series, “Talk Turkey” and “The Spirit of Conviction,” on their social media and YouTube channels.
Additionally, in November 2019, McConaughey launched a whiskey-themed cabin rental in Australia that can be booked for about $150 a night. He says he chose the location because he loves nature, but we know the truth: Australia is Wild Turkey’s second-biggest market.
Whiskey lovers and experts agree it’s the best.
At an average price of $22 a bottle, VinePair ranked Wild Turkey 101 among the best bourbons under $25 in 2019. Its Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17-Year-Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon ranks among the world’s best bourbons, racking up a score of 90 and an average price of $179, according to Wine-Searcher.
Michael Jackson called it ‘the Clint Eastwood of whiskies.’
In a 2006 Whiskey Magazine review, famed beer and spirits writer Michael Jackson wrote of Wild Turkey 101: “A huge whiskey. Put together with style and sophistication, but still with all the robustness of a true bourbon. A classic, of course. A Clint Eastwood of whiskeys.” The late Jackson, who is credited with the creation of modern-day whiskey and beer writing, also called the whiskey “raisiny,” “rummy,” “powerful,” and “soothing.”
Wild Turkey is a Thanksgiving favorite.
When asked what bourbon they bring to the Thanksgiving table, bartenders named Wild Turkey a top pick. Casey Faden, bartender at Sabroso+Sorbo in Philadelphia, told Uproxx: “Wild Turkey is a Thanksgiving staple. Bourbon in general pairs really well with turkey.”
Bourbon bar owner Kristian Niemi of Columbia, S.C., picked Wild Turkey 101 Rye. “Since it’s corn-heavy rye, it retains [those] toasty, spicy notes of rye, but with the rich, caramel-pecan sweetness of the corn,” she says. “This makes it especially good for drinking on a big cube, in a mixed cocktail, or in the Tom & Jerry batter. It’s also perfect to pair with friends and family with different political views.”
It once offered a full-time job to a turkey.
In November 2012, in preparation for the annual pre-Thanksgiving presidential pardoning of a turkey (and also on the tail of a $50 million distillery expansion, courtesy Campari), Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell reportedly wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama requesting the spared turkey be sent to join the Wild Turkey staff as its “spokesbird.”
“In our humble opinion, there is no better place for this year’s Presidentially-pardoned bird to live out its golden years than the Wild Turkey Distillery grounds in central Kentucky,” Russell said in a statement. “There really is no bird more undeniably American than the turkey.”