fternoon sunlight filters through the dusty windows of a 125-year-old bourbon warehouse as Wild Turkey master distiller Eddie Russell explains the process of making Kentucky’s most famous export.
As Russell talks about the nuances of his art, the intoxicating scent of aging bourbon fills the air in the warehouse, which sits serenely on Wild Turkey Hill overlooking the Kentucky River and houses more than 14,000 bourbon barrels.
“You’re smelling the angel’s share. You’re smelling some of that oak, some of the whiskey that’s coming out of that oak, some of the water,” he said. It’s called the angel’s share not because it’s heavenly, but because it evaporates into the atmosphere before ever touching human lips.
Making bourbon, even on the scale that Wild Turkey does with close to 100,000 barrels of bourbon a year, is something that takes time and is steeped in tradition. Some parts of the process have remained unchanged for decades, such as for Wild Turkey, the water from the nearby river that’s naturally filtered through limestone rocks to create a softer, sweeter taste. However, high-tech change has arrived in Kentucky’s bourbon industry.
“For the distillery, everything’s very modern, very computerized. But we’re still using the same old recipe, the same old yeast. This part of it hasn’t changed since the beginning. You just put it in here [the warehouse], and let nature do its thing. You need the hot weather to push the whiskey into the wood, the cold weather to pull it out of the wood. So you pick up 100% of your color and a lot of your flavor from the barrel,” Russell said.