Breaking News (May 9, 2000)...

A seven-story Wild Turkey warehouse went up in flames today, burning to the ground in just under three minutes, spilling thousands of gallons of flaming Wild Turkey into the Kentucky River, and setting the nearby woods on fire. A water treatment plant downstream had to be shut down for fear that the water supply of Lawrenceburg would be contaminated by bourbon.

This is a true story. I find this hilarious (especially since no one was hurt). Imagine if they hadn't shut down the plant...

     Honey, I feel positively shitfaced!

     But all you've had to drink is water!

     Yeah, I know... wanna get me another glass?

The reputation of the wild turkey may have hit a high water mark when Benjamin Franklin proposed that it, not the Bald Eagle, be the National Bird of the United States of America. Despite a reputation for stupidity -- the story about turkeys turning their noses towards the sky when it is raining long enough for their nostrils to fill up with water is true, but this behavior is genetic, not an indication of intelligence -- turkeys are among the smartest game birds in North America, and were described by the author G. T. Klein as "wild and wary to the point of genius."

The wild turkey was threatened with extinction in the early half of the 1900's. In the 1930's it was estimated that only about 30,000 of these majestic birds remained in the wild. Today the population is numbered at at 6.4 million, making the wild turkey one of the greatest successes in the history of wildlife management.

The Life of the Wild Turkey
Like all birds, wild turkeys lay eggs. A female turkey lays her clutch of eggs one at a time, one egg per day, up to a rule-of-thumb maximum of 12 eggs. The eggs require roughly 28 days of incubation and upon hatching, the poults will leave the nest within 24 hours to begin feeding on berries, seeds, and small insects. Turkeys reach sexual maturity at roughly one year of age.

Male turkeys are known as gobblers or toms; yearling males are commonly called jakes. The males are generally larger than the females, and are distinguished by their heads, which have a great deal of loose, hanging, red-colored flesh, and by the long "beard" of modified, filament-like feathers that hang from their chests. People observing wild turkeys, especially hunters, should be aware that up to 20% of hens may also have beards. Hens tend to have a much duller, earthy coloration than jakes and gobblers, and while hens will make clucking and yelping noises (think standard chicken noises, only a bit deeper), hens will never make the gobbling noises associated with jakes and toms.

Turkeys have very powerful legs which are covered in scales; they are extremely fast runners. Both males and females are born with a small nub on the back of each leg. This nub will grow into a long, pointed spur on the males, sometimes reaching as much as 2 inches in length. Males will fight each other with their spurs, sometimes quite visciously, usually over the rights to a female/group of females. Females may also grow spurs, though as with beards this is uncommon. It is widely believed that turkeys are incapable of flight; while turkeys typically run rather than fly away from danger, and do not like to fly long distances in any case, they are quite capable of both:

Maximum Ground Speed: 25 mph*
Maximum Flight Speed: 55 mph*

I can tell you from person experience that wild turkeys can not only fly, they sound like Huey helicopters when they do.

There are two species of wild turkey, the North American wild turkey, of which there are five distinct subspecies, and the Ocellated turkey, native to Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Depending on species and subspecies, turkeys can grow to be up to 4 feet tall and weight as much as 25 pounds.

Turkeys prefer to eat, mate, and spend most of their days in relatively open areas. They use heavily forested areas for protection from predators and for roosting at night. Hens will also nest on the ground in secluded, woody areas as far from people and other predators as possible. This need for a specialized habitat, with both open and wooded areas, almost resulted in the demise of the species. The destruction of turkey habitat threatened the wild turkey with extinction until 1937, when the Pittman-Robertson Act, an excise tax on sporting arms and ammuntion, provided funds for habitat preservation and restoration. The wild turkey can now be found throughout North America.

The National Wild Turkey Federation
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Personal Experience

* In both respects the wild turkey is, to the best of my knowledge, the fastest upland game bird in North America.


With its corporate history dating back to 1855, the founding of the Wild Turkey brand in 1952 by Austin Nichols can now be looked back on as a moment that affected the development of bourbon's popularity both in its homeland and overseas.

The brand was founded by Thomas McCarthy (who at the time was the president of Austin Nichols) after some friends where impressed after McCarthy had brought some private stock on a wild turkey hunt. When his friends requested more of the spirit calling it the "wild turkey" bourbon, Austin Nichols launched the brand in 1952, while honoring McCarthy's friend's nickname for the product.

Two years after the brand's founding, Jimmy Russel became the distillery's master blender and would soon play a part in the brand's success, a role that he fills to this day.

Wild Turkey becomes a local success story, becoming popular with locals and distribution growing within the state rapidly. However, it wasn't until 1964 that the United States government would officially introduce standards in bourbon production, specifying aging requirements and distilling techniques.

Jimmy Russel is instrumental in the introduction of Wild Turkey 80 Proof in 1974, giving consumers the ability to sample the brand's bourbon in an uncomplicated and relaxed manner which is unsuitable for barrel proof spirits.

Expanding the brands range and appeal to its consumers, the company releases Wild Turkey Liqueur with Honey in 1976, becoming one of few bourbon based liqueurs in production. This brand diversification alone with the 80 proof release drives demand for the brand to growing heights, soon becoming known throughout the country for its high quality but low cost products.

By 1980, the continuing success of the business had attracted the attention of the international beverage business Pernod Ricard and Austin Nichols (and therefore Wild Turkey) was acquired late in the year. This purchase assisted Wild Turkey greatly by opening distribution of the product to overseas markets.

The brand extended its product line again in 1991, introducing Wild Turkey Rare Breed, a bourbon designed to rival the some of the finest scotch whisky. This ultra-premium bourbon is barrel proof and distilled at the business's exclusive distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

Wild Turkey's commitment to high quality products continued with the release of Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit which is a single barrel bourbon which is only available in the United States.

To celebrate Russell's 50th anniversary as master distillery for the company, Wild Turkey commissioned the creation of a very limited 15 year old bourbon in 2004. Interestingly, the products purpose was kept a surprise from Russell himself who was told that it was to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Austin Nichols, Wild Turkey's parent company. Only 5500 of this special bourbon was released.

Today, the Wild Turkey distillery is a complicated combination of old and new, and it is this character which has made the brand one of the leading bourbons on the US market.

Awards & Recognition

Wild Turkey has been honored multiple times throughout its history. Early in its life it became part of the historic American Whiskey Trail, which specifies the influential distilleries and companies in the industry.

The brand has also found success in spirit competitions achieving a gold and silver medal in the 2000 International Wine and Spirit Competition and achieving a gold and 2 silver medals the following year.

Current Products

  • Wild Turkey 80 Proof
  • Wild Turkey 101 Proof - 8 year
  • Wild Turkey 101 Proof - 12 year
  • Wild Turkey Rare Breed
  • Wild Turkey Russell's Reserve
  • Wild Turkey Freedom
  • Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit
  • Wild Turkey Rye
  • Wild Turkey Liqueur
  • Wild Turkey & Cola
  • Wild Turkey & Dry


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