Wild Turkey broke ground yesterday on a $4 million visitors center that will sit just behind its new distillery building on Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceburg, Ky. (That’s an artist rendering above.)
The 8,500-square-foot visitors center will replace the current 1,000-square-foot gift shop and tasting area and will also include interactive displays and a large seminar room where you might be fortunate enough to hear charming master distiller Jimmy Russell talk about bourbon production. “While I wasn’t all that fond of going to school in my youth,” he said in a news release, “I look forward to opening the doors to what will essentially serve as the ‘University of Bourbon’ when we christen our new visitor center in the spring of next year… with a bottle of Wild Turkey, of course.”
(Side note: My husband is from Lawrenceburg; his father went to Anderson County High School with Jimmy Russell, and let’s just say that quote squares with the stories I’ve heard.)
The Wild Turkey Visitors Center is the latest in $100 million in improvements that Campari Gruppo has made since it acquired Wild Turkey in 2009.
Like Jim Beam, which will unveil a multimillion-dollar Visitors Center in October, Wild Turkey is capitalizing on the great increase in public interest both in bourbon and in bourbon tourism. Last year was a record year for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, where both distilleries are stops, and a new record seems likely this year. Wild Turkey expects to welcome 70,000 visitors a year to its new visitors center.
I think it’s wonderful that Jim Beam and Wild Turkey will finally have upgraded visitors centers - but I also hope they won’t lose their homespun, personal touch. Bourbon production is still very much a hands-on process, and the personalities of the people in the industry, from Jimmy Russell and Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe to the folks who lead the tours and work the gift shops, are a big part of the appeal. It’s an issue that all Kentucky distillers are dealing with as more and more people travel to our fair state to explore the history and heritage of bourbon.
(Below: Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, master distiller Jimmy Russell and Campari CEO Gerry Ruvo at the groundbreaking. Both images courtesy of Campari Gruppo)