By Robbie Clark
When executives at the Wild Turkey distillery were initially discussing their visions for a new, much-needed visitors center at their Lawrenceburg, Ky., campus, they weren’t sure what they wanted, aside from a world-class facility that could accommodate the growing number of visitors, but they knew what they didn’t want.
They didn’t want hokey attractions or overblown features. They didn’t want the experience to be in your face. They didn’t want, as master distiller Jimmy Russell eloquently put it, “Disney World.”
“I remember the first day we sat down,” said Eddie Russell, Jimmy’s son and associate distiller at Wild Turkey, “Jimmy was really big on not wanting ‘Disney World,’ because he’s such a traditionalist.”
Jimmy is celebrating 60 years at the distillery this year, so it is forgivable, and even understandable, if the seasoned veteran of the Bourbon industry didn’t want anything installed that could be considered as annoying as the Magic Kingdom’s It’s a Small World boat ride, since Jimmy has a reputation of dropping by the visitor center to greet guests before they begin a tour.
Wild Turkey approached a handful of architects for potential designs and finally selected Louisville firm De Leon & Primmer’s plan – a tasteful and timeless 9,146-square-foot, two-tier center on a bluff overlooking Young’s High Bridge as it spans the Kentucky River 280 feet in the air. The building’s interior and exterior appearance, designed in a way to resemble a tobacco barn, fits seamlessly into its rustic setting … with just a few modern bells and whistles thrown in that Jimmy doesn’t seem to mind, like a pair of interactive iPad stations where visitors can take a virtual tour of the distillery – a nod to the younger generation of Bourbon fans.
“For me, you’ve got to be a little modern to get the consumer that we have now. Our consumer has changed so much, it used to be people my age and older men. Now it’s 21- to 35-year-old male and females, so they’re coming in and they are used to iPads,” Eddie said.
The iPad stations on are in the first floor tasting area, adjacent to an outdoor patio area. A long corridor featuring a timeline history of Bourbon and Wild Turkey leads guests down to the area, which also boasts the distillery’s old Vendome still, which was replaced when considerable upgrades were made to the distillery’s production capabilities. The equipment change was so recent, all the varieties of Wild Turkey Bourbons on the shelves of the tasting room came from the still on display.
“We’ve got the old still here, and you get to see what it looks like inside,” Jimmy said. “When you took the tours, you couldn’t see what it looked like inside because it was in operation. What you’re drinking now came out of there.”
The still rises between the levels to the second floor, an area Eddie calls the “coup de force” for the visitors’ experience, offering sweeping vistas of the river. Perched at one of the tables looking out the windows, Jimmy gave a succinct assessment of his favorite amenity for the new visitors center.
“Well, you can see,” he said.
Wild Turkey’s New Visitor Center