10 Things You (Probably) Didn't Know About Bourbon


"95 per cent of all the world's bourbon is made in Kentucky - the other five is counterfeit," quips Steve Beshear at the grand opening of Wild Turkey's state-of-the-art visitor centre, perched high in the rolling hillsides of Lawrenceburg.

But then he would say that - he's the governor of Kentucky, a state crammed with the finest makers of bourbon in the US, and where, well-delivered zingers aside, it does indeed bless the world with 95 per cent of the good stuff.

This was far from the only surprising thing we learnt on our trip into bourbon country. After all, we were given a tour by Wild Turkey’s legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, a living legend who's been producing the excellent drink for 60 years now, and his son Eddie, the Associate Master Distiller who’s been on site for 30 of those years.

So it's fair to say the pair knew a bit. Here are some beguiling facts you may not know about the tasty liquor…



By law, straight bourbon must be aged in barrels for at least two years. Bourbon need only be placed in a new oak container for a few seconds to be called bourbon.



There are more barrels of bourbon (4.7m) in Kentucky than people (4.3m).



Many distilleries in Kentucky were used to produce penicillin during the Second World War, as penicillin is also a product of fermentation.



This came not long after the prohibition era, where most distilleries had been indefinitely closed down. Some, however, were allowed to stay open and make whisky for medicinal purposes.



Bourbon may be Kentucky's chief export but a close second is the disco ball, believe it or not. In fact, 90 per cent of the country's glittery globes are made here. Coincidence? We think not.



Be on your guard when discussing the origins of the name ‘bourbon’ around Kentucky, as some theories are keenly quarreled over. One of the most common guesses is that of the drink’s geographic association with Bourbon County, a small region established as part of Virginia in the late 18th century.



While many American whiskies advertise themselves as Sour mash – a type of distillation - all bourbons are technically sour mash. The reason Jack Daniels isn't is because it goes through a charcoal drip before hitting the barrel.



Most major bourbon companies will have official ‘blind’ tasters who will regularly check the product. There are five at Wild Turkey HQ. As perks of the job go, it's as good as being given permission to ride this handsome motorcycle.



Bourbon is the only product in the world which you cannot legally add colour or additives to. Only water, wheat, corn, rye, malt and the colourisation of the barrel are allowed to influence the consistency of the golden beverage.



US law states bourbon barrels can only be used once, which is why many are later shipped to whisky distilleries across the world. That next glass of Scotch might be closer to the US of A than you know...


To commemorate Jimmy Russell's 60 years with Wild Turkey, Eddie Russell has hand selected some barrels and created a new special edition Diamond Anniversary Bourbon, available at the new visitor centre. In the meantime, seek a bottle of Wild Turkey 81 and 101 out at stores and bars in the UK;