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It's wild, but it's no turkey

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Distillery's visitor center is a dazzling experience

By Chris Hamilton

Fred Cubberly grinned from ear to ear as he sampled Wild Turkey’s Kentucky Spirit in the distillery’s tasting room Friday. His bliss wasn’t born entirely from the bourbon. He’d only had an ounce or two. It was born out of the pleasure of simply being at Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg.

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“I’ve always wanted to come to this distillery,” Cubberly said. “I get to meet so many master distillers but that Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey’s master distiller for nearly 60 years) is the best. Bourbon Country is a fantastic place with fantastic people.”

Cubberly, who lives near Dayton, Ohio, would know. His fascination with “brown liquor” has led him all over the world. He’s visited nearly 100 distilleries in the U.S., Canada and Scotland.

But last week, his fascination brought him back to the hallowed ground of Kentucky, where about 95 percent of all bourbon whiskey is produced. It was a busy day for Wild Turkey. The flow of traffic to the visitor center was steady with people from all over the world, including a stop by U.S. Congressman Andy Barr with a busload of legislators touring a bit of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The traffic should grow significantly this year. Yesterday, Wild Turkey officially launched its new visitor center, a visual and experiential treat for tourists, bourbon aficionados and just about anybody interested in learning about the spirit that’s distinctive to this nation.

“I am very excited about the investment in tourism at the Wild Turkey visitor center,” said Lawrenceburg Mayor Edwinna Baker. “Wild Turkey's continued investments in the facilities here at Wild Turkey Hill are not just in facilities but in the people of this area, the dedicated workers at this facility and all of our great community. Tourism on the Bourbon Trail is a great asset for economic development in our community.”

Visitor traffic to the distillery is expected to reach 80,000 people in 2014. They won’t be disappointed. The new visitor center is more than 9,000 square feet and its design was inspired by tobacco barns and bourbon barrel warehouses. It features an history exhibit, a loaded gift shop, multi-purpose event space, viewing patio, a refurbished copper beer still and the Angel’s Share Tasting Room.

The most notable feature could be the view. Sitting 275 feet above the Kentucky River, the center overlooks the Kentucky River Valley and the historic Youngs High Bridge.

"This will absolutely have a huge impact," said Lawrenceburg-Anderson County Economic Development Authority Executive Director George Leamon. "Wild Turkey and (owner) Campari are great corporate citizens. They have made a huge investment in our community. It's not just in the visitor center but in the bottling operation and new distillery. Their commitment to Anderson County has been unbelievable."

Since the center’s soft launch in November 2013, it has already drawn an increasing number of guests. Friday, there were visitors from as far away as Brazil. Specialty tours are given for $5 and $10 with $1 of each admission going to Wild Turkey’s national charity partner, The Boot Campaign, a program designed to show appreciation for U.S. troops, raise awareness of challenges they face when they return home and support for the transition.

"This is great for Anderson County," said Anderson County Judge-Executive John Wayne Conway. "What Campari has done with the bottling line and this state-of-the-art visitor center is incredible. We expect to see 70,000 to 80,000 people visiting Lawrenceburg and Anderson County. It's great for Lawrenceburg and Lawrenceburg businesses."