The distillery was founded in 1869 on Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceberg, Kentucky by the Ripy brothers. A year later, the distribution of bourbon was greatly improved after it was packaged in jugs, as opposed to shipping entire barrels. Whiskey made by the Ripy brothers was popular and received great acclaim; in 1893 the Ripy brothers’s bourbon was chosen to represent Kentucky at the World’s Fair. The distillery closed in 1919 with the advent of US Prohibition and it was not until 1933, after the act was abolished, that the Ripy distillery was renovated and put back into operation. It was in 1940 that Thomas McCarthy, a distillery executive, brought some of his whiskey with him on a wild turkey hunt and shared it amongst his friends. They enjoyed it so much that they requested he bring some more ‘Wild Turkey’ bourbon on the next hunt. The name stuck.
In 1971, the Ripy brothers were bought out by Austin Nichols Distilling Company who were subsequently acquired by the giant, Pernod Ricard in 1980. This opened up a massive infrastructure with a superb distribution network and sales improved drastically. On 9th May 2000, one of the warehouses was destroyed by a fire and thousands of litres of maturing whiskey were spent down the nearby Kentucky River, killing thousands upon thousands of fish. Accordingly, Wild Turkey paid the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife $256,000 in an effort to restore good faith in the brand. The distillery is unusual in that its standard bottling is at 101 proof, considerably higher than the 80 proof norm. Wild Turkey also enjoys a host of droll nicknames including ‘The Dirty Bird’, ‘The Kickin’ Chicken’ and the ridiculous ‘Thunder Chicken’. The current owners are the Campari Group who purchased the brand in 2009.