Destinations

Go Behind the Barrel with Wild Turkey This Fall

Discover how never changing a thing changed everything.
Go behind the barrel with Jimmy and Eddie Russell.
Go behind the barrel with Jimmy and Eddie Russell.

Since 2014, Wild Turkey has hosted bartenders from around the U.S. at their distillery during the month of September for an annual event deemed “Behind the Barrel.” Nestled in the rural hills of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, the scenery hasn’t changed much since the distillery’s founding more than 75 years ago. In a month, though, the grounds will be covered with tents, as a multitude of bartenders camp out for two days to learn the science, art, and craft behind Wild Turkey Bourbon.

How did these bartenders get such a backstage pass? Through an online application process consisting of one short essay and one video submission, applicants were asked to share a time when they unapologetically followed their own path to remain true to their craft, and how they benefited from that experience. As storytelling and community-building are intrinsic to the Wild Turkey brand, potential attendees were also asked to describe how a mentor had inspired them in the past, and what valuable lessons they would pass down to budding bartenders today. Want to join this once-in-a-lifetime experience? Any active bartender in the U.S. can still apply via this link, but don’t delay, as applications close this Friday, August 18.

Bartenders will camp out for two nights on the grounds of the Wild Turkey distillery. Bartenders will camp out for two nights on the grounds of the Wild Turkey distillery.

It’s this commitment to craftsmanship and mentorship that sets Wild Turkey apart from the rest. Benny Hurwitz, the head bartender at D.C.’s Jack Rose Dining Saloon, agrees. Having first attended in 2015, he said, “I work in a huge whiskey bar and I love bourbon, really all things whiskey for that matter, so I applied. I really put my heart into it, which I recommend everyone should do.” Hurwitz found the experience so fulfilling that he is now a lead mentor to new attendees, and will once again be attending an upcoming session this September.

What’s on the agenda besides living and breathing Wild Turkey for two days? For starters, bartenders will learn the real history behind Wild Turkey Bourbon from Master Distillers Jimmy and Eddie Russell, as well as meet the next generation of Wild Turkey, Bruce Russell, when they go. Once they've arrived, the groups of 30 or so will camp out (or glamp out, depending on your version of camping) under the stars in tents on the iconic distillery's pasture, waking up to participate in a variety of Kentucky adventures, including a behind-the-scenes distillery tour. Hurwitz says, “What makes it so unique is that you are with the Russell family the entire time. You see them in the evening, they're there when you wake up, and they even invite you to participate in one of their favorite hobbies as a family — like skeet shooting!”

Bartenders will get a backstage pass with a behind-the-scenes distillery tour. Bartenders will get a backstage pass with a behind-the-scenes distillery tour.

Also on the lineup? A beast of bourbon challenge, testing fellow bartenders on their bourbon knowledge, as well as live bluegrass performances and BBQ around a roaring campfire. Finally, the two-night adventure ends with a Thanksgiving-style dinner with the Russells themselves, as well as some choice bourbon sampling.

Wild Turkey’s motto invites you to “discover how never changing a thing changed everything.” Come September, a hundred-plus bartenders will be able to see the Russell’s unwavering dedication to their craftsmanship first hand, going Behind the Barrel to see how their ethos of “Real Bourbon, No Apologies” drives everything they do.

Behind the Barrel is presented by the United States Bartender's Guild (USBG) and Tales of the Cocktail.

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