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Whiskey Ambassador Corner: Wild Turkey's Matthew Gandolfo

We sit down with brand ambassador Matthew Gandolfo for a behind-the-scenes look at what’s next for Wild Turkey.

Matthew Gandolfo
Matt Gandolfo (image via Maggie Kimberl)

TWW: We first met when you were a tour guide at Jim Beam. Was that your entrance into the bourbon industry? How did that prepare you for this new role?

Yes, Jim Beam was my introduction to the bourbon biz and it was a great first stop. I learned so much during my time with Beam and I wouldn’t have my dream job today without that experience. To be honest, hearing Fred Noe speak so highly of Jimmy and Eddie Russell was what first got me interested in Wild Turkey. The two distilleries have a great deal of mutual respect that stems from Jimmy and Booker Noe’s friendship as they were revolutionizing the industry together. Being onsite at Clermont daily really created an environment for me to be able to learn the details of the production process. I carry that distillery experience with me every day in my role with Wild Turkey. It’s what separates me from other ambassadors in our industry; I’ve been in the thick of it.

TWW: You’re doing a lot of front-lines education now. What’s one thing people always seem to get wrong about Wild Turkey or about bourbon in general?

You have to remember that when Wild Turkey 101 first hit the scene it was surrounded by a sea of younger, 80 proof bourbon. Back in the day if you were drinking Turkey it was basically the most robust stuff in the category. Well now fast-forward to the modern day bourbon drinker, they don’t flinch at a 100+ proof point yet Wild Turkey still carries that status of being the strongest drink on the market. I think that reputation is seen as a positive to a lot of traditionalists, but may make a new bourbon drinker hesitant initially.

TWW: Where are some of the coolest places you’ve gone so far as Wild Turkey’s Bourbon Ambassador?

In 2015 I was on the road for 31 weeks, so it’s tough to narrow it down to my favorites. I was able to attend my first Tales of the Cocktail down in New Orleans, which is a dream for anyone who has a passion for spirits. I have also represented Wild Turkey at a number of music festivals like Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits, which are both awesome experiences. But my all-time favorite stop might have to be the Bacon and Bourbon festival in Brooklyn, how can you go wrong with that combination?

TWW: Everyone in bourbon country is growing and expanding. What’s next for Wild Turkey?

Obviously the spotlight has never been brighter on the industry, which is the reason behind record high tourism numbers for Kentucky. We want to focus on providing the best experience possible, which is evident to anyone who has seen our award-winning Visitor Center that recently opened. In my opinion there is no better view than overlooking the Kentucky River in our tasting room. We are also benefiting from the Russell family expanding in the operation. Eddie Russell has recently become Co-Master Distiller alongside his legendary father, Jimmy Russell, making them the industry’s only Father-Son Master Distiller duo. What does that mean for the consumer? Well, for the first time you will start seeing Limited Time Offerings that have a much higher age statement. Jimmy has always favored bourbons that are in his sweet spot (6-13 years) but on certain occasions Eddie loves diving into something a little older. Eddie’s first release was the 17 year old Master’s Keep introduced in 2015, and keep your eyes open for “Decades” coming out soon which is a batch of barrels ranging in age from 10-20 years old.

TWW: What’s your favorite bourbon?

When I’m at home sipping on something I almost always reach for Rare Breed. Such a complex drink with it being a mixture of 6, 8, and 12 year old barrels you get so much flavor. In my mind it’s the best barrel proof bourbon on the market.

Maggie Kimberl

One night during Derby week, I was working in the liquor store while Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge was doing a tasting. I kept trying to make my way over to talk to him, but we were super busy (did I mention it was Derby week?) and I didn't make it in time. Dejected, I went back to the break room and started eating my lunch. The next thing I knew, Rutledge came through the door, saying, "You didn't get to do my tasting!" He sat down and explained how to taste bourbon, the ten recipes of Four Roses, and how it was different than other distilleries. I had liked bourbon before that point, but Jim Rutledge made me care about it. That's the beautiful thing about the bourbon industry- the people love what they do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Now here we are. :)

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