I’ve got a special treat for y’all today. The esteemed Frank Dobbins, or “Bourb Your Enthusiasm,” as he’s known across whiskey social media, is now an official contributor to the Rare Bird 101 blog. And what a way to kick things off – landing an interview with Wild Turkey’s beloved brand builder, Bo Garrett. Thank you kindly, Frank and Bo. Enjoy! dj

Bo Garrett is no stranger to the whiskey world, having found his start working at various bars throughout Central Kentucky. When Bo went on to become the lead guitarist of the band Montgomery Gentry, it may have seemed to him like his time in the whiskey industry had drawn to a close. On the contrary, the band soon found themselves sponsored by Jim Beam, a partnership that lasted many years, and Bo himself realized a newfound fondness for America’s Native Spirit. It was around 2017 that Bo’s focus shifted again from the world of music back to the world of whiskey, accepting a job as a tour guide at Wild Turkey where he continues today as a brand ambassador and bartender at the Station Master’s House.

One thing about Bo Garrett is that he’s never short on the kind of stories that add depth to the allure of Wild Turkey, but also exist outside of the purview of most whiskey enthusiasts. Bo’s understanding of Anderson County lore, his insightful stories about Jimmy Russell, and his general wealth of knowledge about all things Wild Turkey make him an ideal person to sit and talk with when visiting Lawrenceburg. Today I had the pleasure of interviewing him, and you can enjoy our conversation which was lightly edited for clarity below.

Frank: I’ve watched and listened to several interviews with you and enjoyed every one. Montgomery Gentry comes up a lot, as it should, and I wonder do you miss life on the road?

Bo: I don’t know if saying I miss the road would be completely accurate. I don’t really miss all of the planes, buses, and crazy travel hours. But, having said that … I really miss being with my road family. We were brothers. So, I miss the laughs and the camaraderie. And, the time on stage with the fans. My absolute favorite part of every day was being onstage sharing our music with the folks in the crowd and feeling the amazing love they were giving back. I miss that terribly.

Bo rockin’ out with Montgomery Gentry.

Frank: One thing I’ve always loved about the bourbon community is its way of bringing individuals together – individuals who wouldn’t necessarily come together under ordinary circumstances. The same could be said for music. Having worked professionally in both industries, do you find similarities in bourbon and music?

Bo: I do. In both spheres you have people creating a product to hopefully be consumed and shared by others. Both of these “products” have a way of bonding people together and creating lasting memories. Your desire is for those people to associate your product with those great memories. Which in turn, then instills an emotional attachment to that product that we, the creators, are so passionate about.

Frank: I read that Governor Beshear honored you and Jimmy Russell last year (well deserved, I might add). What was that like and can you tell us more about it?

Bo: It was a complete and utter surprise, on my end! I was there simply to support my buddy, Jimmy. I was honored to just be in the room and see the Governor recognize him as the oldest and longest-tenured master distiller in the world. Jimmy Russell’s passion and commitment to his craft has been a huge benefit to Kentucky. So, getting to share that moment with him, looking back, is kind of surreal.

And speaking of surreal … when the Governor called my name, I was like, “Uh oh! What did I do!?” Haha! But, then to be awarded the honor of Kentucky Colonel and receiving a declaration from the Kentucky House of Representatives REALLY blew my mind! Regardless of whether it’s music or bourbon, I’ve always tried to represent Kentucky in a positive light and exude my love for this place, no matter where I was. Not looking for awards, so to speak. I just figure that if people can see and feel my enthusiasm for my home, they might want to come spend some time with us.

Frank: If given the authority and an unlimited budget, what would you change or add to Wild Turkey’s visitor experience?

Bo: Hmm …. two things I’ll never have: authority and an unlimited budget. I am always looking for ways to make the visitor experience more immersive, informative and fun. One of my coworkers coined the phrase, “edutain.” Educate and entertain. I’d love to see multiple experience options. For instance, an option that strictly covers the rickhouse and aging bourbon. Then, another standard tour that covers the process from start to finish, much like most other distilleries. But, if someone wanted to really get into the weeds with the production process, offer a longer experience that deep dives into the science somewhat.

I know there’s a big market for bottling your own bourbon right now. But, the most interesting thing I’ve talked with others about is a very exclusive create your own bourbon. You would start with samples from multiple barrel ages and marry them together. A master blender class, if you will. I feel this would become a must-do for visitors on the trail.

Frank: I’ve noticed on your social media posts that you enjoy a good cocktail. What’s your favorite? Got a recipe you’d like to share?

Bo: Seeing that I’m an old fashioned type of guy … I would have to say my favorite cocktail is the Old Fashioned. There are others I really like a lot, though. The occasional Sazerac or Manhattan comes to mind immediately. I’ve been on somewhat of a rye Old Fashioned kick, as of late. With 101 Rye, of course! Here’s one recipe that I enjoy, especially in the fall or winter:

  • 2.0 oz 101 bourbon
  • 2.0 dashes orange bitters
  • 2.0 dashes chocolate bitters
  • 0.25 oz maple syrup

I’ve been calling it a “Chocolate Maple Old Fashioned.” Had to work hard to come up with that creative name. Haha!

Frank: While you’re no doubt Team Turkey, I know you’re close with the Noe family, and Jim Beam even sponsored Montgomery Gentry for years. Obviously, you maintain a genuine affection for both brands. What qualities or attributes do you find they have in common?

Bo: Somewhere around the year 2000, Jim Beam became Montgomery Gentry’s tour sponsor, thanks to the one and only Booker Noe! It started as business but it quickly became family. I wish I’d had more time and opportunity to get closer to Booker before we lost him. But, I cherish Fred, Freddie and that whole family! I have to be nice to Fred. He’s got stories on me. I just hope there’s no photos! Hahaha!

(Left to right) Bo Garrett, Freddie Noe, Eddie Russell, Fred Noe.

I think the most important thing that the two brands have in common is what’s behind the two products – family. Both the Noes and the Russells take pride in what they create. It’s a passion for both, and that passion comes from years of tradition, that tradition being handed down from one generation to the next. Dedication to their craft is, in my opinion, the most important thing they have in common.

Frank: I know that you spend a lot of time talking with Jimmy. What’s something he’s shared with you, i.e. a fact or story, that most folks wouldn’t know?

Bo: I think that a lot of people might be surprised to learn that Jimmy was not a fan of the idea of single-barrel bourbon. As he told me, when he was coming up in the business, if you couldn’t keep your product consistent you weren’t considered a great master distiller. Knowing the inconsistencies of single barrels, he didn’t want to do it. But, in true Jimmy Russell fashion, he introduced Kentucky Spirit and knocked it out of the park!

Frank: You probably get a lot of “What’s your favorite Turkey?” So, I’m going to do something a little different and get more specific. Best Turkey on the rocks?

Bo: I’m most always drinking it neat, or in a cocktail. But, I have had Rare Breed over a big rock of ice and really enjoyed it.

Frank: Best Turkey for a chilly night?

Bo: Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon or Rye, dealer’s choice.

Frank: Best Turkey for a summer’s day?

Bo: I would probably say Kentucky Spirit here. But, then Spirit is good any day.

Frank: Most underrated Turkey?

Bo: This one is easy, Wild Turkey 101 hands down! The modern bourbon market many times has started to equate quality with price. There’s bottles that people stand in line for that aren’t as old, or equal proof to 101. It’s always underrated but never overpriced.

Jimmy Russell with Bo.

Frank: I know you’re fond of the bourbon but Wild Turkey has increasingly gained respect for its rye expressions. What is it that makes Wild Turkey’s rye so special?

Bo: I think Jimmy Russell not being so much a rye fan could very well be a huge benefit to Wild Turkey Rye. There’s just enough rye grain in the recipe to make it rye whiskey. His Kentucky style rye is sometimes called “barely legal” and that combined with Wild Turkey’s proprietary yeast makes for some seriously good whiskey, in my opinion. A rye whiskey that even bourbon lovers can enjoy.

Frank: I know that you have done a lot of reading on the history of Lawrenceburg and surely you’ve heard stories in your travels about some of the legends in town. Can you share any one in particular that has stood out to you?

Bo: Eddie Russell got me started down the rabbit hole on the legend of Mary Dowling. She took over the Dowling Distillery upon the death of her husband, John. Even Prohibition couldn’t stop her. She moved the distillery to Juarez, Mexico and kept sending bourbon back into the states. Her story is much too complex to cover quickly. But, when you visit and have a few minutes, I love sharing it. I have a ton of respect for that kind of grit and determination. I’ve also recently been getting into the McBrayer family history here in Lawrenceburg. Judge William McBrayer was responsible for a lot of bourbon here around Lawrenceburg and Tyrone.

Frank: You’re typically the man behind the tasting bar at the Wild Turkey Station Master’s House. What can you tell people about the history of that site, which has been the temporary gift shop and unofficial visitors center for roughly the past year?

Bo: The old house itself is one of the oldest in Lawrenceburg. Most bourbon fans are familiar with the old rail bridge over the Kentucky River. The train used to continue across the road at the curve just past the house. Behind the house was a big bonded warehouse. Thanks to Jimmy Russell’s directions, I was able to find much of the old foundation. Anyway, the train would stop at this warehouse and people could ship things out by rail. The train master lived in the Station Master’s House. The first train crossed that bridge in 1889. So, I would assume the house was built then or soon after.

In 1988, the house opened as the first ever Wild Turkey Visitors Center. Visitors were nowhere near the numbers of today. But, Jimmy said that when folks stopped by back then, that if he wasn’t busy at the moment he, himself, would show people around the distillery. Imagine, if you will, a private tour of Wild Turkey from Jimmy Russell. That was happening back then!

A very special thanks to Frank and Bo for this insightful and entertaining interview. Hell, one might just call it “edutaining.” Cheers! dj

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