My husband and I had planned to be in Lawrenceburg Saturday to enjoy the Anderson County Art Trail and check in with those businesses downtown that are graciously selling The Last Resort (many thanks to The Mrs. Cox Shop and Tastefully Kentucky).
Before we left home, however, we discovered that actor Matthew McConaughey was at the Wild Turkey distillery that morning to help volunteers distribute 4,500 Butterball turkeys to Lawrenceburg families.
Now, McConaughey has been working with Wild Turkey as a spokesperson for a couple of years, so his appearance is not entirely a surprise. Nonetheless, Lawrenceburg is not always a traditional stop for celebrities who come to central Kentucky for horse races or movie filming. (OK, we have to cite the exception: the filming of George C. Scott’s “The Flim-Flam Man” in downtown Lawrenceburg before its 1967 release.)
By the time we got downtown, everyone was abuzz with excitement. The streets were packed and every parking space was filled. McConaughey had made a favorable impression among townspeople as a friendly and generous individual.
Bourbon distilling has been a critical driver of the Lawrenceburg economy since the mid-1800s, in part because of plentiful water sources from the Salt and Kentucky Rivers and the natural filtration of the limestone rock in the area. An Irish immigrant opened Ripy Brothers distillery at the current site of Wild Turkey, high above the Kentucky River east of Lawrenceburg, in 1869. Before Prohibition, Anderson County was the home of more than a dozen distilleries. By the 1940s, however, two stalwarts had survived: Ripy Brothers, now Wild Turkey, and Old Joe’s, currently Four Roses. Pud mentions both in The Last Resort.
As a nod to this rich local history, the parent company of Wild Turkey, Campari, recently announced plans to reintroduce two pre-Prohibition brands of bourbon as part of its Whiskey Barons Collection: Bond & Lillard and Old Ripy. (These were very limited releases and may no longer be available at retail outlets.) The company is making every effort to replicate the original Old Ripy recipe, under the watchful eye of Ripy family descendants. A portion of the proceeds will go toward the ongoing restoration of the majestic T.B. Ripy home, originally built in the 1880s on South Main Street in Lawrenceburg.
Pud’s buddy Bobby Cole was a descendant of the Bond family that produced the Bond & Lillard brand, which won the Grand Prize at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Campari is using the judges’ tasting notes from the World’s Fair to develop the new recipe. The Bonds had been distilling bourbon in Anderson County since 1820.
Today, the Bourbon Trail brings thousands of tourists to Kentucky each year, and the various distilleries vie to build the most accommodating visitors center and offer the most appealing small batch bourbons. Certainly the Anderson County distilleries are no exception.
Pud and Mary Marrs enjoyed drinking Kentucky bourbon and introducing it to their friends across the country during a time when bourbon did not have the high profile it does today. I have to think they would be delighted to know that Hollywood celebrities are helping bourbon distilleries attract new customers and invigorate their hometown community.