I have been to the Wild Turkey distillery multiple times but only once did I meet Jimmy Russell “The Master Distiller’s Master Distiller.” Spending time with Bourbon Hall of Fame and Whiskey Hall of Fame member Jimmy Russell is being among bourbon royalty. For those of you that have only heard the name Jimmy Russell consider the following.
Jimmy Russell is a 60 year veteran of the Bourbon world who began working at Wild Turkey when he was 18 years old. He met his lovely wife Joretta at the distillery as she worked at Wild Turkey before Jimmy. He started by sweeping floors and eventually became the master distiller. So storied is his career that he is referred to as “The Master Distiller’s Master Distiller.”
Mr. Russell told me that he realized that a lot of women did not drink bourbon and he wanted to create a product that would be attractive to them. So in 1976, he created a honeyed bourbon that was originally called Wild Turkey Liqueur. Today that product is known as American Honey, and it is a favorite of many. This is a great sipping liquor on a cold winter night or just about any night.
Wild Turkey 101 is the flagship brand of the Wild Turkey Distillery, but Mr. Russell has also created several special bourbons such as Rare Breed, Kentucky Spirit, and is the co-creator of Russels Reserve with his son Eddie Russell the co-Master Distiller of Wild Turkey.
Mr. Russell spends a lot of time at the distillery, and there are hundreds of people who have met him while he was at the visitor center. However, it is hard to explain how gracious Mr. Russell was in changing his schedule so that I could both meet him and hear a little of his story. I am extremely grateful that I got the opportunity and it is one of the great experiences of my Kentucky bourbon travels. My signed bottle of Russell’s Reserve is a very special memento in my collection.
Wild Turkey is not the largest distillery in Kentucky, but Mr. Russell is a giant among distillers and is a tremendous ambassador for the industry. There is a good chance you may see Jimmy and Joretta at the visitors center, and that alone is worth a visit. I would like to thank Joanne and Beverly for helping coordinate my meeting with Mr. Russell. Another great example of southern hospitality at its best.
Next week I will explore more of the Wild Turkey experience including meeting one of the most dedicated and knowledgeable tour guides we have ever experienced.