photo credit: WildTurkeyBourbon.com
James “Jimmy” Russell – the Buddha of bourbon – is the master distillers’ master distiller. No distiller in the history of American bourbon has served as long as he has. His recent 60th anniversary celebration coincided with the opening of a brand new 9140-square foot visitors center in 2014, and brought out the biggest names in bourbon. Even Kentucky’s Governor, Steve Beshear came out to toast Jimmy!
As only the third Master in the history of Wild Turkey operations, Jimmy has stood his post for more than half a century – sometimes seven days a week. “When I started here 59 years ago we were filling 70 barrels a day. Now we are filling 560,” Russell said. “We had four storehouses then, and now we have 26 that hold 20,000 barrels, and one that holds 50,000.”
When asked if he had ever considered retiring, his response was ” I don’t consider this a job. It’s one of the things I’ve been blessed with in my life. I enjoy coming to work: I get to taste bourbon all day. I only live six miles away, and a lot of the time, I come out on Saturdays and Sundays just to say hello to the people working.”
Under Jimmy Russell’s tenure, Wild Turkey has endured more changes in the past decade as the brand has since its birth in 1940. The demand for the “kickin’ chicken” from new markets and younger drinkers has led to an expansion of the original Wild Turkey bourbon into flavored whiskeys and liqueurs. Wild Turkey American Honey came on the scene in 2007, shortly before the company was acquired by Campari Group. Later, in 2012, Jimmy and his team released Wild Turkey Spiced, the worlds first ever spiced bourbon. Whatever your take on flavored bourbons, these new additions have taken Campari’s stock to new heights.
While it is speculated that these moves into the flavored bourbon arena where at the behest of Campari, Jimmy Russel has continued to do his thing on the traditional side of the house. Wild Turkey 81 proof, Wild Turkey 101, and Wild Turkey Traditional remain the number 1 premium Kentucky straight bourbon whiskeys on the market.
In recognition of his contribution to American heritage, Jimmy Russell has been honored with his namesake bourbon – Russell’s Reserve, and a limited edition mingling of 13 and 16-year-old whiskies, called Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary.