26 May 2017

Whisky Insiders Interview No.82 - Eddie Russell

Wild Turkey

Master Distiller


How long have you been working in the whiskey industry?
I have been working for Wild Turkey for 36 years alongside my father Jimmy Russell, who has been Master Distiller for 63 years.  We’re proud to be the only active father and son distiller partnership.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
My biggest career highlight was definitely being voted in to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001. Jimmy inducted me himselfit was a real special moment. It showed Jimmy investing me in to the brand and the family business.

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
The first dram I ever had was an 8 to 9 year old Wild Turkey bourbon.

What does whiskey mean to you?
The first thing whiskey makes me think of is family and generations of whiskey making. I think of the rich history we all have with different whiskies around the world and how we learned it, passing it down from generation to generation.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
I’ll definitely still be making Wild Turkey 5 years from now. In my business, I have to plan 13 years down the road. Youre thinking that far ahead through every step of making the bourbon, thinking about where the growth is going to be, the new cocktail, predicting trends in the industry etc. We’ll never change our recipe as we’ve stayed true to our original recipe from the beginning even after prohibition, but we’re being creative with different chars and barrels to continue to stand out.

In terms of where I would see my son in five years’ time, he’s been a brand ambassador for us for about 3 years now, and he is set on the road to be the next Master Distiller. I’m so proud to see him join the family business and have the passion for bourbon-making I have always had.

What was your last dram?
I had a Wild Turkey 101 last. It’s really mixable and makes a great real Kentucky Old Fashioned! Other experts in the industry have sampled and smelt it blind, and known straight away that its ‘pure Jimmy Russell’.

Do you have a favourite whiskey and food pairing combination?
I love the Russell’s Reserve with a good BBQ or grilled steak. Youve got the char on the meat which goes perfectly with the bourbon.

Whats your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
Any time is a good time for bourbon, but it doesn’t get no better than in the warehouse, right out of the barrel. That’s my most favourite place to take a sip of Wild Turkey.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whiskey horizon?
There’s a generational change happening in our industry at the moment, and drinking whiskey is getting popular amongst a new generation. Premium whiskies are the next big thing, as these younger drinkers are also discerning drinkers, willing to drink less and pay more for what they know is good, it’s completely different from 10 or 15 years ago. In the past, older generations would have their bourbon by the fire every night, now 21-40 year olds are looking to enjoy the quality that Wild Turkey offers in bars and when they are home, they want the good stuff.  This younger generation of whiskey drinkers is also supporting the growth of Rye whiskies, as they have a taste for the Rye flavour.

Whats the one dram you couldnt live without?
I couldn’t live without Wild Turkey 101, you can’t beat the quality for the price. I love its clean finish and to date it is our best-selling bourbon.

Many thanks to Eddie Russell. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!