AL YOUNG: This is Al Young interviewing Wild Turkey's Master DistillerJimmy Russell on September 30, 2013, with the Kentucky Bourbon Tales Oral History Project. We're here at the Wild Turkey Distillery to do this interview. And I want to thank you for agreeing to do the interview, Jimmy. Would you care to start off by telling me a little bit about yourself?
RUSSELL: Well, thank you, Al. Appreciate you coming out and being here today.Uh, born and raised here in Lawrenceburg, Anderson County. Live within a mile of where I was born and raised. Started working here in 1954, September the tenth. I've been here fifty-nine years. Went to city schools, Lawrenceburg and Anderson school, and then several, uh, University of Kentucky management classes, and things like that. What else, Al? (laughs)
YOUNG: So, what, --------(??), does your family still live here in Lawrenceburg?
RUSSELL: Uh, my two sons, my wife, uh, live here in Lawrenceburg. My daughterlives in Nashville, Tennessee. I have three children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandson now. So, you know, I've been around a long time. 1:00
YOUNG: (laughs) How did you get connected to the bourbon industry?
RUSSELL: Well, you know, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, uh, when I was growing up,when you got out of school, everybody wanted to stay at home and get a job. There was four bourbon distilleries in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Anderson County, when I was growing up. Uh, now we're down to two, Four Roses and Wild Turkey. But I had families working at all four different distilleries: my dad worked at a distillery; my grandfather worked at a distillery; and I'm not going any further back than my grandfather because it might not have been legal, as old as I am. Uh, but, uh, you know, been around here, raised here. And now, young people, when they get out of school, they want to get away from as far as they can. But my age group, we wanted to stay at home and get a job at home, and I was fortunate enough to get on with the Wild Turkey Distillery here.
YOUNG: What was it like back then?
RUSSELL: Well, it was a lot smaller. You know, most all of them were littlefamily-owned distilleries back in that day and time. Uh, as well as I remember, it must've been about twenty-seven bourbon companies in Kentucky, probably 2:00fifty-some-odd distilleries operating. And now, we're down to six major companies. And, you know, eleven, I think it's eleven distilleries operating now. Now, we have a lot of the micro-distilleries starting up now. And, uh, I've been fortunate enough to teach school at Moonshiner's down in Louisville, Kentucky, for several times, the last couple of years. Well, they call them micro-distilleries now, and I tell all of those people, I said, "Back in my day and time, it was little family-owned distilleries, all the same." It's been such consolidation of all the distilleries now. All the brands are still out there; there's a lot of new brands coming on the market. But there's been consolidations into bigger companies and all.
YOUNG: What was the market like back in that day?
RUSSELL: Well, basically back when I started, you know, all bourbons were,basically it was bottled at a 100 proof bottled in bond. Uh, you didn't have these low-proof back then. And it is mostly a Southern gentleman's drink. They got off work in the afternoon, went to their favorite bars. They got their cigars. They got their bourbon. They went to the back room and played cards. And that's, in the beginning, that's the way most of it went. Nowadays, you 3:00know, it's a worldwide drink. And the ladies, it's really become big in the, in the bourbon business. You have the women's bourbon society. Uh, ladies all over the United States now, and even getting out all over the world. They'd, everybody's into bourbon now.
YOUNG: So, what was your first job when you started?
RUSSELL: Well, uh, I, I started out, I was supposed to be in quality control.Back in that day and time you went and got the samples. You went and run an analysis on them, with the grains and everything. Before the day was over with, you might be in up in that backend of that truck with a shovel, shoveling it out. You know, nowadays, quality control, you got to go get the samples and take it to them, and they do all the analysis. But in my day and time, you done a little bit of everything.
YOUNG: What, in your opinion, makes good bourbon?
RUSSELL: You've got to have good water; you've got to have good grain; you'vegot to have good yeast; and then, your formula, percentage of corn, rye, and barley malt, and the percentage of distillation, how, what, how you distill, low proof or higher proofs. Uh, you know, we come under the federal law. Everybody has to compete, uh, comply with the federal law about 51 percent bourbon, uh, 51 4:00corn, distilled under 160 proof, putting it in a new-charred oak barrel at 125 proof or less. But that's the basics. You know, uh, you can't say one's more important than the other. But if you don't have good water, if you don't have good grain, if you don't have good yeast, uh, each one of them plays a very important factor. Even the barrels plays a very important factor in making good bourbon.
YOUNG: Well, you know, you've been doing this for a long time now.
RUSSELL: A few years. (both laugh)
YOUNG: So, would you tell me, uh, about some of the people you have known andmaybe something about the friends you've made throughout your career?
RUSSELL: Well, I've been blessed, you know, uh, uh, as you know, in ourbusiness, the bourbon business, especially the production end, here, in Kentucky, we're all close friends. A lot of people thinks we're bitter enemies--(laughs)--but we're all close friends. We enjoy being with each other. We all live, what, within an hour of each other. All the distilleries, we're all close all the time. We just finished a big bourbon festival here in Kentucky. Been out to San Francisco to WhiskyFest. And the WhiskyFest, we were all together all of the time. And it's, that's the enjoyable thing for me, 5:00seeing how well we get, we'll do anything we can to help each other out if something goes wrong. If, you know, if we've got a part and you don't have one, we'll loaned it to you, or if we need something, and y'all have it, you'll loaned it to us. That's the thing I enjoy as much about being in this business. A lot of the older fellas that, uh, started out, uh, you know, uh, it's been so many great fellas: Parker Beam, still with us, Craig Beam. You, Al, Jim, Charlie Beam, uh, you know, Ed --------(??). This old bunch, it's a, and two of my best buddies was Booker Noe and Elmer T. Lee, which we just lost--(laughs)--Elmer T. and Booker. But us three would get together--(laughs)--it was a lot of fun in that day and time. We enjoyed being with each other and had a great time doing it.
YOUNG: Well, tell me about your distillery; what makes it unique?
RUSSELL: Well, this distillery, you know, we just built a new distillery. Thefirst new distillery, completely, that's been built in Kentucky for, uh, gosh, I 6:00don't know how many, it's been a long, long time since complete--every, everybody's had to remodel and expand because the bourbon business got to good. We were across the road here and we sit right on top of the Kentucky River and US Highway 62. And we'd expanded as far as we could expand. So we had this property up here on the hill, and we come up here and built a complete new distillery. Now, we haven't changed anything, the way we make it. We're still using the same formula, the same--all I can vouch for, for our yeast, it's fifty-nine years old. It was, the yeast, it was here when I got here, and we're still using the same yeast culture.
YOUNG: Has it faced any particular challenges such as changes in ownership?
RUSSELL: Well, you know, I've been fortunate. It's only been, I think, threeownerships, or four, maybe, since I've been here. And they've always said that they wanted to keep Wild Turkey the same. They didn't want it changed. And I've been fortunate that way, because, you know, nowadays, everybody thinks of bottom line. People's looking at the cost of everything. But we're still making it the same way as the day we come here. The only good thing for me was, 7:00when I come here, we was making about 80 barrels a day, had about 4 storage buildings that hold 20,000 barrels each. Now, we have 26 storage buildings and we're putting up a 56,000-barrel house right now. And, you know, if we're still making 80 barrels a day instead of 560 barrels a day, I probably wouldn't have had a job by now. (laughs)
YOUNG: Well now, have there been any major events here at the distillery? Imean, I realize that you all had a serious fire back in the year 2000.
YOUNG: Would you care to tell us about anything like that?
RUSSELL: Well, we're sitting right on the place where we had a, had a storagebuilding here. Uh, in 2000, in, in May, uh, if you want to know exactly--17,281 barrels. I never will forget that. That's how many we lost that day. We sit right on the top of the Kentucky River. You know, it, the bourbon was going over the, the cliff into the river and down the river. And the funny story about that, the city waterworks is right here on our premises, the Lawrenceburg 8:00City Waterworks. And they tell a story, you know, they made with O-, uh, OSHA and all those regulations, they couldn't pump any water into the city of Lawrenceburg because they didn't know what it'd done to the river. But I laugh about that. The city fathers told me later on, they said they reason they quit pumping, they didn't know whether to charge by the drink or the gallon coming into town. (laughs)
YOUNG: Well, you know, from time to time, you know, some things change and somethings remain the same. But, was Wild Turkey's American Honey a stroke of genius or just plain luck?
RUSSELL: No, it was something that they asked me to come over, see, we've beenon the market with it since 1980. It was called Wild Turkey Honey Liqueur originally. And, basically, what they asked me to come up with was something for the ladies that thought bourbon was too strong but have a good bourbon taste to it, and be sweeter, and all. That's what, uh, I call it "the cough syrup." You know, raised in a bourbon family, you know, when you was cutting your teeth, your parents would--my parents would have been, uh, jail all the time, now, with 9:00all the child-abuse thing. When you was cutting teeth, they'd stick their finger in the bottle, a bottle of bourbon, and rub it on your gums when you was cutting teeth. Knocked out the baby long enough so the parents could get some sleep. And then it, uh, in wintertime, you started coughing, they'd take a little bourbon, a little honey, a little lemon, a little lime juice, and sugar and things like that, and give it to you a cough. And I, I call it the cough syrup. But that's basically what it is. Uh, we originally released as American Honey, is what we, the way it got started in the market. Now everybody has honeys on the market now.
YOUNG: Well, any thoughts about the 2011 "Give 'em the Bird" promotional campaign?
RUSSELL: Well, that was something they discussed for a long time. You know, wedidn't know how it would go over. I'm, was a little leery about it but it's went over well. Uh, I, I tease about some of the col-, uh, big cities up east, I told them it'd go over well up there. If you've ever been up there, driving around in cabs and all, everybody's giving you the bird as you go by them, aren't they, if you're not driving right. (laughs) But it's went over well, uh.
YOUNG: Um, Jimmy, you know, we, we talked a little bit about, uh, about the10:00history and everything. What, with, you know, I'd like for you to go back and talk to me a little bit about what it was like back then, a little bit more about your distillery, what, uh, you know, the Wild Turkey name, even, and what impact it had on Lawrenceburg, especially after Prohibition--because Prohibition did a number of Anderson County here, with all of those distilleries that were here at one time.
RUSSELL: You know, uh, Al, as far as I know, best I can find, there was abouttwelve distilleries in Anderson County before Prohibition. My grandfather worked for Saffell Distillery. A lot of people never heard of never heard of Saffell Distillery, but it's there's an old home out on South Main called the Saffell Home. Uh, but back then, you know, it, it, it, Prohibition, and it's the history of this place here, the Stevens family started this. And the Services owned it for a while; it was known as Anderson County Distilling Company. Early 1900s, the Ripy brothers bought it out. They owned it a little while. Went, and then, they went back to Anderson County Distilling Company 11:00again. In the late thirties, uh, right after Prohibition, the Gould brothers owned it for a few years. And then, Austin Nichols bought us out and, uh, had us for many, many years. And the Austin Nichols family--McCarthy family actually owned Austin; they had worked for the Austin Nichols family for many years. The McCarthy family bought out the Austin Nichols family. And the name of Wild Turkey come by the way. Back then, all the executive offices was in New York City; that's where everybody was, basically, back in that day and time. Now all got together on the, every year, and went down into the Carolinas on a turkey hunt. As I said in the beginning, most bourbons was bottled around 100 proof back then bottled in bond. You didn't have 80 [proof], 90 [proof]. It was all, so, they just had some, uh, each year, going on their hunt, you, one of them would bring the wine. They was all in the wine, spirits, food business. You'd bring your own thing, every year, and they, and it was his time to bring the bourbon. And he just happened pull it straight out of the barrel, probably the first barrel of proof on the market back in that day and time. Had to be 12:00101 proof. You know, sitting around at night after hunting all day, you know how that works. And they got to drinking and they kept talking about, well, this is completely different. Well, the big difference was instead of being Austin Nichols bourbon, it was 101 proof instead of 100 proof. They liked it so well, so, to make a long story short, uh, they asked him to bring of that same bourbon back the next year. Well, you know, being in New York, he didn't realize how much federal government regulations we were under. He just called back and asked him, "Where did that come from?" And they told him, "Well, he pulled it out of the barrels." Or then, then, back in that day--and I wasn't around. I've been around a long time but wasn't around at that time. But they pulled it out of the barrels and it, it was still 101 proof on the hunt again. And they liked it so well, he, so, being in the being his self, he said, "I'm going back and start a bourbon. I'm gonna call it Wild Turkey, after the wild-turkey hunt, and 101 proof." So, that's how the Wild Turkey's name got started, was from the wild-turkey hunt in the Carolinas. Still going strong today. And I've got many good stories about the wild turkey. Uh, wild turkey 13:00hunters, you know, that's a big thing. We're a big sponsor of the National Wild Turkey Federation, which, I think it's five-, six hundred thousand members. That's, the whole family's involved in it. It's one of the things that, for many, many years, the turkey on the label, uh, was a tom turkey, a male turkey. And here, a few years ago--oh, I guess ten, twelve years ago, an old gentleman called me and said, "You keep telling me that that bourbon's eight years old in that bottle." I said, "Yes, sir, it's around eight-years-old." "There's no way. It's not eight-years-old." I said, "I know it is. I make it and do it." And he said, "It not eight years." I said, "Well, how do you know it's not eight-years-old?" He says, "You've got a damn jake turkey on the label. The beard of a turkey, a young turkey's got a little short beard on him. It's got a long beard on it now." (laughs) But it had been on the market for seventy years, nobody had ever noticed that. But he, he did. He said, "You've got a damn jake turkey on the label and it can't be eight-years-old."
YOUNG: Now, the first time I met you, I met you at the old Seagram plant over14:00on, uh, the other part of Anderson County.
YOUNG: Down at McBrayer--
YOUNG: --down on Bond's Mill Road.
YOUNG: And you were answering a fire-alarm call.
YOUNG: At the warehouses over there.
RUSSELL: Right, right.
YOUNG: And I never will forget it. The, the people there at the distillerysaid, "When that fire alarm goes off, Jimmy Russell himself will be over here to check on those warehouses."
RUSSELL: Oh, yeah. I've always been that way. You know, uh, uh, I'm, uh,here, you know, I'm here every day if I'm not out traveling. You know, we're out traveling a whole lot now. Uh, this is something, this is something new in our business, too. You know, up to, I'd say twenty, twenty-five years ago, it was marketing and sales people out in the field. And they started me going out in the field. And it was a little different back them. It was all whiskey. It didn't make any difference what it was. Everybody thought it was whiskey. Say, nowadays, you got the StraightBourbon.com, the bourbon societies, women's bourbon, if you change anything, they know it now. But back then, I never will 15:00forget a story when I was, one of the first one or two trips I made in California, I was in a pop-, a mom & pop's liquor store. You know what a mom & pop is? We sat back in a chair and an old fella is sitting there, and we was talking. And he looked at me and said, "You're real." I said, "What you mean, 'You're real,' I'm real." He said, "You're real. Mama come back here. This fella is real." He says, "He does make it." They'd been used to marketing and sales people, you know. And now, all of us have people out in the field now, working, that's actually from the production end. But before that, the marketing and sales people was all out there that. But now, you know, we're all out there now, and had, had been in the marketing, uh, been in the production end of it. And knowing how it's made, and tell people how it's made, and what it's all about. And you've got to, you, you know yourself, you'd better be sharp on what your answers, because they know, if you say something wrong, they know it right now. (laughs) When I started, you didn't have to worry about that. (laughs) They didn't what the difference was in it.
YOUNG: It seems like the public is getting a little bit, uh, more informed.16:00
RUSSELL: Oh, very much so. Like I said, the StraightBourbon, you know, it'sthe StraightBourbon.com's all over the world. Uh, you change the least little thing, they're on, on the internets, talking about it, and then knowing everything that's going on with you.
YOUNG: And not only that, but the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, how has that impacted us--
RUSSELL: --oh, you know, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, uh, actually, we've, uh,opened our first visitor center here in 1988. Uh, we always had a few visitors, but somebody, management or supervisors, took them on tours when they got so much, uh, uh, tourists, uh, coming through, we opened up this old home here on the company property, which we're still using. We've outgrown it. But, uh, we've used that for a visitor center in 1988. When the Kentucky Bourbon Trails went into effect, now, it's a huge success. You know, you know how many people we're having going through the Bourbon Trail, uh, I just, when I come through here right now, I think it's about thirty people out there going through the distillery right now. And from all, uh, it's from all over the world. You have 17:00visitors from all over the world coming on the Bourbon Trail now. And it's done wonders for the, the bourbon business. And say people's well-educated now: they want to know about it; they want to know how it's done; what you're doing; why is it this way; and why is it that way? And you get a lot of questions of how you do this, why you do this, or why don't you do that? And just things like that. But the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has really done huge for the bourbon business.
YOUNG: Now, those questions that they're asking used to, or, used to bequestions that we just asked ourselves.
YOUNG: Back and forth between distilleries, about where's the honey spot--
YOUNG: --what part of the warehouse does the right thing, and so forth.
YOUNG: Do you have one?
RUSSELL: Oh, yeah. I call them, you know, our single barrels--we have twosingle barrels, Kentucky Spirit and Russell's Reserve. I call them the sugar barrels, not the honey spot. You can go to store-, all our buildings are seven stories tall, metal-clad buildings, a lot of windows, get the good air circulation through. And you can go up to that third and fourth floor, fifth floor, the middle section, we call it. Uh, and if you walked through there and 18:00pull a bung out with your fingers, look over behind that; it'll be a little piece of tubing and some cups back there. Those fellas that works in the warehouse, they know where the best-tasting barrels is. And we lose about a third out of every barrel of eight years of aging here. We lose more than that out of those barrels. They know where the, we call it the sugar barrel; that's what we call them. See, the, some calls it the center cut; some calls it the honey spots. But we call them, I call them our sugar barrels.
YOUNG: Well now, you talked about the impact of the Kentucky Bourbon Trailearlier. Uh, do you have any plans to expand your tourism here at the distillery?
RUSSELL: Well, right now, we're in the process, as I said, there's an old homehere on the property that we've been using since 1988. And we've outgrown it. We're building a new visitor center right now up here with the distillery. It's, uh, it sits right out here on the point. You'll be looking over the Kentucky River and the two bridges, the railroad bridge and the automobile bridge. It'll be a view that I, to me, spring of the year and fall of the year, it's going to 19:00more, our second story is where our tasting room is all glass, which we can open in the summertime. You'll be looking over the Kentucky River, the two bridges. Summer, spring of the year, when all the red buds, dogwoods, and all in bloom, that's, to me, it's gonna more beautiful time. Then, the fall of the year, with all the different colors of leave. But the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has done wonders for the bourbon business. More people is getting involved. And I say, it, it's not Kentucky-, American people or Kentucky people; it's people all over the world. We have visitors from all over the world, here, all of the time.
YOUNG: Yeah, I know you're traveling the country. And I do, to some degree.And, and Eddie does too, because our paths cross, uh, cross quite often. But, um, what is your idea about the state of the bourbon industry in today's beverage alcohol market?
RUSSELL: It's growing. It's, it's gonna get bigger all the time. You know,the, uh, as I, as I said in the beginning, we had four storage buildings; now we have twenty-six. We've got over five hundred thousand barrels in inventory right now. And we're still basically a one-brand operation. Everything that 20:00comes out of here is Wild Turkey. We don't have any other brands. Everything will be labeled Wild Turkey. And it's growing and it's gonna continue to grow. You know, as long as you and I have been in the business, we've seen this happen. Uh, bourbon will be high and then it'd drop off. But it, right now, I think last year, by the Kentucky Distillers Association report, I think, um, that was the most barrels that'd been made since the early seventies, filled new barrels of bourbon last year, I believe, since nine-, early 1970s. Uh, back in the seventies, late sixties, early seventies, uh, the gins and vodkas began to take over. A lot of people changed their formula, went to try and lighten up their products and all. I've been fortunate. We never changed a thing here. I'm glad it didn't go over, because I would still wouldn't have had a job--(laughs)--if all the lighter products had went over. But we've still made, make every-, everything here is the same way as the day I come, except one thing--we got bigger, better equipment. You done everything by hand. You sit there. That still was two hundred degrees. You were sitting there in hot 21:00weather, just controlling the valves by hand. Now, you know, everything, we've got computers. Now, our computer system here, we still have to have operators where you can have computers now that can run this place from way off. But we, our operators now, instead of running up and down the steps like we used to have to, they can set in there, and open and close valves, or weigh the grain out, or dump it in the cooker. They can set there and do it by pushing buttons where we'd run and down the steps and open and close valves, or if you was running the still, you'd set there with one hand on the pump and one hand on the steam valve, adjusting the flow and making sure you're getting the right product coming out all the time.
YOUNG: And sometimes on the midnight shift, it was a struggle, wasn't it?
RUSSELL: Yes. (both laugh) Uh, yes, it was. You know, it, but, you know, themidnight shift's really one of the best shifts you can have, I think, because if you're working the day shift, you can do something at night. But if you get that second shift, you can't do anything. You're working, everything's going on at night, and all you're here working. But midnight shift, you can go to 22:00ballgames and things like that before the, you go to work. And if you want to do something--here, for many years, you know, the bourbon business, that's reason everybody goes to work pretty early in the distillery business. You know, uh, we go to work at 7:00 and get off at 3:30, or our early workers do. And they would come to work earlier if they could. Because back in my days, when I started, they all their little farms. They wanted to get home as early in the afternoon and work their farms. And a lot of ours would take, our older people would take those midnight shifts, because they wanted to be home during the daytime working their farms and all. But nowadays, you know, it's, it's a different story. And very few, but we still have some of them here that owns their own little farms and goes home and works on their farms as soon as they get off from working here.
YOUNG: Well, now I know that throughout your career, you've been involved witha lot of different organizations and groups. But I also know that, at one time, you served as the director of the Kentucky Distillers Association.
RUSSELL: Yes, I'm--
YOUNG: --did that present any challenges for you?23:00
RUSSELL: Not really. You know, it, when I, on the, I'm still on the board as,um, associate director. But for many years, I served as director. And back then, there was a lot of us in the business. And one of the best things we ever done, I thought, many, many years ago, there was a lot of distilleries in Kentucky. And Schenley was one of the biggest organizations at that time in the bourbon business. But you can only have one representative from a company, because they tried several times to get it to every distillery would have a representative. Well, you know, if you owned twenty distilleries and we owned one, you know who's gonna control the KDA. But this way, everybody has the same voice in it. So you can't, uh, can't take over.
YOUNG: I also know that you were in the first group to be inducted into theKentucky, uh, Bourbon Hall of Fame, in the year 2000.
RUSSELL: In the year 2000, I was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame, yes.I've been fortunate, and my son, Eddie, he's inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame. So, we got a father and son working here. I guess we're the only two 24:00living. Uh, uh, I'm not sure whether Craig's been elected or not. I don't think Craig's in it. Uh, but, uh, we're the only two working people, uh, father and son, still in the business, working every day together. And say, Eddie's been with me now for thirty--we call it--he says he's a newcomer. He's been here thirty, he's going on his thirty-third year now. And he's in the Bourbon Hall of Fame, too, which I'm very proud of. Uh, Eddie was going to college, playing football for Western Kentucky University. And he tells the story--he might tell you this today, I don't know--but, uh, he said Mama told me to put him to work one summer. And he liked it so well, he says it's been a long thirty-three summers. He enjoyed it so much, you know. You know, say I had a daughter and another son. And you don't push your children into anything. If they, you push them into the business, and they don't like it, it's hard on the whole family. But he enjoyed it and he's been here every since. And, you know, he went on and got his education by going to school at night. In the 25:00daytime--uh, I don't tell him this, and don't you all tell him--but, well, you will--(laughs)--it's on tape, but he's got a better education now than he would if he'd stayed at Western Kentucky playing foot, you know, playing football for a major college, you're gonna get a degree. I don't know what kind of degree you're going to get, but if you had to go to school at night and in the daytime, you have to earn that degree.
YOUNG: Well now, do you all share in running the business right now--
RUSSELL: --oh, yes, yes, yes. You know, we're, well, you know, these youngerpeople, you've gotta let them do most of the work. (laughs) Yes, yes, we share in the business. And he travels a lot too, now. And, uh, so that's, I've been blessed. I got to work with my father here for a while. Then my father actually worked, uh, when I started in the business, my father worked for the Old Joe Distilling Company, which was out the other side of Lawrenceburg. And then he finished up his time here working at the Wild Turkey Distillery.
YOUNG: And now, how do you become a master distiller?
RUSSELL: I tease them, because nobody else would have the job. (both laugh)26:00No, no, I was forced into it. Mr. Bill Hughes was the Master Distiller, here, when I come to work here. And I wasn't kin to him or nothing, but he more or less to, started taking me under his wing and started teaching me everything. You know, here we had always done everything. And in that business, in our business, as you know from business, usually when you start in at one place, you stay there the whole time. If you start in the distillery-making, you stay there. If you're bottling or warehousing, you always stay there. Well, you, they teach you a job. And you get knowing it real well, you know, you can kind of sit back and take it easy. Just as soon as I'd know a job real well, they'd move me over here, move me over there. I thought they was trying to get rid of me, but they, it was teaching me the whole thing. And I was fortunate enough. I've been from quality control to distilling to running the bottling house, plant manager for several years. And, uh, it's one of those things that I've been brought through the whole system of it. Even my wife worked here before I did. So, we got a long connection here at the Wild Turkey Distillery. 27:00
YOUNG: Well now, you know, you are, have been termed, uh, by some people as oneof our bourbon rockstars. (Russell laughs) And you've been, uh, singled out as a person who knows a great deal about the industry. But how was it when somebody first asked you for an autograph?
RUSSELL: You know, I don't remember, it's been so long ago. But, uh, you know,same way, uh, everywhere you go, people's wanting your autograph and, or pictures. Well, mostly wanting pictures with you all the time. And, uh, but anywhere you go, it's an, uh, an old fella like me, you know, you never thought about that when you was growing up in Anderson County, Lawrenceburg, with small communities and all, you never thought of anything like, or even being able to travel the world like you've, like I've been able to do. So, been fortunate. You know, Wild Turkey is huge in Australia and Japan. Big markets for us. And, uh, uh, I'd go, I was at, done been to, uh, Japan, this year. And Eddie's been to England and Scotland this year. So, we're in foreign, been to Italy already 28:00this year. And just about, you know, we see each other just about everywhere in the United States. Every time something's going on, we're always there. But it's been fortunate. It's been a blessing for me. In, uh, say we come under the federal government supervision. I talk about my other son. Uh, he's retired. He's a little smarter than I am. Uh, I, I used to tell a story, you know, how much taxes we pay to the federal government. Uh, here we pay an average of about a one and a half million dollars every fifteen days on what we ship bottled, which other distillers, as I said, doing a lot more, which pays a lot more. And I'd tell people, and they'd say, "Well, what about your oldest son? Was he in the business?" I said, "We never did claim him." And they'd look at you just funny. My oldest son's retired from Internal Revenue. He was the director of Internal Revenue for the state of Kentucky. He was collecting all the taxes. So, he was involved--(laughs)--in it, one way or another. And my daughter, she's, uh, she's been Mom most of her time, raising three children. Her husb-, husband's an attorney down in Nashville, Tennessee. So, I've been 29:00blessed with a good wife, a good family. And it, it's something, you know, uh, to me, not only in my immediate family, but distillery family people, they, you know, all of us at the different distilleries, all of us has, uh, families working at all the different distilleries. You know, you go to every distillery in Kentucky, uh, uh, and I know I've got family working at, I've got family working at two of them, real close family to me, and I've got distant family members working at all the rest of them. So that's something I really enjoy about it. As I say, we're all good friends. Uh, and even when, people ask you a lot of time, "Aren't you all enemies?" I say, "We fight all the time." (laughs) But no, it's something I really enjoy, being so close with each other, doing anything we can to help each other.
YOUNG: Well now, you talked about your family. And you talked about your sonin the business. What about those grandchildren? Is there, are there any idea that they may want to follow?
RUSSELL: Well, I hope so. But, uh, a lot, uh, Eddie's oldest son is in collegeright now. His two sons are in college. His oldest son worked for us as a tour 30:00guide last summer. Seemed to like it real well, but I'd, I don't know. You don't push them into it. But, but, uh, I got a granddaughter. She told us--uh, family is still big with us, uh, Thanksgiving, Christmas time. And a few years ago, I didn't hear her say this. She's sixteen now, so you know a sixteen-year-old gal--(laughs)--can change her mind. But here, about a couple of years ago, they was talking about Eddie's two boys, wondering if one of them would get in the business. And she spoke up that night and said, "They're not gonna get the job; I'm gonna be the first female Russell master distiller." (laughs) So, uh, but, you know, a sixteen-year-old now, they've probably done changed their minds a lot by them now.
YOUNG: Well now, when you know, when it comes down to it, one of the questionsthat always comes up in somebody's mind to ask is, how do you drink your bourbon?
RUSSELL: I drink mine neat or on the rocks. But you drink it any way you likeit. And I'm not gonna tell you how to drink it. I'm gonna drink mine neat or on the rock. I enjoy the flavor. I enjoy the taste. You know, at home, at 31:00nights, my wife and I, if I'm sitting there reading or watching television, I like it in a brandy-type glass. The, you know, big bottom, barrel-top(??), just sitting, the aromas, taste, and flavor is what I'm looking for, and that's the way I like to drink mine. The hot weather, I want it chilled a little bit. And, really, uh, you know, it, at home, you can keep it in your freezer and you don't have to put ice in it. That's one of the things, and you probably do the same thing. If I'm out traveling, the first thing I do is taste the water wherever I am. If the water is not good, I'm not gonna put any ice in my bourbon, because it's gonna throw the flavor way off on it. And that's one of the things that's, I always check the first, before I put any ice in it, if I'm out traveling, see if the water's good.
YOUNG: Well now, do you have a favorite bourbon story--
RUSSELL: --oh, it's--
YOUNG: --that you can on--
RUSSELL: --I don't--(laughs)--
YOUNG: --the interview? (laughs)
RUSSELL: There's so many of them, you know, especially around Booker and someof them people. (laughs) You, but they, but you probably couldn't say it on 32:00television. (laughs) But that's, that's, you know, the, the favorite's working with all, all of the, all of, you know, uh, it's, it's a blessing to me to, the joy that I've had. You know, it's not a job for me. It's something I look forward to, getting up and coming, it's not a work. It's something I enjoy getting up and doing every day. And then, being around all of our fellow colleagues in the business, you know, it, we're together all the time, and we have such a good time together, and enjoy ourselves. So, that's the thing that, uh, but in the bourbon business, we're all, the thing I like so much, in the production end, especially, we're all such close friends, like I say, we'll do anything we can to help each other out. Uh, I know when we had the fire, Heaven Hill had the fire, every other distillery was going, "What can we do for you? What can we do for you? What can we?" And, uh, I don't think other business do that. Uh, I know, uh, they're enemies most of the time. But that's one good thing I like about the production. Now, you get into marketing and sales might be a little difference. (laughs) But I've always told our marketing and sales people, since I've been out on the road, "You never say anything bad about 33:00somebody else's bourbon. They're all good bourbons. Some are just better than others." The way I feel about it. But, uh, you know, you, "If you start running down somebody's bourbon, be careful; you might be selling it next week." That's what I tell the sales people. The way things have been going on the last several years, since you and I, you and I have been in the business, you know how much change it's been. Uh, so, you never know what'll happen.
YOUNG: You know, I was at the induction ceremony for Freddy Noe recently, intothat same Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. And he made notice of the fact that you're like his own, on-the-road father.
YOUNG: You're his second father.
RUSSELL: (laughs) Yeah.
YOUNG: And I think, I think that, uh, that illustrates some of that togetherness--
YOUNG: --that we exhibit between the companies.
RUSSELL: Yeah, you know, you, you heard him tell the story. He said, "I wassitting over"--
RUSSELL: --you'll have to go back and tell this. I said, "That's bad when yougot a dad on the road"--(both laugh)--"and a dad at home which you had to report to." But Fred, I've known Fred since he was a little, a little boy. Uh, he calls me "Dad" all the time. And that's something I really enjoy. Uh, I still 34:00get a little, um, teary-eyed when, uh, the, when Park-, uh, Booker passed away. At the funeral service, we went outside. And Freddy grabbed me and started crying and said, "You've got to be my dad all the time now." So, that still gets to me.
YOUNG: Well now, what do you least, uh, what do you, what do you list as yourgreatest accomplishments?
RUSSELL: Uh, the greatest accomplishment, uh, seeing, we had one brand, 101 isall that we had here when I come to work here. Up until 1980 is the first time we had anything other than 101 proof. And, uh, now we got, uh, uh, see, Russell's, we got the Rare Breed, we got the single barrels, and American Honey Liqueur. And seeing the change and people enjoying your product, uh, is the thing that, uh, uh, see how people enjoys it. And this is one thing I enjoy so much about being out on the road. You know, here, you make it, you age it, you 35:00put it in the bottle, and it's gone. If you don't have any complaints, you never hear anything about it. This way, you get out and meet the people. I've heard a lot of good stories about all of our bourbons, not only ours, but everybody else. You know, "I enjoy this one," or, "I enjoy that one." Why, you get to meet the people that's actually consuming it. And that's one of the greatest joys or main accomplishments for me that, I think. But like I say, getting the different brands here, seeing how they've grown over the years and continued to grow is something my, I believe it, to me, and then, seeing this new distillery building going up. Uh, as I say, everything's the same, except just bigger than what it was when I started. Uh, uh, but we're still doing everything the same way.
YOUNG: Well, you know, you've become a, a whisky icon. You've receivedlifetime achievement awards. The honorariums and good things that have been heaped on you are quite remarkable--
RUSSELL: --thank you, Al--
YOUNG: --in, in any industry, but especially in this one.36:00
YOUNG: How has that affected Jimmy Russell?
RUSSELL: I hope everybody--not a way, I'm the same. (laughs) I used to say Iwas an old country boy from Kentucky. I can't say that anymore. I'm an old, fat, bald-headed man from Kentucky now. (laughs) But, no, I hope everybody sees I'm the same. Don't change. And, as I say, I'm in the Bourbon Hall of Fame. It was one of the blessings for me. And, uh, Jim Rutledge and I was inducted at the same time to the Whisky Hall of Fame, which, that means all of them. And then, uh, a Lifetime Achievement Award and to, uh, for America and the world. And then, last week, I got the award as Ambassador of the Year for 2014 for America. So, you know, that's something that I'm proud of, but not, I'm still humble. (laughs)
YOUNG: To illustrate that humbleness, I've, I've often heard it said about youthat no matter what comes your way, good and bad, that one outstanding attribute 37:00you have is, you've never forgot where you came from.
RUSSELL: No, no, uh, my dad always told me, when I, you know, I get started totelling stories, you know, when we was fourteen-, fifteen-, sixteen-year-olds, all of us, our parents was the dumbest people in the world. We got up about twenty-one or twenty-two, they got a little smarter. When we got up in late-twenties, early-thirty, they was real smart. But when we was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, everybody, they was the dumbest people. Well, my dad always told me when I--"Look"--I started going out a little bit, "Just remember who you are." That's what he'd always tell me. "Just remember who you are." And I, that's what I still go by today. Just remember who you are and where you come from.
YOUNG: And now, that would be good advice for anybody that's just coming upthrough the ranks--
RUSSELL: --oh yeah--
YOUNG: --don't you think?
RUSSELL: --oh, yes, yes.
YOUNG: Do you have anything else you'd want to add to that, for, for somebodythat's just getting started in the industry?
RUSSELL: Well, believe in what you do, and make sure you, uh, don't put38:00yourself, to me, don't put yourself above anybody else. You're not any better than anybody else. Everybody's all, as far as I'm concerned, we're all on the same level. You're not, I don't want to be up here; I want to be on the level with everybody else. Don't, don't put yourself up above everybody else. Think you know a little more than somebody. I don't care how long you've been in the business a longer time than I have. I don't care how long you've been in the business, things is gonna happen that's never happened before. You might not think this, but you'll see things that'll happen in the distilling end of it that never happened before, you know. So, you never know what's gonna happen in our business.
YOUNG: And now, if you were to put some thoughts into play for about a minuteor two, what's on your mind? What have you got going on?
RUSSELL: Well, you know, uh, the thing I'm hoping, I, to, I, now, you, uh, thebig thing on my mind right now is what I'm making and putting in the barrel now. You know, eight to ten to twelve years from now, old Jimmy's still one of, he'll, I hope he'll be around when it's sold. (laughs) You young people don't 39:00think about this, you know? But this is something that I've started thinking about now at my age. That now, ten, twelve years from now, I'm already an old man, I'm gonna be a real old man if I'm even still around. I hope I'm not pushing up daisies when it's sold. (laughs) But, uh, that's the thing, you know It's, um, something you start thinking about though, the older you get. Uh, and, and, you know, and, fortunately for me, I've got a son I'm very proud of, that, uh, you know, he's gonna carry on the tradition. So, and I'm hoping one of his, or one of my grandchildren carries on the tradition. So, that's what I'm hoping for. That's what I'm looking forward to. And then, you know, being with the people that--uh, not only here, but we're up to the third and fourth generations of the same families working here. So, uh, I've--the other day, or here, a while back, we was talking about it, I said, "Well, I'm with the--working with the third generation here at this distillery." Four of them spoke up and said, "You're wrong." Having to start to think, they're the fourth 40:00generation, so, you know I've been around a long time--(laughs)--that you're working with that many different, different generations of families working here at the Wild. And that's we've strived for: tradition; to be same, day-in, day-out, year-in, and year-out. And as I say, that's what we've strived for with Wild Turkey bourbon. And Eddie's carrying on the same, same tradition. He, um, now, you know, all of us are coming out with different things now. Uh, we just come out with a new spiced bourbon. It's vanilla bean. It's not cinnamon or anything. That's Eddie's project. Uh, the, some of the new products that, uh, we're coming out with, that's Eddie's projects. So, that's, I'm proud of Eddie for what he's doing in that category. But he's, he'll tell you, probably, "Dad's got to approve it before I put it out." (laughs) But that's not true. It's his products now. So, that, that's what I hope to see. As time goes on, that he'll come out with new products. And as long as we don't change the regular Wild Turkey, I'll be happy. (laughs)
YOUNG: Now, Mr. Russell, I think that's, that, uh, we've certainly appreciate41:00you coming by today. And, uh, giving us some insight into your world and what you do in the bourbon industry. And now we know why you're truly an American icon.
RUSSELL: What's that? Thank you. Now, I'm not Mr. Russell. You know betterthan that. (laughs) I'm Jimmy. But thank you for your--
YOUNG: --and you always will be--
RUSSELL: --I hope so--
YOUNG: --especially to me.
RUSSELL: That's one of the things, you know, it, I've always thought this isfunny. When you're going young, you're Jimmy; when you get a little older, you become Jim or you become James. Everybody still calls me Jimmy around here. And, uh, everywhere I go, I'm Jimmy. I don't know why. But they never did go to Jim or James with me. I'm always Jimmy.
YOUNG: Well, I imagine, in our mind and in our daily reactions to you, and withyou, you haven't aged a bit.
RUSSELL: Well, thank you. (laughs) Had little more hair when I started.(both laugh) Oh, well, appreciate your time. Thank you very much for coming out and being with us today.
JOANNA HAY: Could we ask a couple of more questions?
YOUNG: What did you want me to ask? What size shirt do you wear?42:00
BRITTANY ALLISON: -----------(??) (laughs)
RUSSELL: Big. (laughs)
ALLISON: You covered a lot.
HAY: Yes, you did.
ALLISON: You just, you covered a lot of personal stuff, which is what we wereaiming for. But I was wondering if you could touch on some of the process, like, you know, what makes Wild Turkey different from other bourbon? And can you tell us about--
YOUNG: --okay, we can can do that--
ALLISON: --the aging process?
RUSSELL: Yes, yeah.
ALLISON: And so, you know, a little--
YOUNG: --I'm sorry. I know this guy. (laughter) -----------(??)
ALLISON: --that's why you have us youngsters back here--
ALLISON: -----------(??) So we can ask the obvious questions.
YOUNG: Okay. Well, now, while we're talking about Wild Turkey, do you doanything different, age-wise or, or are you more careful with certain parts of the warehouse than you are with others, or just, just what's your take on the process?
RUSSELL: Well, you know, say, we haven't changed a thing here. We're buyingpremium grains. We don't use any GMO grains. If you know, gen-, genetic modified, we're not using any of them. And, uh, we're more, uh, lighter on the corn and heavy on the rye and barley malt, where a lot of them's a lot heavier 43:00on corn and lighter on. We're looking for that big, bold flavor, taste that's 101 proof. And that's what we're looking for. And distilling at low proof is--we're still putting it in the barrel at low proof. Uh, the higher your still is, as you know, the less flavor you have. And I always use simple terms when I'm explaining to people. You know, what, you and I can sit here and technically could talk about everything. And people understand it's--we understand each, but out in the, out in the public, they don't understand when you start talking about all the ----------(??) infused oils, and all this. But I use a simple example. I'll ask people how they like their steak. "Well done?" Nobody. "Aw, no." I ask them. "Why wouldn't you want to cook it well done?" "No flavor." And I said, "You answered my question; that's the reason we still distill at low proof. The higher you distill anything, the less flavor you have in it." As I say, our warehouses are seven stories tall. Uh, you know, the bottom floors, it stays cooler all the time. The middle floors is idea. The humidity and temperature's not that, it's real hot up in the, you don't need a sauna in the summertime here. You just start up the old steps. The 44:00further you go up to the middle of that building with the metal roof, the hotter it's gonna be. And, uh, we're, we're looking at ours. We're sampling every year and knowing how it's aging. We have a lot of windows in our warehouse. We open the windows in summertime to get that good air circulation through the building. We close, somebody asked if we're climate-controlled. I said, "Yes. We're climate controlled: we open the windows in the summertime; we close them in the winter. That's climate controlled, isn't it?" But we're always looking for that. And, uh, we don't, we try to put our barrels in at different levels every day's production. So, we can take them out that way. Now, we still do some rotation. You know, we'll be tasting, if we think something on the bottom floor is not aging well enough, we'll move it up higher. Or something up higher is moving too, aging too fast--it ages a lot faster in the top, the hotter it is. We'll start moving it down. So, that's, in my personal opinion, I've gotta give you my taste buds. I think bourbon doesn't really start maturing good till about six years old. It gets over twelve or thirteen, to me, I don't like it. The white oak wood, you know, we'll have to use that new barrel. And we use 45:00number 4 char. We use the heavy char. The longer you leave it in that barrel, you lose a lot of that caramel, vanilla sweetness. The white oak wood becomes the dominant flavor and I don't like a lot of woody taste. Maybe if you like a lot of woody taste, you would like a lot of older bourbon. Me, personally, I think from six to twelve is ideal for aging bourbon, and that's what we look for here. All of our products is in that age group. Every once in a while, we come out with a limited edition. I think my fifty-nine years here, I think we've had five or six limited editions. The last one was three years ago--tradition. It was a fourteen-year-old product. We found a few barrels that we thought was aging a little extra special, tasting them every year. And we set them aside. It was, there was five thousand, uh, uh, I think it was twelve thousand bottles was all we had of it. But, you know, in aging, as you're tasting it, you can move it down lower, slow that aging down for an older product. You can control 150 or 200 barrels; you can't control 500,000 barrels. You don't have space to 46:00control them to different ages. But then, every once in a while, we'll come out with something special that's a little older, fourteen/fifteen. The oldest we've ever done was a seventeen-year-old for Japan one time. But, and we didn't think it had reached its peak till it got to seventeen. This last one, when it got fourteen we, we thought it had reached its peak, and that's when we bottled it at fourteen-years-old. But that's, in aging, you know, that's what you're looking for. You want that cons-, the main thing, to me, whether it's best or not, it's good, I want Wild Turkey to be the same today, tomorrow, eight years from now, ten years. When you buy a bottle of Wild Turkey, we want it to be the same. I don't want to go out here and buy food and one day it tastes one way and the next day it tastes another way. I want ours to taste the same day in, day out. And that's what we've always strived for here and built on. It's be consistent in flavor and taste.
YOUNG: Can you tell me where you source your grain?
RUSSELL: Uh, well, uh, actually, all of our corn comes out of Bagdad RollerMills over here, about twenty-five miles down the road. The corn comes in to 47:00him, our corn comes in from him. It comes in to him to grade out. All of ours has to meet a certain standard. And the, uh, you know, we have a lot of horses around here, and cattle. So he comes in with the feed meal, and he grades it out, what meets our standards comes to us. What doesn't meet our standards, he uses it. And the reason, we've been with him for thirty, uh, Bagdad Roller Mills, we've been buying our corn from him for the last thirty-five years. Way back--the young people don't know about this--you didn't have food stamps back in my day and time, or your day and time, Al. They had commodities. You'd go to the store and get meal, corn meal, flour, cheese, and things like that. And that's what the business, they were in, they was making flour and corn meal for the government, which had to meet higher standards. And that's the reason I went with him, or we have went with him, and we've stayed with him ever since then. Now, right now, we're going to Germany to get our rye to meet our standards. Uh, when I started, uh, the Midwest was huge in growing rye. But I guess soybeans got worth a lot more money. There's not much rye growing 48:00anymore. And then, all of our barley, we use six-row barley malt. And, you know, when it's a cool season, you can't grow it around here. It's grown up around the border, in North Dakota--it's up in that area. And all the malting plants is up around Milwaukee and up in that area. So, that's where we get all of our malt from.
YOUNG: What about water? Everybody always talks about the water source, andhow important that is.
RUSSELL: Right, uh, the water source is very important to me. You know, thisis all limestone water around here. You know, it's, the fact of it is, they're mining limestone out. They got tunnels from, uh, back in underground here for five miles, where they mine the limestone. And that water is seeping through that limestone, it takes out a lot of the impurities. You know, if you got iron, iron ore, or any--like I said when we started out, if I'm traveling, if the water don't taste good, I'm not gonna put the ice in my bourbon, because it's gonna throw the flavor off. If anything in that water, like iron ore or anything like that, it's gonna fla-, uh, throw the flavors of your bourbon off a whole lot.
YOUNG: Your yeast, is it a proprietary strain of yeast?49:00
RUSSELL: Yes, it is. As I say, all I can vouch for is it's fifty-nine yearsold. It was here when I got here, and we're still, we make yeast every day. We're still making our own yeast every day. And, uh, we got our test tubes and our slants. And, you know, uh, a, a few of us are still making our own yeast every day. Most of us went to bag yeast and dry yeast anymore. But, uh, I think you're in the same boat I am. We still believe in the old-fashioned way. And we're still making our yeast every day.
YOUNG: Now, we talked about grain. We've talked about water. We've talkedabout, um, yeast. Just how many whiskies do you think you've smelled over all these years?
RUSSELL: Oh, that'd be hard--(laughs)--hard to say. As you know, I'm fortunateenough just like you, Al. You know, a lot of these new distilleries, the micros, they always send you samples, want you to taste their product when they start making it, uh, to see what you think about it, and all. Another important thing for me is the wood, the white oak timber. You know, all Southern, 50:00Southeastern United States is white oak wood. We still get most all of our wood out of Arkansas and Missouri or Eastern Kentucky. We think that's, uh, the best wood, white oak for us. Different people has different ideas. You know, we're all, uh, if we all liked one kind of automobile, we'd all, there'd only be one make. So, all those, the same way in making bourbon. Everybody has their little, as long as we stay within the government regulations, we're making bourbon and that's, you know, each of us can cook the same dish and call it the same thing, but none of them will taste the same because each one of them do it a little different. That's, that's the way we want our bourbon. All of us wants our bourbons to be. You know, if they all taste the same, then you'd just have one brand out there. There wouldn't be any difference, would it?
YOUNG: Not at all.
RUSSELL: Not at all. You've got to, you've got to have your own flavors on.And, uh, you know, each one of us, uh, you'll know, we'll, each one of us has a distinctive flavor and taste. And you, you can pick yours out, or pick somebody else's out, too, because you, each one of us has a little different flavor and a little different taste. 51:00
YOUNG: What about your cooperage?
RUSSELL: Uh, we're still doing the Independent Stave Company. Uh, actually, itwas a bourbon cooperage for many, many years. Same plant here in Lebanon, Kentucky. But, uh, we're still using Independent Stave Company. Been using them for, ever since I can remember. That's another thing. Like the distilleries when I started, it must have been, Seagram's had their own bourbon cooperage, uh, cooperage plant. National had one, Schenley had one, a lot of different cooperage companies. And, uh, now we're, basically we're down to two or three major cooperage companies. Another thing, we still recommend, do on our wood, it has to be aged out in the woods for at least six months. You know, everything's a bottom line anymore. And they've started kiln-drying a lot of the timber now, out at, in the--but ours, well, a minimum of six, six months out in the woods, uh, in the cob house, I call it, how they stack them, getting the rain, the cold weather, the hot weather, to leach out some things that we don't want. Like I say, we use the number 4; we use the heavy char. 52:00
YOUNG: Well now, you've talked about the fact that you want to keep Wild Turkeythe same, that you've developed some new products. Is there anything else out there that you want to share with us at this time?
RUSSELL: Well, you know, we're alwa--all of us are always looking forsomething. Uh, people, uh, as I said in the beginning, you know, it was old Southern gentleman's drink. We want to get everybody involved, the young people, as long as they're twenty-one or older. We don't want anybody under twenty-one. But as long as they're twenty-one or older, and from generation after generation, and, and different age groups. Where I said, when I started, it was truly a Southern gentleman's drink, and now everybody's getting involved in it. And everybody's taste buds are a little different. We want to, uh, you know, the twenty-ones to the forties, the forties to the sixties, and then older. But usually it's hard, you can't teach a--the old story is, you can't teach an old dog new tricks. The older people are gonna keep on drinking what, what they're used to. The younger people is always looking--that's the reason 53:00right now we're short of rye whisky. Uh, here, six or seven years ago, it was only a couple of three ryes on the market. Then the young mixologists come back in the business now. The rye whisky is excellent in mixed drinks, and these--they're starting to make a lot of mixed drinks. And I laugh about this. They're coming up with all these new mixed drinks. You go back to our age, what was the drinks? Manhattans, Old Fashioned, Sours. And now we're coming back to them. And the rye whiskey market, with us, we're on allocations to 2014 through right now. And I hope it's keeps going. If we don't, I'm gonna have a lot of rye whisky around here--(laughs)--six or seven years from now, because we're making a lot more rye whiskey than we was before. But that's the biggest trend right now. You've gotta be in the market to meet new generations coming up. And this is the reason we're, uh, as I say, we come out with American Honey Liqueur, for the ladies. Now we're coming out with the spice, trying to get that younger generation who thinks bourbon, you know, bourbon's always had the thing, the, 54:00it's too strong, too strong. Or, and the biggest thing I've seen in the last few years now, as I was saying, when I started, it was all a 100 proof or around a 100 proof. And then we went down to the 90 and the 80. The 80 is the lowest you can go. And I'm seeing a huge trend going back up the higher proofs now, if everybody noticed that. Even in the Scotch market, they're going back up to the higher proofs. Everybody's looking for that good flavor, good taste, and the higher proofs nowadays. And this is the thing that, as I say, we haven't changed on that. So, we're staying, staying at 101.
YOUNG: And you touched on mixologists. You talked about the youngergenerations of legal drinkers.
YOUNG: Um, uh, just what's your take on the internet, websites and--
YOUNG: --all of this sort of thing that's going on with bloggers?
RUSSELL: Oh these bloggers, as I said in the beginning, though, nowadays, at myage, you know, you had to wait a week to find out any news of what was going on. 55:00Now--(snaps fingers)--it's just like that. You've got the news coming to you. And these bloggers, and these internets, and Str-, the Bourbon.com, StraightBourbon.com, they're, they're all over the world. And they, they're right on top of everything. You change the least little thing, they're right on, "Why did you do this? What's the difference? It's not"--and they're talking to each other on the internets and all, now. And it travels. An hour later, you know everything that's been changed or anything. People knows about it all over the world. There's, it's not waiting around two or three months or six months to find out about something. But nowadays, in two or three hours, you know about what's happening anywhere, and anywhere in the world, with the internets and all of this. And the bloggers, you know, they, they're the people that, uh, the sales, and the writers, uh, you know, if you get a writer that likes your product--and one of the best salespeople I think we have in our business is bartenders. The bars, you walk up to the bar, you and say, if you say, "Give me a bourbon and water," or whatever, how you like to drink it, if 56:00they, they, if they like your bourbon, "Hey, have you tried this bourbon?" Or, "Have you tried that bourbon?" They're the best salespeople we can have in the market. And that's one thing I've strived for is the bartenders, for making sure that, you know, if they enjoy our product, that, then the restaurants and all. Because, say, you, you walk up and say, "Give me a bourbon," they're gonna pour you a bourbon. If they like one, they, they gonna promote it. They gonna say, "Hey, have you tried this?" Or, "Taste this. I like this one." And to me, that's another thing. And, uh, word of mouth is a big thing. And go back to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Uh, you know, myself--I have to speak for myself on a lot of these things. You can do all the advertisement you want to in magazines and everything like that. But I read it. How many people do I tell about it? But if you come on a tour like the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you get back home. "What did you do?" "Well, I went to the, these distillery, this distillery, that bourbon distillery. They showed us this. They showed us that." They're telling their friends and their friends. And I know from, here, I try to say hello to all the visitors that come through here. I know the tour 57:00times. Sometimes I can't; I've got a job to do. But they go back home and start telling their friends that this is what I done on vacation. And I've had a lot of people come here, "Well, the reason we're here, our friends was here last year, enjoyed being on the Bourbon Trail, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. So we come back and we're going through it this time." And the thing that gets me about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you'd think those t-shirts was worth a hundred thousand dollars. People will travel for miles to make sure they get that passport stamped to get that t-shirt. (laughs) I've never seen anything like it. They, they'll travel. And you've got some people that does it every year. And not from Kentucky. They're from all different states and all. They'll make the Bourbon Trail every year, Kentucky Bourbon Trail, to get that t-shirt. As I say, you, you think that t-shirt was worth a fortune. (laughs) But they want those t-shirts. That's how we are as humans, you know. We want things like that. But that's one of the big things for us, and getting the, our word out in the world. And as I say, even, you know, uh, twenty-five years ago, there 58:00wasn't much bourbon sold in the export market. Here, it was Wild Turkey. We're probably 35 percent of our business is the export market now. And I think all the bourbon distributors will tell you the same thing They're, the big market that's really brought onto bourbon is the export market.
YOUNG: Well now, I know that probably Kentucky is a really good market, becausewe're bourbon prone.
YOUNG: What are some of the other markets that you're really strong in?
RUSSELL: Well, our biggest market for Wild Turkey, I-- in the United States, isTexas. We're huge in Texas. But all of the Southern states. And now we're beginning to grow in the East, North, you know, they, up there, they was always talking about, they drink rye whisky all the time. Uh, but, uh, uh, the Northeast and all is coming big. California and Washington and Oregon has always been big out on the West Coast. And all of the Southern states has always been big in bourbon. But the big growth, I think, in the States is up Northeast and all. They're beginning to get into bourbon. And in, in Japan, 59:00when I first started going to Japan, Scotch was the big thing. And now, you, bourbon was down here on the bottom. Scotch is here. Now, it's the big trend in the last fifteen years, you're seeing the bourbons up here and the Scotches down here now. Uh, that's the biggest trend I'm seeing all over the world. That bourbon is, bourbon is becoming, where it used to be the Southern gentleman's drink, or Kentucky, it's becoming a worldwide drink now. Anywhere you go, you'll find bourbon.
HAY: And speaking of all those visitors, there's a group of visitors that wethought we would go out to meet in just a minute.
YOUNG: Yeah, alright.
HAY: And that you could talk with, and we could follow.
HAY: But before we make a move, I was wondering, could you talk a little, couldyou tell us a little about bit about each one of the six decades? What your job was, and what challenges might have occurred? A little bit about, perhaps, each dec-, decade of your history here.
HAY: And the evolution from process and production to spokesperson, how did,60:00you know--
YOUNG: --want me to break that down with him?
HAY: Just, yeah, a little bit about each decade.
RUSSELL: Alright, alright.
YOUNG: Okay. You ready?
YOUNG: Well now, Jimmy, you've told us you've been in the business a long time.What could you just tell us about each of those decades that you've been in? And what your jobs were? And what it was kind of like back then?
RUSSELL: Well, as I say, in the fifties, I started out in quality control, andended up in the distillery-making for many years. In the bottling-house operation for many years. Uh, plant manager for several years. Uh, just step by step all the way through everything of it. Uh, and, uh, you know, the fifties and sixties and the early seventies was big for bourbon. And as I say, the gins and vodkas started taking over in the seven-, late, uh, early seventies. And they were, the lighter products become, uh, one of the big things back in the late sixties, uh, the federal government even passed a law where you could make light whisky. That was gonna be the big thing. Uh, I was 61:00fortunate on that. We never made a drop of it. I didn't think it'd go over good. Good thing it didn't go over; I wouldn't have had a job. But, uh, we didn't make a bit of light whisky, and a lot of people make a lot of white, light whiskies. A lot of people changed their formulas in bourbon to lighten it up, trying to meet with the, you know, the lighter products. But we haven't changed a thing. Been doing the same thing, day-in and day-out, year-in and year-out, just, except our, we're growing, growing, growing, and growing, which is good for all of us. Uh, and all the bourbon plants, it's grown over the years. And as I say, this past year, 2012, the most bourbon that's been made in Kentucky was made last year, the biggest year we've had filling new barrels was last year's. And that was, uh, uh, it's the biggest one since 1970 or 71. I'm not sure just exactly. It was, uh, that was the biggest, the biggest number of barrels filled in, in, in the state of Kentucky in bourbon. But again, as I say, ever want to, uh, every year, every year that I've been here has been joy 62:00for me, and seeing how, how the bourbon market has really increased over the years. And as I say, that, the Kentucky dist-, Bourbon Trail has done a huge amount for it. Not only that, but, uh, another thing, uh, in that time, it was all, all the writers was writing about Scotch or, uh, things of wine, Scotches. Well now, how many bourbon writers do we have now? Every, every writer now is writing about bourbon. We're getting a name. And that's another good thing for us that I've seen in my decades of working here, that how much the word bourbon is getting out all over the world, not only Kentucky but, which is already Kentucky. And, you know, I tease and cut up all the time and say, trying to get the ladies into it. Uh, another thing that I've seen change in my decades, you know, us old fellas. We knew were our bottle sat on the shelf at the liquor store. We went and got it, paid for it, and went home. If they changed the place on the shelf, we got home with the wrong bottle. The labels are a lot 63:00better-looking now because, ladies, if you're like my wife, you've gotta pick it up and, "Oh, look at that turkey," or, "Look at this. How does that look?" Well, they have to read all about it, you know. But us old fellas, we just, as I say, if they changed the position on the shelf, was we'd get home with the wrong bottle, when you know it. But the labels are a lot better. The packaging is a lot better now than it was. Just as long as there was a label is on it, that's all we cared about back then. (laughs) And a good product.
YOUNG: So, when did you venture out of the distillery and become the spokesmanfor Wild Turkey?
RUSSELL: Well, I still haven't ventured out; I'm still in the distillery.(laughs) But, uh, it's been--oh, gosh, at least twenty-five years, I guess. I guess I was one of the first ones from production out in the field. Uh, but, yeah, it's been twenty-five or thirty years, I guess, since I've been going out. But that's, as I say, we're all out there now. And, uh, and that's another good thing for our business We, you know, we're, we're telling them what it is and what it's all about. And they enjoy that. You've been with me a lot at these 64:00WhiskyFests, and, uh, back to the WhiskyFest. This is amazing to me. We just had the Bourbon Festival in Kentucky. I got to San Francisco. There were several people at the Bourbon Festival in Bardstown was in San Francisco. The same people was in Chicago. And they'll probably be in New York in two weeks. They travel. I don't--I don't know when they work, but they--(laughs)--they, they're, they're traveling around. They want to know what's anything new coming out. Well, as I say, with the internet and everything else, they know all about it all the time. But that's the thing to me that, seeing how the bourbon market's really grown.
[End of interview.]
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: This is Al Young interviewing Wild Turkey's Master Distiller Jimmy Russell on September the 30th, 2013 for the Kentucky Bourbon Tales oral history project.
Segment Synopsis: Jimmy Russell is introduced. He talks about his family, and about growing up in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. He discusses how he came to work at the Wild Turkey Distillery, and his first job in the quality control department.
Keywords: Analysis; Bourbon industry; Bourbon industry families; Bourbon market; Brands; Consolidation; Education; First jobs; Lawrenceburg, Ky.; Samples
Subjects: Distillation. Distilleries--Kentucky Distillers. Families Family-owned business enterprises. Quality control. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
GPS: Wild Turkey Distillery (Lawrenceburg, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0379712, -84.8496304
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Partial Transcript: What in your opinion makes good bourbon?
Segment Synopsis: Russell discusses what makes a good bourbon, including distilling proof, quality ingredients, and barrels. He talks about his friendships with other Kentucky bourbon distillers, and how they help each other in times of need.
Keywords: Al Young; Booker Noe (Frederick Booker Noe II); Bourbon barrels; Bourbon formulas; Bourbon industry; Bourbon recipes; Camaraderie; Charlie Beam; Craig Beam; Elmer T. Lee; Federal laws; Friends; Grains; Helping; Jim Rutledge; Parker Beam; Water; WhiskyFest; Yeast
Subjects: Distillation. Distilleries--Kentucky Distillers. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well tell me about your distillery. What makes it unique?
Segment Synopsis: Russell discusses the expansion of the distillery, the new location, and the growth in production he has seen over his years working at the distillery. He talks about the changes in ownership that have occurred during his time there. He talks about the fire that occurred at the distillery in 2000.
Keywords: Changes in ownership; Expanding; Expansion; Fires; Growth; New distillery; Production; Storage buildings
Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
GPS: Wild Turkey Distillery (Lawrenceburg, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0379712, -84.8496304
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well, you know, from time to time, you know, some things change and some things remain the same. But was Wild Turkey's American Honey a stroke of genius or just plain luck?
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about his involvement in the creation of Wild Turkey American Honey, and discusses their original target market for the product. He talks about Wild Turkey's "Give 'em the bird" advertising slogan. He discusses the name changes the distillery has gone through over the years, and how the name "Wild Turkey" was chosen.
Keywords: "Give 'em the bird"; 101 proof; Advertisements; Anderson County Distilling Company; Austin Nichols; Jake turkey; Labels; Lawrenceburg (Ky.); Promotional campaigns; Saffell Distillery; Wild Turkey American Honey; Wild Turkey brand name; Wild turkey hunts; Women
Subjects: Advertising. Branding (Marketing) Consumers. Distilleries--Kentucky Prohibition. Sales promotion. Target marketing. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
GPS: Anderson County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38, -84.99
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well now the first time I met you, I met you at the old Seagram plant over on, uh, the other part of Anderson County.
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about traveling to speak with consumers in the bourbon industry, and how they have become more educated about bourbon over the years. He talks about the location in the warehouses that produces the best tasting bourbon. He talks about the popularity of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and Wild Turkey's expanding tourism industry.
Keywords: "Bourbon Renaissance"; "Honey spots"; "Sugar barrels"; Educated consumers; Expansion; Kentucky Bourbon Trail; Production; Traveling; Visitors centers; Well-informed
Subjects: Consumers. Tourism. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Now I know you're travelling the country and I do to some degree and, and Eddie does too because our paths cro, uh, cross quite often, but what is your idea about the state of the bourbon industry in today's beverage alcohol market?
Segment Synopsis: Russell gives his opinion on the future growth of the bourbon market. He talks about how advancements in technology have changed how the distillery operates. He talks about working various shifts, and why many farmers worked the midnight shifts.
Keywords: Bourbon market; Computers; Employees; Equipment; Industry growth; Work shifts; Workers
Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky Economic conditions. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
GPS: Wild Turkey Distillery (Lawrenceburg, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0379712, -84.8496304
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well now I know that throughout your career you've been involved with a lot of--(coughs)--different organizations and groups, but I also know that at one time you served as the director of the Kentucky Distillers' Association.
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about his involvement in bourbon industry associations, and his desire for every distillery to have a voice in the organization. He talks about his induction into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. He talks about his son, Eddie Russell, and how he feels about his son's involvement in the bourbon industry.
Keywords: Bourbon organizations; Directors; Eddie Russell; Education; Fathers; KDA; Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame; Representatives
Subjects: Distillers. Kentucky Distillers' Association Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well now how do you become a Master Distiller?
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about how he became a Master Distiller at the Wild Turkey Distillery by learning from Bill Hughes and by training in each of the departments. He talks about how he feels about traveling all over the world and being asked to sign autographs.
Keywords: Australia; Bill Hughes; Departments; England; Japan; Jobs; Learning; Master Distillers; Meeting people; Scotland; Signing autographs; Training; Traveling
Subjects: Business enterprises, Foreign. Distillers Fame Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: And uh--say we come under the federal government supervision. I talk about my other son. Uh, he's retired.
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about his son who works for the IRS. He talks about the importance of family. He discusses whether any of his grandchildren will carry on the tradition of becoming Master Distiller at Wild Turkey.
Keywords: Alcohol taxes; Camaraderie; Children; Colleagues; Daughters; Distillery family; Friends; Grandchildren; Granddaughters; Internal Revenue Service (IRS); Sons
Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky Distillers. Families Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well now when you know when it comes down to it--(coughs)--one of the questions that always comes up in somebody's mind to ask is, 'How do you drink your bourbon?'
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about how he prefers to drink bourbon. He talks about the friends he has made in the bourbon industry, and how the various Kentucky distilleries are not enemies and instead help each other in times of need. He talks about being a father figure in the industry, especially to Fred Noe.
Keywords: Bourbon industry; Camaraderie; Colleagues; Enjoyment; Father figures; Fred Noe (Frederick Booker Noe III); Neat; On the rocks; Togetherness; Water
Subjects: Alcoholic beverages. Distillers. Whiskey Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well now--(coughs)--what do you least--what do you, what do you list as your greatest accomplishments?
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about introducing new products at Wild Turkey, which he considers one of his greatest accomplishments. He discusses the honors and awards he has received from the bourbon industry. He talks about the advice his father gave him, and gives advice for people entering into the bourbon industry.
Keywords: Advice; Alcohol proofs; Ambassador of the Year; Bourbon Hall of Fame; Changes; Consumers; Enjoyment; Honors; Humble; Lifetime achievement awards; Products; Proud; Whiskey Hall of Fame; Wild Turkey 101 proof bourbon whiskey
Subjects: Distillers Families. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well now, if you were to put some thoughts into play for about a minute or two, what's on your mind? What do you got going on?
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about wondering if he'll still be working at Wild Turkey when the bourbon currently being distilled is being put into bottles. He talks about working with four generations of several families at the distillery. He talks about his son Eddie carrying on the family tradition at Wild Turkey.
Keywords: Aging; Eddie Russell; Generations; Life expectancy; Sons; Traditions
Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky Distillers. Families. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
GPS: Wild Turkey Distillery (Lawrenceburg, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0379712, -84.8496304
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Could we ask a couple more questions?
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about the ingredients Wild Turkey uses to make its bourbon, including the grains, water, yeast, and barrels, and he discusses where those ingredients come from. He talks about why Wild Turkey distills at low proofs. He describes the warehouses where the bourbon is aged, and gives his opinions on the aging process. He discusses the importance of keeping the taste of their products consistent.
Keywords: Aging; Alcohol proofs; Barley malt; Barrels; Consistency; Cooperage companies; Corn; Distilling; Flavors; Germany; Grains; Heavy char; Independent Stave Company; Ingredients; Lebanon (Ky.); Limestone water sources; Limited editions; Rye; Smelling; Taste; Warehouses; Water; White oak wood; Yeast
Subjects: Distillation Distilleries--Kentucky Quality of products. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
GPS: Wild Turkey Distillery (Lawrenceburg, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0379712,-84.8496304
Hyperlink: Image of Jimmy Russell outside of the Wild Turkey Distillery warehouses
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Well now you've talked about the fact that you want to keep Wild Turkey the same, that you've developed some new products, is there anything else out there that you want to share with us at this time?
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about the younger generations becoming involved in the bourbon industry, and how they are driving trends like the popularity of mixologists and mixed drinks. He talks about how the Internet has changed how much people know about the bourbon industry. He talks about bartenders as salespeople of his products, and the importance of word-of-mouth advertising.
Keywords: "Bourbon Renaissance"; Alcohol proofs; Bartenders; Bloggers; Bourbon websites; Global market; Internet; Japan; Kentucky Bourbon Trail; Mixed drinks; Mixologists; New consumers; Rye whiskey; Sales trends; Salespeople; Southern states; Texas; Tours; Trends; Wild Turkey American Honey; Younger consumers
Subjects: Advertising. Business enterprises, Foreign. Cocktails Export marketing. Flavored alcoholic beverages Sales promotion. Tourism. Whiskey. Word-of-mouth advertising.
Direct segment link:
Partial Transcript: Speaking of all those visitors, there's a group of visitors that we thought we would go out to meet in just a minute--
Segment Synopsis: Russell talks about working at the Wild Turkey Distillery over the years, and the various jobs he has held. He discusses how the bourbon market has changed, and how it has been affected by the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. He talks about when he became a spokesman for the company, and the popularity of bourbon festivals. The interview is concluded.
Keywords: "Bourbon Renaissance"; Bottling; Bourbon festivals; Bourbon market; Changes; Growth; Jobs; Kentucky Bourbon Trail; Labels; Light whiskeys; Packaging; Plant managers; Spokesman; Women; Writers
Subjects: Consumers. Distilleries--Kentucky Fame. Sales promotion. Whiskey industry--Kentucky
GPS: Wild Turkey Distillery (Lawrenceburg, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0379712, -84.8496304