Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Jimmy Russell, September 30, 2013

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries

 

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00:00:00 - First job at the Wild Turkey Distillery

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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
00:03:41 - Wild Turkey Distillery's bourbon formula / friends in the bourbon industry

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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

00:05:52 - Major events in the history of the Wild Turkey Distillery

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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
00:08:24 - Brand names and advertising campaigns

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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
00:14:02 - Involvement of consumers in the bourbon industry

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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

00:19:34 - Changes in the distillery over the years

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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
00:22:46 - Involvement in industry organizations / Eddie Russell

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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

00:25:57 - Becoming a Master Distiller

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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

00:28:13 - Family involvement in the bourbon industry

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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

00:30:42 - Drinking bourbon / camaraderie in the bourbon industry

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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

00:34:22 - Personal accomplishments

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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

00:38:38 - His family's future in the bourbon industry

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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
00:41:55 - Wild Turkey Distillery's bourbon making process

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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
00:52:04 - Younger generations and trends in the bourbon industry

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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.

00:59:33 - Wild Turkey Distillery through the decades

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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