Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Jimmy Russell, Bill Samuels, Chris Morris, Craig Beam, Jim Rutledge, Mark Coffman, December 5, 2013

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

 

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00:00:12 - Introduction into the bourbon industry

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Partial Transcript: This is Katherine Tandy Brown interviewing five of Kentucky's Master Distillers and one Chairman Emeritus in the bourbon industry for Kentucky Living Magazine's April issue.

Segment Synopsis: Jimmy Russell, Bill Samuels, Chris Morris, Craig Beam, Jim Rutledge and Mark Coffman introduce themselves and the distilleries they work for. They discuss how they began working in the bourbon industry, and how working in the industry is often a family tradition.

Keywords: Beginnings in the bourbon industry; Chairman Emeritus; Family business; Fathers; Four Roses Distillery; Generations; Heaven Hill Distilleries; Makers Mark Distillery; Master Distillers; Mentors; Town Branch Distillery; Wild Turkey Distillery; Woodford Reserve Distillery

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:05:32 - First drink of bourbon

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Partial Transcript: Craig, when did you have your first drink of bourbon?

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about when and where they had their first taste of bourbon. They talk about bourbon as an acquired taste.

Keywords: Acquired taste; Coughing; Drinking bourbon; Hot toddies; Teething

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Childhood.; Whiskey.

00:09:18 - Pressure to join the family business

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Partial Transcript: Uh, Chris, did you feel pressure to go into the business early on because of your family?

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk more about how working in the bourbon industry is often a family tradition, and whether any of them felt pressured to join their family business. They talk about their first jobs in the distilleries.

Keywords: Brown-Forman Corporation; Cleaning; Family business; First jobs; Pressure; Quality control

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:12:52 - Mentors in the bourbon industry

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Partial Transcript: Um, Jim, who, who are your mentors? Or who have been your mentors in the business since you didn't really grow up in it?

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about their mentors when they first entered the bourbon industry, and what they learned from them.

Keywords: Baker Beam; Bill Hughes; Booker Noe (Frederick Booker Noe II); Camaraderie; Competition; Helping; Jimmy Russell; Jules Kahn; Perfectionists; Stanley Bershaw; Teaching

Subjects: Distillers.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:18:58 - Fire at Heaven Hill Distilleries

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Partial Transcript: Well speaking of the camaraderie in the business, uh, the Heaven Hill fire comes to mind.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about the fire that occurred at the Heaven Hill Distilleries, and how everyone in the bourbon industry came together to help.

Keywords: Camaraderie; Fires; Heaven Hill Distilleries; Helping; Insurance; Inventory; Max Shapira; Media; Production; Warehouses

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

GPS: Heaven Hill Distilleries (Bardstown, Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 38.0487074, -84.499245
00:24:32 - Talking to customers

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Partial Transcript: For the Master Distillers, when--y'all spend a lot of time on the road it seems.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about traveling and meeting consumers from all over the world as part of their job as Master Distillers. They talk about the various bourbon events like WhiskyFest and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, Kentucky, and how the bourbon market has changed and expanded over the years.

Keywords: Ambassadors; Bourbon industry; Bourbon tastings; Brands; Connections; Education; Emerging markets; Industry growth; Kentucky Bourbon Festival; On the road; Packaging; Public relations; Relationship with consumers; Traveling; WhiskyFest; Women

Subjects: Consumers.; Whiskey.

00:31:12 - Bourbon industry growth

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Partial Transcript: Well and in addition to--the business is just, as you know, booming. Absolutely.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about the various reasons that the bourbon industry is currently growing at a rapid pace.

Keywords: Advertisements; Cocktails; Export market; Growing industry; Mixologists; Packaging; Scotch whisky; Social media; Versatility; Younger consumers; Younger generations

Subjects: Economic conditions.; Marketing.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky; Word-of-mouth advertising.

00:39:20 - Bourbon tourism

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Partial Transcript: Um, well the bourbon industry is certainly helping tourism.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about the growing trend of bourbon tourism. They talk about how the Kentucky Bourbon Trail affects Kentucky's economy.

Keywords: Bourbon industry; Brown-Forman Corporation; Camaraderie; Communication; Craft distilleries; KDA; Kentucky Bourbon Trail; Napa Valley; Thoroughbred industry; Visitors centers

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Kentucky Distillers' Association; Tourism.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:44:42 - Kentucky as the home of bourbon distilling

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Partial Transcript: Changing course just a little bit here. Of course bourbon is now being made all over the country.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about why Kentucky is the benchmark for making bourbon. They talk about Kentucky as a difficult place to start a business, especially a business specializing in making alcohol. They talk about how new microdistilleries affect the industry.

Keywords: Alcohol taxes; Benchmark; Bourbon whiskey; Business climate; Business friendly; Climate; Craft distilleries; Experiences; Kentucky bourbon; Monopoly; Regulations; Startups; Water

Subjects: Alcohol--Taxation--United States.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Economic conditions.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:49:34 - The passion involved in being a Master Distiller

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Partial Transcript: Um, now tell me a little bit, for the Master Distillers, about your job as a Master Distiller.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about the job duties of a Master Distiller, and how it differs from being a plant manager. They talk about the importance of promoting the Kentucky bourbon industry. They discuss their passion for the job, and why they love it. They talk about temperance in Kentucky.

Keywords: Alcohol taxes; Art; Bourbon industry; Changes; Craft distilleries; Culture; Curiosity; Dry counties; Enjoyment; History; Kentucky bourbon; Lexington Brewing Company; Master Distillers; Microdistilleries; Passion; Plant managers; Product promotion; Quality control; Temperance; Traditions; Traveling

Subjects: Alcohol--Taxation--United States.; Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Prohibition.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

00:59:17 - Changes in distillery technology over the years

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Partial Transcript: You fa--I'm fascinated by, you know, what technology's out there now days to, to be able to keep everything consistent across the board.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about what the distilleries were like when they first began working there, and how the technology has moved from manual to automatic over time. They talk about the importance of using their senses when distilling and doing quality control.

Keywords: "Rockstar" status; Aromas; Art; Automation; Changes; Computers; Fermenters; Machinery; Manual valves; Problems; Responsibilities; Senses; Sounds; Tasting; Technology

Subjects: Distillation.; Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.

01:10:42 - Taste and flavor of bourbon

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Partial Transcript: What makes a great bourbon? This is what everybody wants to know.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about what makes a good bourbon and why there is not just one answer, but an individual answer for everyone. They talk about some of the factors that affect the taste of bourbon.

Keywords: Aging; Bourbon barrels; Caramel; Color; Finish; Flavors; Opinions; Personal taste; Taste; Vanilla; Variations; Warehouses; Wood

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Quality of products.; Whiskey.; Word-of-mouth advertising.

01:17:12 - Favorite drinks

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Partial Transcript: Getting a little personal, um, when you are sitting with your, your friends, your drinking buddies, your other Master Distillers, um, Craig, what do you, what do you like to drink?

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about their personal favorite bourbons and cocktails. They talk about how the bourbon industry tries to encourage drinking responsibly and not driving under the influence.

Keywords: Drink smart campaigns; Drinking and driving; Drinking bourbon; Drinking responsibly; Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bourbon whiskey; Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon whiskey; Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon whiskey; Maker's 46 bourbon whiskey; Manhattan (drink); Mixed drinks; Russell's Reserve bourbon whiskey; Single malt whiskey; Town Branch Rye bourbon whiskey; Underage drinking; Wild Turkey Rare Breed; Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Cocktails.; Whiskey.

01:20:45 - Future of the bourbon industry

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Partial Transcript: As far as the industry is concerned, the bourbon industry, um, Bill, as Chairman Emeritus of Maker's Mark I'll--

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about whether the current growth of the bourbon industry will continue. They talk about being mentors to the next generation of Master Distillers, and whether anyone in their family will take over when they retire. They talk more about their passion for the job.

Keywords: Consistency; Craft distilleries; Daughters; Economy; Eddie Russell; Education; Expansion; Future; Growth; Increasing production; Knowledge; Legacies; Mentors; Microdistilleries; Next generation; Other jobs; Passion; Retiring; Rob Samuels; Sons; Succession; Teaching

Subjects: Distilleries--Kentucky; Distillers.; Economic conditions.; Families.; Family-owned business enterprises.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky

01:31:17 - Stories about camaraderie in the bourbon industry

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Partial Transcript: --and the story is for the readers of Kentucky Living. Some know a lot about bourbon and some have no idea.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about how the people working in the bourbon industry are more like a family than competition. They tell stories about drinking together at whiskey events, including stories about Jimmy Russell always staying out later than everyone else. They talk about their favorite bars.

Keywords: Bars; Bartenders; Bourbon industry; Camaraderie; Chicago, Illinois; Competition; Delilah's (bar); Drinking bourbon; Jimmy Russell; Late nights; Master Distillers; Twisted Spoke (bar); WhiskyFest; Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey

Subjects: Alcoholic beverages.; Distillers.; Families.; Whiskey--Anecdotes

01:36:06 - Memories of bourbon industry legends

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Partial Transcript: Well really quick, we've lost--we've--in the past year or so we've lost a lot of, of, uh, friends and colleagues.

Segment Synopsis: Russell, Samuels, Morris, Beam, Rutledge, and Coffman talk about the recent loss of three bourbon industry legends: Lincoln Henderson, Elmer T. Lee, and Harry Shapira. They tell stories about how they met Henderson, Lee, and Shapira and about their friendships. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Bourbon industry; Elmer T. Lee; Experience; Friends; Gentlemen; Harry Shapira; Legends; Lincoln Henderson; Memories; Mentors; Passion

Subjects: Distillers.; Whiskey industry--Kentucky