WhiskyFest New York Panelist Jimmy Russell
Wild Turkey Distillery
Master Distiller James C. “Jimmy” Russell knows bourbon like he knows breathing. It’s fitting, then, that the longest-tenured Master Distiller in the bourbon industry today be known as “the Buddha of Bourbon.” Russell has been making whiskey at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky for over 58 years. Growing up five miles from the distillery, he idolized his father and grandfather, both distillery employees, who taught him the traditions and techniques of bourbon craftsmanship. His first illustrious position at the distillery was sweeping floors, but his dedication to the art of making great bourbon has elevated him to the top of Kentucky’s most-treasured industry.
Jimmy’s passion for bourbon has led him to study under such bourbon luminaries as Bill Hughes, Wild Turkey’s second Master Distiller, and Ernest W. Ripy, Jr., great-grandson of distillery founder James Ripy, Wild Turkey’s third Master Distiller. Even if his unparalleled tutelage wasn’t enough, his family history, impeccable knowledge of bourbon, and possession of time-honored bourbon-making secrets have led to his reputation as “the master distiller’s master distiller.” A part of an exclusive brotherhood of men who have mastered bourbon, Jimmy is a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and a whiskey judge for the International Wine and Spirits Competition. He’s involved through the entire distillation and aging process of Wild Turkey Bourbon; his experience and wisdom shining through in every single bottle.
Jimmy, with over 58 years of experience, is responsible for the product launches of Rare Breed, Kentucky Spirit, and also Russell’s Reserve which he co-created with his son; Associate Distiller Eddie Russell. Jimmy is also responsible for making sure the legacy of Wild Turkey stays intact; overseeing the production of Wild Turkey 101, Wild Turkey’s flagship brand.
Each one of Jimmy’s products is uniquely Wild Turkey while still having a distinct taste. Wild Turkey Rare Breed is one of the pioneers of small batch bourbon, and barrel proof, meaning no water is added to reduce the level of alcohol during the bottling process. Rare Breed is definitely the rarest of the Wild Turkey birds; winning a Silver Medal in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2010 and a Gold Medal in 2008, 2011 and 2012.
Another crown jewel is Kentucky Spirit, a 101 proof, single barrel bourbon, hand-selected for superior taste and quality by Jimmy. These barrels are the rare elites; the MVP’s who continually redefine what quality bourbon can be. Kentucky Spirit has won a Gold Medal at the 2011 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Jimmy, in fact, has such a passion for bourbon that he has passed on his love to his son, Eddie Russell, Associate Distiller at Wild Turkey. Together they have worked side by side at the distillery for over 30 years and have even created the bourbon Russell’s Reserve together. Russell’s Reserve reflects the expertise that comes with their combined 90 years of experience; aged ten years and bottled in limited quantities at 90 proof you can tell that is was created by true bourbon experts. Together, they are one of the very few father-son inductees into the Bourbon Hall of Fame.