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Wild Turkey Promotes Eddie Russell

Wild Turkey's winning relationship with the Russell family continues
Jack Bettridge
Posted: August 2, 2007

Wild Turkey's winning relationship with the Russell family continues with the recent promotion of Eddie Russell, the director of barrel maturation and warehousing, to the post of associate distiller. Russell, who represents the fourth generation of his family employed at the storied distillery, is now in his 27th year there.

Russell's father, the illustrious Jimmy Russell is the master distiller and has been working there since 1954 and has created some of the company's landmark Bourbon, including Rare Breed and the single-barrel Kentucky Spirit. The younger Russell learned his trade under his father's tutelage and Eddie and Jimmy teamed up for the creation of Russell's Reserve, the 10-year-old ultrapremium first released in 2000.

"Bourbon embodies a proud history as the all-American spirit, and none more so than Wild Turkey," said Gregg Snyder, Manager of the Austin Nichols Distillery, which makes the whiskey. "Eddie has learned the brand's uncompromising traditions on-the-job, and will safeguard them into the future."

"It was a natural transition for me to move into this role," said Eddie about his promotion. It's been a family tradition for as long as I can remember and I've always been very proud of that. I've learned everything I know about Bourbon from my father."

Such family continuity is not unusual in the Bourbon industry. Master Distiller Parker Beam of Heaven Hill works with his son Craig. Fred Noe who works at Jim Beam is the son of the former master distiller Booker Noe, who in turn was the grandson of Jim Beam.

Russell's new position will put him in even closer conjunction with his father in the effort to ensure the continuation of the quality and taste of Wild Turkey.

Wild Turkey

It is not unusual for a whiskey brand to be made by a distiller that doesn't own it. That was the case with Wild Turkey when it was first created more than 60 years ago. Its production was contracted by Austin Nichols, a wholesale grocer that also packaged coffees and teas. The Bourbon was such a hit that Austin Nichols eventually bought the distillery -- and dropped the groceries. Today, that is where all Wild Turkey, and only Wild Turkey, is distilled.

Originally the Ripy Brothers and then Boulevard Distillery, it is today called by the name on the bottle. Austin Nichols is now part of the French company Pernod Ricard. The key to Turkey's greatness, however, is its master distiller, the renowned Jimmy Russell, who started there in 1954, years before either company owned it.

Despite the distillery's location atop a gorge overlooking the Kentucky River and a name that conjures images of tromps through the woods, the place looks the most like a Bourbon factory of any of the distilleries that can be visited. But anyone who is lucky enough to walk through with Russell as tour director -- and he occasionally wears that hat -- will get an immediate impression of the tradition, artisanship and lore that goes into the making of Wild Turkey.

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