Bourbon’s Best Ambassador – Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell

Bourbon’s Best Ambassador – Wild Turkey’s Jimmy Russell

Distiller Jimmy Russell talks about bourbonOn a recent sunny afternoon at the Wild Turkey Visitor’s center, a guest and bourbon enthusiast was idly browsing the gift shop when he suddenly spotted Jimmy Russell. One of bourbon’s most recognizable faces was quietly perched in his usual spot – a tall stool right next to the far window. The excited guest dashed as fast as he could over to the stool in hopes of getting a photo, signature on a bottle or maybe an opportunity to chat with what passes as the equivalent of Kentucky bourbon royalty. As he approached Jimmy with an outstretched hand he said, “Mr. Russell, I don’t know whether to congratulate you on your recent milestone at Wild Turkey or your induction into the Hall of Fame!”

Jimmy flashed his wide signature grin and warmly replied “Thanks” with the slight southern drawl that comes from spending a lifetime in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. In that moment, Jimmy looked slightly bemused at the attention and, frankly, a little humbled. After all, in the remarkable 62 years since he first walked through the door at Ripy Brothers distillery (the Wild Turkey name would come later), he has likely seen it all, done most of it and won nearly every accolade that the industry has to offer. In fact, when he was honored with the Parker Beam Lifetime Achievement Award from the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame on September 14th, it was actually his second time as an inductee. The first came as a charter member of the Hall of Fame fifteen years ago. After all, there are Master Distillers, then there are Bourbon Legends, and then there is Jimmy Russell.

Celebrating “The Buddha of Bourbon”

As guests approach the Wild Turkey Distillery, they are treated to an amazing view of the Kentucky River, the distillery and warehouses atop a nearby hill, and a giant billboard installed in 2014 that invites you to “See the House that Jimmy Built.” The bourbon community is notorious for embellishing already tall tales and manufacturing over-the-top lore around historical figures such as Elijah Craig, George Remus and Cassius Clay (not that Cassius Clay). But all would agree that, in this case, it’s not overstating things to say that Jimmy Russell is largely responsible for the success of the Wild Turkey brand today.

On September 9th, 1954, Jimmy walked in the front door of the Ripy Brothers distillery and started as a quality control employee. Jimmy was looking to join the family trade by signing on to one of the four area bourbon distilleries in Lawrenceburg – Ripy Brothers, Old Joe, Old Prentice (today known as Four Roses), and Hoffman Distillery. Under Jimmy’s watchful eye as Master Distiller, a title he’s carried since the late 1960’s, Wild Turkey has grown from filling less than 80 bourbon barrels a day to nearly 600. Today there are over 600,000 barrels aging in over two dozen warehouses across the distillery grounds on the eastern edge of Anderson County. The brand’s line up has expanded from the ever faithful Wild Turkey 101, the only product offered up until the mid-1980’s, to nearly a dozen brands today.

A Wild Turkey by any other name…

A toast with master distiller and whiskey legend Jimmy RussellJimmy has seen four different ownership groups come and go. In this latest era of Wild Turkey, much of the growth has been facilitated by Campari Groups who purchased the distillery from Pernod Riccard in 2009. From the distillery building to the bottling room, staff is working overtime to keep pace with international demand for Wild Turkey in places like Japan and Australia. But Jimmy will be the first one to tell you that as much as things have changed at Wild Turkey, a great deal has stayed the exact same. For example, the staff beams with pride when talking about how the exact same yeast strain has been used for their bourbons for over 60 years. Wild Turkey also shuns GMO grains for traditionally grown corn and rye. There is no more precious word to the seasoned Master Distiller than “consistency”.

These days, Jimmy Russell has a little family help in distilling. His son Eddie Russell works closely with his father as Co-Master Distiller, a role to which he was promoted in 2015. As a boy who once grew up using the giant warehouses as his own personal playground, Eddie started at the distillery in 1981 by mowing lawns. The younger Russell, who likes to joke that he started practically yesterday, has been working at the distillery a mere 35 years. Eddie was honored in June for his service with a tool any distillery worker would drool over – a brand new copper whiskey thief from Vendome Copper and Brass Works. While the duo may not be the only active father/son combo in the bourbon industry, their nearly 100 years of combined experience under their collective belts makes them the most tenured.

Aging to perfection and showing no signs of slowing down

Jimmy Russell poses with a bottle of bourbonTwo years ago, the marketing folks at Wild Turkey decided to declare 2014 “The Year of Jimmy Russell.” A special Diamond Anniversary Bourbon with a high price tag was issued to commemorate this special milestone. But don’t mistake the celebration for a public ease into retirement. At nearly 82 years old, Jimmy still prefers to work six to seven days a week. As he’s fond of saying when asked, “I tell people when it becomes a job, I’ll retire.” It’s hard to miss Jimmy’s image today; his face is plastered on just about everything related to Wild Turkey except the label on the bottle. And, even then, the Russell name adorns their small batch collection “Russell’s Reserve.”

Back at the Wild Turkey visitor’s center, Jimmy was still in the chair hours later signing bottles with his silver Sharpie and answering questions from every angle of the Bourbon spectrum. Each question earned a thoughtful response, with Jimmy speaking slowly and deliberately. As the crowd around him grew, he poses for photo after photos. Three guests huddle in close and one ordered the group to, “Say Whiskey!” Jimmy Russell, flashing his big grin, says, “No, that’s Tennessee! We do bourbon around here. Say Bourbon!”

Mint Julep Tours offers an exclusive experience at the Wild Turkey Distillery as part of a Custom Tour. Guests visit a barrel warehouse where they receive a brief history and are shown the aging process, then travel to the Station Master’s House for a private tasting. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online today to get more information on this custom tour experience.

Written by Phil Kollin – Mint Julep Tours Driver & Guide 

 

A further look at The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® and Bourbon County’s Hartfield & Co Distillery

A further look at The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® and Bourbon County’s Hartfield & Co Distillery 

As you cruise down Paris, Kentucky’s Main Street, you quickly realize that the bourbon distillery you’ve come to visit is actually right in the heart of horse country. Paris has earned their motto of “Thoroughbred Capital of the World” due to the town’s proximity to world class horse farms such as Claiborne, Normandy, Adena Springs and more. And despite the fact that Paris sits smack dab in the middle of Bourbon County, the county itself wasn’t the home to an operational distillery for nearly 100 years. But that changed in July of 2014 when the government awarded a license to Hartfield & Co. to distill whiskey. Situated in a modest downtown store front, just around the corner from Kentucky’s own replica Eiffel Tower, Hartfield & Co. is now open for business and welcoming tourists. The new whiskey producer is also the latest addition to the ever expanding list of distilleries that make up The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

Hartfield & Co.Many distilleries on the Craft Trail have chosen a similar approach to Hartfield & Co. when it comes to location. Often independently owned, these businesses opt for cozy spaces rather than the sprawling and historic campuses typical of more established distilleries. Location, however, is about all they have in common. A noble goal for any bourbon aficionado, the voyage to hit all 10 stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour will definitely add some miles to your odometer. For example, the trek between the furthest two stops (The Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville, KY and MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, KY) will take about four and a half hours of driving down highways and country roads. But remote locations reward visitors with small and intimate experiences. Not only will you enjoy a tour that tends to showcase every single step of the bourbon making process, but you’ll often find yourself chatting up a co-owner or lead distiller. That’s an experience that’s nearly impossible to replicate at the larger distilleries.

Hartfield & Co. (known for a brief spell as The Gentleman) is the first distillery in Bourbon County since 1919. At the turn of the last century, small whiskey distilleries littered the region. But Prohibition shuttered them all; not a single location in the county reopened once the so-called Noble Experiment was repealed in 1933. Fast forward to today where Hartfield & Co. is quickly making waves. Co-owners Andrew Buchanan and Curtis Mackley saw the ironic lack of Bourbon in Bourbon County as both a problem and an opportunity. Neither had a background in alcohol production, distribution, chemistry or even a stint behind the counter at a local liquor store. But the distillery’s small size provided the pair the opportunity to learn on the job and be nimble with their operations. Since opening, they have tweaked everything from their whiskey product mash bill to the company’s name. The distillery officially joined The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Distillery Tour on October 19th, 2015. But the real celebration at Hartfield & Co. came in December when updated Bourbon Trail Passports, which included their location as an official stop, arrived in the mail.

1.28.16 Photo 2Hartfield & Co. focuses on their small batch whiskey and craft spirits. They embrace a simple design on their labels and bottle. The distillery is confident that the contents inside the bottle will win over drinkers without colorful marketing on the outside. While the bourbon at Hartfield & Co. is aging to maturity in racks, the company continues to distill whiskey, white whiskey, gin, and Apple Pie Rum with plenty of samples to go around. The staff’s warmth and enthusiasm to guests who drop in matches their demeanor towards long lost relatives. The friendly, passionate and welcoming atmosphere makes a trip to Hartfield & Co. feel more like meeting up with a group of old friends who also happen to be running a bourbon distillery. But beware—this is a primary hazard of the Craft Distillery Tour: after a few stops coupled with a few sips of liquid inspiration, you might decide that you and your friends have the time, resources, and know-how to start your own distillery.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour Julep CupIt seems that every few weeks, another announcement of plans for a new distillery makes the news. Press releases come from everywhere in the state ranging from the tiny town of Franklin, KY to Shelby County. Coming off a record year of visitors, The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Distillery Tour certainly has the promise of continued growth and perhaps even the potential to double in size within a few years. But if you need one more reason to start planning your adventure now, then consider the one-of-a-kind keepsake you will receive once you complete the trail. After celebrating your visit with a stamp in your bourbon passport at all 10 locations, you’ll be the new owner of a beautifully engraved julep cup—a collectible that is more trophy than drinking vessel. Each and every distillery on the craft trail offers a unique history, a beautiful space to view, and of course, a delicious spirit to taste. With a little ambition and a little gas in the tank, you can visit all the locations in no time. Your new favorite bottle of bourbon (or moonshine) may be just around the bend. So, you better get started. That bourbon trail passport isn’t going to stamp itself.

Hartfield & Co., A Bourbon County Distillery, is located at 718 Main St. Paris, KY 40361. The distillery offers both a short “City Tour” Tuesdays through Fridays and an hour long “Country Tour” Saturdays at 6:00 PM. Call 859-559-3494to make reservations and for more info. Mint Julep Tours is an official sponsor of both The Kentucky Bourbon Trail and The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®. Stops at almost any of the 10 distilleries on the craft tour can be included on a personalized, custom tour with Mint Julep Tours. Hours vary at many of the locations and availability may sometimes be limited. Call 502-583-1433 or e-mail info@MintJulepTours.com to book a tour today!

Hot tips on Bourbon, Mint Julep’s, and the Kentucky Derby!

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There are only 9 days left till the 140th running of The Kentucky Derby.  We thought we would cover a few tips to get you off an running.

Plan out your Derby week with some hot tips below:


I’m in town for the Kentucky Derby, and I want to see the beautiful countryside and take a bourbon tour.  

What are my options? 

Funny you ask, as we are the #1 Activity in Louisville providing Bourbon Tours, Horse Farm Tours, and other exciting custom experiences.  We have a special line up for Derby week.  Check out our list of tours here.  We do have a few spots left, so call today 502-583-1433 Ext. 101 and speak with Chasta or you can book online here.

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 What’s a unique derby week activity? 

Dawn at the Downs  7:00 a.m – 9:00 a.m.

Dawn at the Downs is a popular Louisville tradition giving visitors an opportunity to enjoy breakfast inMillionaires Row while watching the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders conduct morning workouts.  From Millionaires Row 4, a host will announce the horses on the track, discuss the contenders’ past performances and provide insight to the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby races.  Morning workouts will show on the television monitors and the announcements will be heard throughout the track. The Dawn at the Downs buffet will be served from 7:00 AM through 8:30 AM.

For reservations & information for seating in Millionaires Row 4, please call 502-636-4893 or 502-636-4892 for availability, or purchase tickets here.

Dawn at the Downs will take place on Tuesday, April 29th; Wednesday, April 30th and Thursday, May 1st.

Click Here to View the Dawn at the Downs Buffet Menu


 What horses are racing?

Meet the list of contenders for the 140th Kentucky Derby here.


What to wear?

Not only should you be getting your Derby attire lined up with suits, bow ties, colorful socks, and of course for all the ladies, a spectacular hat.  Ladies, check out what to wear here!  Gents here!


 What can I take into the track?

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Churchill Downs officials are battening down the hatches. See their What To Know page for the latest, but worth noting:

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Where do I park?

Parking is at premium around the track.  If you want to park close, regulars park in and around the yards of homes around the track.

If you want to park away from the track, and ride in on a public TARC bus, there are also options to do that as well.  Check out the parking tips here.

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Chocolate is nice, but Bourbon is better!

We have great ideas for your Man or Woman who loves bourbon! Chocolate is nice, but is better!

Top 10 list of Bourbon related goodies you can buy your bourbon man or woman.

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10.  Mini oak bourbon barrel:  Age your own whiskey!  Check them out here.

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9.  The Classic Glencairn Whisk(e)y Glass:  Perfect for the bourbon lover to enjoy their favorite liquid neat.  Find them on amazon.

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8.  Bourbon Aged/Flavored Cooking Sauces from Bourbon Barrel Foods:  Bourbon Barrel Foods is a maker of gourmet food products that reflect the rich heritage of Kentucky’s Bourbon Country, “The Napa Valley of the Bluegrass.”

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7.  Bluegrass Bourbon Barrels:  Bluegrass Bourbon Barrel Displays is a company that takes whiskey barrels and customizes them into home decor. They have barrel stave coat racks, clocks made from barrel heads, and full bourbon barrels turned into tables and displays. You also get to choose the brand on your barrel. You can pick from Old Rip Van Winkle, Jack Daniels, Wild Turkey, Willett, and a few more.

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6.  Roly Poly Whiskey Glasses:  These hand blown whiskey glasses roll on their own without spilling a drop.

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5.  A whiskey decanter with personalization.

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4. Bourbon Marshmallows:  If you happen to be dating a bourbon drinker with a sweet tooth, you’re about to be very popular. Subtly infused with Maker’s Mark, these marshmallows from Wondermade are light, fluffy and highly addictive. www.wondermade.com

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3.  Bourbon Swag:  Check out this tasty hat that we carry in our Mint Julep Tours Store, located on the 3rd floor of the Rivue Tower, The Galt House Hotel.

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2.  Public Bourbon Tour from Mint Julep Tours:  Get ready for a full day of bourbon. This tour includes 2 guided tours & tastings at the finest Kentucky distilleries. $99/person, plus lunch & admissions.   http://bourbontrailtours.com/Book-Online-Now.html

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1.  Jim Beam Super Premium Tour:  This exclusive Super Premium Tour option for whiskey lovers has never before been offered to the public.  Dive into an insider’s experience showcasing “all things whiskey, Beam style”.

Tour the American Still House, bourbon barrel dumping station and one of the largest barrel warehouses in the industry.  For you mixologists and culinary fans, we will host a private sampling of the Beam Brands with a Beam bourbon expert and then you’re off to experience a bourbon themed meal on the porch of the Knob Creek house on the scenic grounds surrounding the distillery. Other behind the scenes spots will be offered.Top off your experience with a commemorative etched bottle making it a collectable. Click here for more info.



Upcoming Bourbon Events…Stay Thirsty my friends!

Stay Thirsty my friends.  There are a slew of bourbon events coming your way.  Here are a few to pencil in your calendar, so you can spread out the fun.  Always remember, be safe and designate a driver while you’re enjoying bourbon in the New Year!

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Buffalo Trace – Legendary Craftsmen Dinner Series – Blanton’s Dinner 1/24/14

A one-of-a-kind dinner event featuring hard-to-find tastings of our Legendary Craftsmen’s namesake bourbons, a Distillery tour, and glimpse into the history and heritage of the fine gentlemen that helped build the World’s Most Award-Winning Distillery.  6:00 p.m. – Optional Tour. 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. – Dinner/Event. $50 per person.  For reservations, email events@buffalotrace.com or call 502.696.5930.

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The Bourbon Affair

The Derby City will host an exclusive four-day Bourbon showcase to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Congress declaring Bourbon “America’s only native spirit.”

From May 14-18, Kentucky Bourbon Affair attendees will savor extraordinary experiences at the most iconic Bourbon distilleries in the world, capped by evening events featuring the cosmopolitan allure of Louisville, the heartbeat of Bourbon cuisine and culture.  To find out more info, check out www.kybourbonaffair.com.

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Jim Beam Super Premium Tours – Returning in 2014

Returning in 2014, the popular Jim Beam Super Premium Tours with Fred Noe are being announced.  February 14th, 2014 will be the first opportunity of several dates in 2014.

The highlight of this exclusive tour, a is private experience with the Master Distiller Fred Noe, 7th generation Beam family member.

The quick-witted, sociable, and knowledgeable Fred Noe introduces people around the world to his family’s bourbons.  Fred’s stories of growing up on the distillery grounds are legendary, and people come in droves to see this real Kentucky bourbon legend talk about his family’s heritage.

Tour includes:

Tour the American Still House, bourbon barrel dumping station and one of the largest barrel warehouses in the industry.  For you mixologists and culinary fans, we will host a private sampling of the Beam Brands with a Beam bourbon expert and then you’re off to experience a bourbon themed meal on the porch of the Knob Creek house on the scenic grounds surrounding the distillery. Other behind the scenes spots will be offered.Top off your experience with a commemorative etched bottle making it a collectable.

To find out more info, head over to our website.

The Bourbon Classic

After the successful inaugural Bourbon Classic in 2013, the Bourbon filled event returns for 2014.  The Friday night kickoff is the Bourbon Classic Cocktail Challenge from 7 until 10 p.m. Teams of bartenders and chefs join forces with sponsoring distilleries to create luscious drinks and small-plate dishes

On Saturday afternoon for an hour-and-a-half beginning at 2:30, a panel of master distillers will discuss and field questions about “The Bourbon Boom: Examining the Rising Price of Popularity.”  Afterwards at “Bourbon University, Taught by Experts,” you get to expand your knowledge at classes that include “The Bottle and the Board: How Bourbon Pairs with Cheese,” “How to Entertain Your Guests with Bourbon Tastings,” “Know Your Bourbon Flavor Profiles,” “Five Essential Ingredients for Your Home’s Bourbon Bar,” and “Bourbon and Beer – A Beautiful Marriage.”

For a full list of the Bourbon Classic Events, head over to www.bourbonclassic.com.