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    If you haven’t been to the Legends Series yet, you’re really missing out.  This series of events at the Kentucky Derby Museum is hosted by Fred Minnick and features a different whiskey legend at each event.  Last night’s whiskey legend was Jimmy Russell.  Russell has worked at Wild Turkey for 60 years, earning him the distinction of being the Master Distiller who has been in the industry longer than any other.

    Throughout the evening, Russell told stories about his years in the industry as prompted by either Minnick or the audience.  Wild Turkey 101 was the only product they produced until the late seventies, and even now it is 75% of their business.  Wild Turkey and Jim Beam were the first two bourbon producers to release a cask strength offering, Beam with Bookers and Turkey with Rare Breed.  Rare Breed is rare even among barrel proof offerings, though, because Wild Turkey distils and barrels at a lower proof than most to maintain flavor.

    When asked whether he ever thought bourbon would go away when times were tough in the seventies, he said he always felt it would make a comeback because there’s so much history surrounding it.  When asked how long he thought the bourbon boom would last he replied, “I hope a really long time or we’re going to have a lot of extra bourbon!”

    One of their most recent products, Forgiven, was developed truly by accident.  Bourbon barrels were being dumped and tallied and then barrels of rye started being dumped without the valves being switched.  The mistake wasn’t revealed immediately, but when it was the end result was excellent.  It has been so popular they are releasing a second batch.

    Jimmy Russell is the last of the three “Elder Statesmen” of the bourbon industry.  Booker Noe and Elmer T. Lee were the other two, so hearing Russell talk is having a front row seat to bourbon history.  When asked what Booker Noe was like, Russell responded, “Double Fred and you’ve got Booker.”

    Russell is a true legend in the business.  To learn more about him, check out this video about his history at Wild Turkey.  Click here for more information about the Legends Series.  The next one will be February 5th and will feature Harlen Wheatley of Buffalo Trace.

    Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

    Maggie Kimberl's picture

    About Maggie Kimberl

    I'm a Louisville native with a passion for traveling and homegrown tomatoes. I write the bourbon news, which keeps me plenty busy since Louisville is the center of the bourbon universe. See bourbon news happening? Contact me on Twitter @LouGirl502!

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