Influencer: Eddie Russell
Bourbon’s Wild Card - We discuss bourbon trends and forging a family dynasty with Eddie Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey
How is Asia developing as a bourbon drinking market?
In Asia, Japan is the biggest market in terms of bourbon consumption. Looking at places like Hong Kong, the bourbon trend is being driven by cocktail and speak easy bars, as they experiment with American style classic cocktails. The Japanese trend of drinking bourbon as a ‘highball’ has also caught on and is very popular among the younger generation of whiskey drinkers.
Do you ever think we’ll see the same growth in bourbon that we have in scotch?
Bourbon is growing at its fastest pace in my lifetime. Our industry is having a hard time keeping up with demand for bourbon.
What makes Wild Turkey distinctive?
Wild Turkey has a high rye content that makes it bold. We distill at low ABV and bottle at high ABV to keep the rich flavours. We also age longer than most bourbons to develop rich amber color and bold taste.
You’re part of a Wild Turkey dynasty, following in the footsteps of your father, Master Distiller Jimmy Russell – what words of wisdom has your father passed down to you when it came to making great bourbon?
Do things the right way or don’t do them at all.
How do you first approach the process of making limited-edition or limited-release bourbons?
My father did them in the past and I wanted to follow that tradition. The first one [Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary edition] was for Jimmy’s 60th anniversary.
You’ve done destination-specific releases in the past, including the Australia-only release of the Master’s Keep 1894 expression – are there any plans for releases specific to Asia and what flavor profile do you think that would follow?
There are no plans for a destination-specific release for Asia. We are however, launching the third expression of our Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Limited Edition Series in 2018. The Wild Turkey Master’s Keep range is a collection of rare Kentucky straight bourbon whiskies created by myself and I take great pride in their launch. The third expression, called Wild Turkey Masters Keep Revival, is a blend of 12-15-year-old bourbons that have been further aged in Olorosso sherry casks. I personally selected the bourbons and sherry casks, and I can honestly say this is a whiskey I truly love. There will be a limited number of bottles available in Asia.
What can you tell us about the little accident that caused the creation of the Forgiven expression?
An employee that worked for me accidentally pumped straight rye whiskey into a tank that had straight bourbon in it. It was a big mistake but had a great taste so I released it as Forgiven.
Do you have an expression that’s particularly close to your heart?
The Russell’s line because I started that as my taste profile for Jimmy’s 45 anniversary.
How is the bourbon scene changing in the US and abroad?
The big difference in the cocktails that are being made. It has changed our customer from an older man to young men and women.
What should we be looking for in a good bourbon in terms of colour, smell and flavor?
Color should be dark amber. We are the only whiskey in the world that can’t add caramel coloring. The flavor and smell should be [natural]caramel, vanilla, fruits and spice.
Are there any hard and fast rules when it comes to using bourbon in cocktails?
They should be simple to highlight the flavors of bourbon. Most have only have three or four ingredients.
Bourbon is a distinctly American spirit – how does Wild Turkey plan to make it relevant in Asia?
In Asia, American whiskey is rapidly gaining in popularity. What distinguishes Wild Turkey from other bourbons is our history and heritage. Our Master Distiller Jimmy Russell has been with Wild Turkey for over 65 years and I have been with the brand for over 35 years. Our motto has always been ‘never compromise’. For years, Jimmy and I have made Bourbon without compromising on its quality or character. I believe it is this quality focus, backed by years of experience, that will make Wild Turkey stand out in Asia.
What’s the most difficult aspect of being a Master Distiller?
Planning. What I make this year I will not sell for 6 to 13 years or older.