Kentucky Man Has Bourbon In His DNA

Reported by: Aaron Adelson
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Updated: 5/20/2013 12:17 am
Kentucky distilleries filled more than one million barrels last year--the most since 1973--but Wild Turkey's master distiller has been making bourbon since long before then.

Jimmy Russell has worked at Wild Turkey his entire adult life--nearly six decades.

"If I make September 10th this  year, I'll be here 59 years," he said.

He's like the Cal Ripken of bourbon--he's at the distillery every day.

Born and raised in Lawrenceburg, Bourbon gave Russell international fame.

"In Japan, they call me the Buddha of bourbon," he said.

He's worked every job at the distillery. Now, he's known as the master distiller's master distiller.

"It's hard to explain the way things happen, that you can't sit and read out of a book and understand what's really going on."

Wild Turkey does things a little differently. The alcohol comes off the still at a lower proof than most distilleries--and though the ingredients are common (at least 51 percent corn; rye and barley), Wild Turkey's bourbons are 7-12 years old.

"Anything much older than 12- or 13-years-old, for my personal taste, is too woody," said Russell.

In more than 150 years of distilling bourbon, Wild Turkey tastes the same. And nobody's telling Russell to change.

"I'd retire, and they know that," he said.

Russell turns 79 this year, and has no plans to stop working.

"People ask me when I'm going to retire...I said the first day it becomes a job."

In 100 years, Russell wants Wild Turkey to still taste the same.

"Some say I'm hard-headed, and stubborn, and old-fashioned."

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