Home Australia A Chat with Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey Master Distiller

A Chat with Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey Master Distiller

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Eddie Russell at the Sydney launch of 1894

Wild Turkey Master Distiller, Eddie Russell was in Australia this year to launch the Master’s Keep 1894 expression. Drinks World’s Lukas Raschilla chatted to Eddie about the whiskey, Matthew McConaughey, and all things Wild Turkey.

LUKAS RASCHILLA: Tell me about the Master’s Keep 1894 expression Australia only release?

EDDIE RUSSELL: Wild Turkey 1894 is limited to Australia only, about 10,000 barrels. I knew I had some 2003 and 2005 whiskey in the rickshaw (barrel) house where I can taste whiskey straight from the barrel. It was a little different because it had a lot of those dried fruit, pear, apple and even banana flavours that you don’t typically see in Wild Turkey. So I thought it would be super special to bottle it this release.

LR: Can you tell me about the flavour profile of the 1894?

ER: For me, it’s quite delicate in the beginning but it has those fruity tastes and a very short finish, so it’s something I’ve sort of thought about as I’ve talked to a lot to the Australian collectors of Wild Turkey. I contacted them back and forth through Facebook. Plus it’s at 90 proof, so it’s a little lower proof and not quite as big and bold. So that’s what I was kind of looking for in the 1894.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep series

LR: I’m really intrigued by the story behind the Forgiven expression, being a blend of both bourbon and rye. Can you share a little about how that expression came to be?

ER: What happened was actually an accident…I run warehousing, picking the barrels out, getting them put in the barrel and dumped out of the barrel, and where we do that it runs through one line and we have a hose on the wall that goes to different tanks. So this girl that worked at the distillery accidentally pumped six months worth of rye, that’s all the rye we have for six months in 2009 on top of some six-year-old bourbon.

LR: Did that cause a Rye shortage?

ER: That was when rye was just starting to take off and then that was the part that made my father so mad, because it was six-months worth of rye! But actually, what I did, I went over and tasted it and just thought it was so unique and so good. It starts off as a nice smooth bourbon and then the rye taste sort of hits at the end and just keeps coming back. So to me it was such a very unique taste that my dad and our company didn’t want to release it. It took me three years to convince them to put it in a bottle!

LR: So you had it just sitting there for three years?

ER: In a stainless steel tank, yeah. Paying taxes on it the whole time! Losing proof! Took me three years to convince them to do it and when we did it they were like, “What name do you want to give it?” and I wanted ‘Unforgiven’, because my dad still hasn’t forgiven me, or the lady who did it! But that was trade marked by Clint Eastwood, so we went with ‘Forgiven’. Just, to me, it was such a super good whiskey. I actually did a second batch, but by that time ryes had become so hot and were going so quickly, I haven’t done any since then.

Eddie Russell with the Wild Turkey 1894

LR: Do you have a favourite Wild Turkey expression or one that you consider close to your heart?

ER: The Russell’s Single Barrel I brought out about four and a half years ago, and I brought it out to be a single barrel, but also to be a very old fashioned traditional bourbon. It was really my taste profile. My dad likes a big, spicy bite up front, I like a little more mouth feel, I like a little more sweetness right off the start and in the middle I want that spice. And I don’t like quite as long lingering, so the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel to me is that one if someone said to me, “You can only have one to go and live on a deserted island,” that would be the one I would take.

LR: Can you tell me about how the relationship with Matthew McConaughey came about?

ER: So our marketing department actually contacted him first to see if he’d be interested. My dad didn’t really like it, because it’s always just been him or me as the person behind the brand, but I thought it was pretty cool when they picked him because I think he speaks to Wild Turkey in that he’s always sort of done things his way and he hasn’t worried about what everyone else has done which is the same as my dad. He was the only one who never changed. So he actually came to the distillery about four years ago, and it was me, my father and my son. The reason he came basically was because his mother and father met at the University of Kentucky, which is only 20 miles away from us. So that sort of attracted him, because he likes bourbon. He likes tequila, but he likes bourbon also. And he came there and, at the beginning, I don’t think he was that really into it, but after spending a day with me and my father and son, he saw how authentic it was, how family orientated it was because he’s a huge family man, and he went back to them and said, “I don’t want to make commercials for you. I want to tell this story because I think people know Wild Turkey and I think they’ve heard of it, but I don’t think they understand,” and I don’t think anybody does until they come to our distillery and spend the time with us.

So it took about another year. We talked to him a few times. He came back and spent another day at the distillery and we filmed a little video that is on YouTube. Filmed that and since then, I’ve stayed in contact with him quite a bit because he wants to know about any new products. We’re working together on maybe doing a client extension that he likes, trying to connect him and Texas into the Wild Turkey family. I’ve been to a few of his movie premieres, I’ve met his wife and kids, so I’ve got to know him pretty well. I really like him. He’s very down-to-earth, he’s a very family tied guy, he’s very heartsy. I mean, sometimes I have to sort of read in between the lines. It’s like he talks in code sometimes, you know? But I really like what he stands for. I think he appeals to women and men. Men aren’t intimidated by him and they sort of like it cause he’s always been sort of a rebel. The women like him because he’s a good-looking man. So I think it works really good. I think he can speak to young people and old people, so it’s a good fit for us.

For more, check out wildturkeybourbon.com.au