The Russell’s Reserve brand of whiskies are a lineup of whiskies created by Wild Turkey to honor one of the most important family lineages in American Whiskey.
The History of Wild Turkey Whiskey
Wild Turkey is one of the most iconic brands of whiskey in America, and it can trace its roots back to the mid 1800s. In 1855, Austin Nichols and Co. was the largest grocery wholesaler in the world. They were purchasing whiskey from the Ripy family distillery for their own private store brands. The Ripy family produced whiskey for many different brands across the country. In 1940, Thomas McCarthy, a manager for Austin Nichols, brought some warehouse samples with him out on a turkey hunt with some friends. The group enjoyed the samples and the following year they asked him if he was bring any of that "wild turkey whiskey" with him — and thus the brand was born.
Austin Nichols would start to bottle Wild Turkey as a brand in 1942. In the beginning, Wild Turkey was just that: a brand. It was produced using Bourbon sourced from Kentucky, mostly from what was the Ripy Distillery, which would later become Boulevard Distillery. The Rye was being sourced from Pennsylvania, from what would become the Michter's Distillery. In 1954, Jimmy Russell would start working at the distillery, which was known as Anderson County Distillery at the time. He would be trained by legendary pre-prohibition Master Distiller Bill Hughes, who would teach him every aspect of how the distillery worked. Then, in 1971, Austin Nichols bought the distillery outright and changed its name to Wild Turkey Distillery so they could have control over their own product. With that sale, they also gained Jimmy Russell.
In 1980, Austin Nichols would sell the distillery and the brand to French spirits giant Pernod Ricard. In 1981, Jimmy Russell's son Eddie signed on to work at the distillery, and years later they would share Master Distiller roles. Over the years, Jimmy’s old school methods of whiskey making, combined with Eddie’s new school way of thinking and use of science, have established Wild Turkey as one of the most continually innovative brands of American whiskey.
Continuing Innovation: Today's Wild Turkey
With Campari's purchase of Wild Turkey in 2011, the Russells got a breath of fresh air, new capital and a brand-new distillery. And now, at over 100 years of combined experience, the future is bright, not only for the Russells, but also for whiskey drinkers everywhere.
In 2000, Wild Turkey released the first batch of Russell’s Reserve Bourbon to commemorate Jimmy’s 45 years (at the time) of service. It was originally called Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve, and was bottled at 101 proof. Jimmy did not actually like the name at first! It made him the only Master Distiller to have his own name on a product at the time. He would eventually warm up to the idea, realizing that it would be a legacy project that he could hand over to his son.
In 2007, Russell’s Reserve Rye was added to the lineup as well. Today, both the Russell’s Reserve Bourbon (with a mash bill of 75% corn, 12% barley, 13% rye) and the Rye (51% rye, 12% barley, 37% corn) come in Small Batch bottled at 90 proof and Single Barrel at 110 proof bottlings.
The Small Batch Bourbon is age stated at 10 years, meaning the youngest whiskey in the batch is a minimum of 10 years, with some of it probably being older. The Rye is stated at 6 years. In a whiskey world where age statements are either warranting a super-premium price or just going away altogether, the Russell’s Reserve line provides great quality, availability, and, most importantly, affordability. These are true gems that every whiskey drinker, from the novice to the expert, should have on their bar.