Jimmy Russell: A Bourbon Legend with 68 Years at Wild Turkey

Jimmy Russell, the master distiller for Wild Turkey, is a true legend in the bourbon industry. With 68 years of experience, he’s been with the company since 1954, longer than most people have been alive!

Russell’s dedication to tradition is evident in everything he does. He still works in the distillery six or seven days a week, starting his day by tasting the new product made the day before. He’s also passed on his passion for bourbon to his son, Eddie, who is now a master distiller himself.

Russell’s favorite way to enjoy bourbon? A simple cube of ice. But when it comes to Wild Turkey products, he enjoys them all, especially the Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10-Year 90-Proof and the Rare Breed Barrel Proof Bourbon.

Here are some key facts about Jimmy Russell:

  • Master distiller for Wild Turkey for 68 years
  • Started working at the distillery in 1954
  • Still works in the distillery six or seven days a week
  • Tastes the new product every day
  • Enjoys a cube of ice with his bourbon
  • Favorite Wild Turkey products: Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10-Year 90-Proof and Rare Breed Barrel Proof Bourbon

Russell is a true inspiration to all bourbon lovers His dedication to his craft and his passion for sharing his knowledge are unmatched. Here’s to many more years of bourbon excellence from Jimmy Russell!

Additional Resources:


How old is Jimmy Russell?

83 years old (as of 2017)

How long has Jimmy Russell been working at Wild Turkey?

68 years (as of 2022)

What is Jimmy Russell’s favorite way to enjoy bourbon?

A cube of ice

What is Jimmy Russell’s favorite Wild Turkey product?

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10-Year 90-Proof and Rare Breed Barrel Proof Bourbon


How one man’s spirit inspired a legend.

Dubbed the “Buddha of Bourbon” and “The Master Distiller’s Master Distiller” by his industry peers, James C. “Jimmy” Russell knows bourbon like he knows breathing. Russell has been producing whiskey at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, for an incredible sixty years. He is currently the world’s longest-tenured Master Distiller. He was raised five miles away from the distillery and learned the customs and methods of bourbon craftsmanship from his father. Jimmy discovered early on that no task was too small or too tedious when it came to crafting bourbon in the traditional manner, thanks to his initial job sweeping floors at the distillery.

Due to his love of bourbon, Jimmy studied under renowned whiskey makers like Bill Hughes, the second Master Distiller of Wild Turkey, and Ernest W. Ripy, Jr. , great-grandson of distillery founder James Ripy, Wild Turkey’s third Master Distiller. In addition, his family history and extensive knowledge of bourbon helped him reach the pinnacle of his career as a Master Distiller in the 1960s, as if his unmatched instruction wasn’t enough. Jimmy is a judge for whiskey in the International Wine and Spirits Competition and a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of FameTM, joining a select group of Kentucky bourbon enthusiasts. He still participates in every step of the distillation and aging of Wild Turkey Bourbon; his knowledge, insight, and closely guarded, time-tested bourbon-making techniques have cemented his stellar reputation and are evident in each and every bottle.

Jimmy has spearheaded the introduction of several new Wild Turkey expressions over the last 60 years, including but not limited to Russell’s Reserve, American Spirit, Kentucky Spirit, Tradition, Tribute, and Rare Breed, which he co-created with his son and distilling partner Eddie Russell. Jimmy broke new ground in 1976 with the first honeyed Bourbon, at the time called Wild Turkey Liqueur. Today, fans know the evolution of that product as American Honey. Jimmy is also in charge of ensuring that Wild Turkey’s legacy endures by supervising the creation of the company’s flagship product, Wild Turkey 101.

2014 was declared “The Year of Jimmy Russell” by the Wild Turkey global family in observance of Jimmy’s 60 years of service. This was celebrated with a number of honors and accolades from family, local and national politicians, and notable figures from the bourbon industry. Notably, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky preserved Jimmy’s accomplishments in the United States Congressional Record, and Representative Kim King and Senator Julian Carroll of Kentucky sponsored a resolution in the Kentucky General Assembly that was identical. In addition, Jimmy received a Lifetime Honorary Membership to the Board of Directors of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association—a distinction that has only been given to five other people in the 134-year history of the organization.

Even though these accolades are noteworthy, Jimmy’s son Eddie Russell, a fellow member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame, received the most personal praise. Eddie made Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary, a superb limited-edition blend of whiskies aged 13 and 16, in memory of his father. When Jimmy isn’t at the distillery or traveling the country gushing about the value of appropriate aging methods and grain selection, he usually enjoys his favorite bourbon neat or mixed with a little branch water. He also likes to spend time at home with his wife Joretta, whom he met prior to beginning work at Wild Turkey. They have three children – Eddie, Mike and Kathy; six grandchildren; and one great grandchild. Jimmy has always been a lifelong supporter of the boys’ and girls’ athletic programs at Anderson County High School. He is a true Kentuckian and an avid sports fan.

Wild Turkey 101, a classic American whiskey icon, is the result of decades of hard work by one man.

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Jimmy Russell (Wild Turkey): History of Wild Turkey

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