Thursday, October 6, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

LAWRENCEBURG, KENTUCKY—It’s an industry like no other anywhere with roots that predate the Declaration of Independence. Whiskey is in the equation that defines us, right alongside baseball and apple pie. And in the Bluegrass state, Bourbon whiskey is a staple, a popular cultural icon  that rivals Bill Monroe and Bluegrass music and even native son, George Clooney.


 My trip to the great Kentucky distilleries began at Wild Turkey, a colossal operation along the Kentucky River. I sat down for a chat with perhaps the most renowned Bourbon maker on this planet and during some sipping of his different brands of Bourbon, learned enough to keep my spirits and cocktail columns loaded with anecdotes for a long time.

Master Distiller Jimmy Russell has been making Bourbon in Lawrenceburg for 54 years. Growing up just five miles from the distillery, Jimmy followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, learning time-honored traditions and techniques uniquely suited to the heart of bourbon country. He trained under Bill Hughes, Wild Turkey Bourbon’s second master distiller, and Ernest W. Ripy, Jr., the son of the original owners. It’s a small community of men who have mastered bourbon, and within this brotherhood, Jimmy Russell has gained a reputation as “the master distillers’ master distiller.”  From the first selection of grains through the entire distillation and aging process, he has fused experience and wisdom to create the finest examples of America’s spirit.

Loaded with whiskey pedigree, Jimmy Russell  rebuilt George Washington's Mount Vernon
Distillery the way it was in the in the 18th century. Washington had the largest whiskey distillery in the country and under the guidance of Jimmy Russell, the operation is back in business making great rye whiskey. 

A visit with Jimmy Russell at Wild Turkey will, in the words of the old Bluegrass Gospel song, “set your fields on fire.”

Read more about my trip through Kentucky’s Civil War sites at and the story about Florida’s own vodka at

No comments:

Post a Comment