Last Thursday, The Twisted Tale, a bar and restaurant in Headhouse Square, began production of its new web-series, “Tales from the Distiller.” The videos will feature live conversations, tastings, and panel discussions with accomplished distillers. The first episode featured a conversation with Wild Turkey master distiller, Jimmy Russell.
Russell has been at Wild Turkey for 63 years, since 1966, and is the longest-tenured master distiller in the world. Twisted Tail owner, George Reilly sat down with Russell for a live taping and tasting session.
The whiskeys sampled at the event included:
Wild Turkey 101: the brand’s mainstay, a blend of 6, 7, & 8 year stocks. 101 Proof. When Russell began distilling at Wild Turkey, 101 was the only label they carried. Today it remains their biggest seller.
Russell’s Reserve: a label made by Russell’s son Eddie, stock aged 10 years, 90 Proof.
Rare Breed: Blend of 6, 8, & 12 year stocks. Proof varies but fluctuates somewhere between 110 and 116.
According to Russell, Wild Turkey has two recipes, a bourbon recipe and a rye recipe. The variation in flavor between the different labels is caused by the age of the whiskey, not its ingredients or distillation process.
“They’ll all taste different, but it’s the same product the day it’s made,” he said.
Russell spoke about the importance of consistency in his product. He spoke about the difficulty of operating a still by hand, “one on the pump, one on the steam valve,” and lauded recent innovations in distillation technology which allow for a greater degree of control.
During the tasting session, Russell touched on the importance of aroma in Wild Turkey. He compared it to entering a restaurant.
“I don’t care how good the food tastes,” he said. “If it doesn’t smell good, you’re not eating it.”
The distinctive smell of Wild Turkey is a blend of caramel and vanilla.
The latter half of the taping was dominated by a discussion of the business end of the whiskey industry. Russell talked a bit about the history of federal regulations in the bourbon business. To this day, 60-65% of the cost of manufacturing bourbon is taxation.
In 1964, a resolution was made in Congress, declaring bourbon to be a distinctive product of the United States. Bourbon made for U.S. consumption must be produced within the country. No whiskey branded as bourbon may be imported into the U.S.
The whole discussion was part of a live feed on Twisted Tail’s Facebook which you can watch below (the video starts off sideways, but gets corrected a few minutes in).
Look for the “Tales from the Distiller” series to go live on YouTube later this Summer. In the comings months, Reilly plans on hosting various local distillers to take part as well as some nationally renown names. You can follow The Twisted Tail on their Facebook page to find out when the next filming will be.