It is not to often you get to meet and learn from someone who has been in their profession for over 60 years. On Thursday night I got that pleasure. In this case there was an added bonus: I also got to drink bourbon with this person!
Who was this person? None other than the man, the myth, the legend, the master of all distillers: Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey Distillery.
While the night was full of educational quips, gut-splitting jokes, spine-tingling laughter, and more than a few tipples, the thing that I want to hone in on with this post is what you get when you invite an 81 year old man to speak at your bourbon society event: wisdom and wit.
So, do yourself a favor. Go grab your favorite bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon, pour your self a few fingers, sit back, relax, and enjoy the sage advice and hilarious quotes from Mr. Jimmy Russell.
On the Joy of Work: “How many of you have a job where you go to work and drink all day? That’s the reason I’m still working after 62 years.”
On Religion: “Any of you Southern Baptist? One or two of you is going to own up to it.”
On the Birth of Bourbon: “Elijah Craig invented bourbon whiskey…for municipal purposes only.”
On Politics and Religion: “Bourbon County is dry, but you can go over to Christian County and drink all that you like.”
On Growing Older: “If you get to my age and you forget to ask a question until the end you forget what you were going to ask.”
On Making Bourbon (Not Whiskey): “I’ve never made a drop of whiskey in my life…we make bourbon in Kentucky, they make whiskey in Tennessee.”
On the Power of Consistency: “We haven’t changed a bit since I started in 1954.”
On Moonshine: “You can always tell a moonshine drinker…the mason jar puts a crease in the middle of their nose.”
On the Perfect Age of Bourbon: “I think bourbon is best aged between 7-12 years.”
On the Bourbon Market: “The bourbon market is short, but we are doing good because we are only producing for ourselves.”
On Uncle Sam’s Pocket Book: “Our tax bill to Uncle Sam is $1,500,000…every 15 days! $38,000,000 per year!”
On Taxes in Kentucky: “There is a 17% sales tax on liquor in Kentucky. But, you won’t see it because it is charged to the distributor.”
On not Changing with the Times: If you want consistency you don’t want to use GMO grains. We (people) change our minds on what is good for us all the time. First, eggs were good for us, then they weren’t, and now they are again. We have to age our product for around 10 years and what it to always stay the same.
On Being Alive: “You know when you’ve had a good day? When you wake-up, go to the mailbox, and you don’t find your name in the obituary.”
On Forgiven: When asked about the real story behind Forgiven, Jimmy responded, “I don’t even want to talk about it.”
On the Proper Way to Drink Bourbon: How do you drink bourbon? “Any way I can get it.”
On Making Cocktails: What is your favorite cocktail? “I like the taste of a cube of ice in my bourbon.”
On the Center Cut: “You ever heard of center cut? That didn’t work very well for us. You ever try to cut the center out of a barrel of bourbon and save the bourbon?”
On Age: Did you decide on the proof of the bourbon (101)? “No, I’m not that old.”
On Women: “I have one complaint about you ladies, you made the labels look better.”
On Hard Work: “My son, Eddie, started out rolling barrels, dumping barrels, and cutting grass. He said he did all the jobs no one else wanted to do. But, now he is supervising people who would not respect him as much if he didn’t go through those things.”
On Health: “Bourbon is good for you. The more you taste. The more social you get.”
On Scotch: Do you ever put a drop of water in your bourbon? “You must be a Scotch drinker, “said with a smirk.
On Alcoholics: “After you’ve had a few pours of Rare Breed you have to be careful on your way home…some drunk will step on your fingers.”
On Curing Illness: “When I was young my parents would put a little bourbon on my lips when I was sick. You know what happened right? They knocked the baby out long enough to get some sleep.”
At the end of the night, as a few of us were sitting around having drinks and eats at a local restaurant, I asked Jimmy one last question, “If you could give us all one piece of advice, what would it be?”
On Wisdom: “Do what you love. If you don’t love what you do for a living then do something else.”