Wise and Witty Words from Jimmy Russell

Jimmy 2

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.

Jimmy 1

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.”

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It’s a Mad, Mad World…

And I’m getting sucked into it.

You don’t have to look very far into the world of whisk(e)y blogs, online retailers, and certainly not the secondary market, and you will find that the whiskey craze has reached epic, if not dare I say, idiotic proportions.

Prices are rising fast. Aged-stated products are being killed off faster than characters in Game of Thrones, and new products are being added with outrageous price tags. The latest sign of ‘the end times’ was revealed a little over a week ago. Although, I first learned about it earlier this Spring.

Knob Creek

I was on a private tour of the Jim Beam Distillery with the Evansville Bourbon Society. We had just selected a barrel of Knob Creek and were walking into the dining hall to grab lunch. As we entered I saw a glass case containing Jim Beam and Suntory products which I had never seen before. I asked our guide about the products and he gladly explained. At the end of his spiel he told me something for which I was immediately excited.

“We will be releasing a Booker’s Rye later this summer. It will be an extra-aged, cask strength. limited release rye whiskey.”

Yum! I was elated! Until…

“It will be $300 per bottle.”

No longer excited. In fact, annoyed.

Jump forward to a little over a week ago when the news hit the general public. While I’ve learned more since the news broke and I see how the product is both unique and took a lot of work and time, $300 for any whiskey is just simply beyond my reach.

Yeah, I have the money. But, I’m not spending it on a bottle of this even if it is great!

While I’m not questioning whether or not I can continue down this path of whiskey love and whiskey blogging like my good friend Sku (I’m glad he is not totally giving up), it is the sign that I will be soon relegated to the bottom shelves of the liquor store if something doesn’t give. My dreams are already predicting the future.

I woke up a few nights ago in cold sweats. I had just had a dream in which I was perusing the liquor store aisles for something special, something unique, something new. I have these dreams often. However, this one was different. It was a nightmare.

I didn’t find anything in the aisles which warranted a purchase and that’s not the scary part. Wait for it…

Wait for it…

Here it is.

When I approached the check out, my last shot at finding something on the shelves behind the counter, my eyes caught a glimpse of a Jim Beam White Label Cask Strength.

“Hmmm, when did that come out?” I thought.

“Can I check out that bottle?” I asked the clerk.

He turned around, grabbed it off the shelf, and handed it to me.

It was one of those small 100ml bottles. I looked it over.

“Do you have any larger bottles?” I asked

“Nope. That’s it. And, if your interested, I would get it. They are extremely allocated and that’s our last bottle.”

I thought as I looked again at the diminutive glass bottle.

“How much is it?” I asked (the all important question).

“The price is on the back.”

I turned the bottle over to reveal the small sticker containing the price…

$29.99!

“Aaaahhhhhhhhhhh!” I woke up screaming.

The (Tall) Tale of Whiskey

“Marketing is no longer about the stuff that you make, but about the stories you tell.” – Seth Godin

Barterhouse

It’s a “tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme.” No, it’s not Beauty and the Beast. It’s more or less the origin story of this whiskey and that whiskey…or so we’ve been told.

The reality is we all live as story. Story defines us as humans. Story inspires us. It’s why so many of us are drawn to religion. It’s why we gather together in dark rooms and stare at large screens for hours on end, gazing at moving pictures. It’s why we hunker down on our couches and flip through the hundreds of pages of our favorite books. Story is woven into the fabric of human life. We are story.

This is precisely why distilleries use story, real or not, to peddle their products. True or not, these tales of lore, accidents, mishaps, and fortune draw us in. They make some of us grab their shiny bottles off the shelves faster than light leaving the rest of us in want. They cause others of us to question and therefore leave these self-proclaimed “shelf turds” for the next “naive” victim. Still, others of us buy a pour or even a bottle just to explore if the juice is worth the story and with mixed results publish our findings only to inspire, disuade, and irritate the masses in wait. Whatever your personal mantra, as a collective people, we crave story as much if not more than the liquid within the chalice.

Becuase of this, at the end of the day, the distilleries win. They win because story wins.  And therefore, I believe we win…well as long as the juice is worth the price of admission to the tale being woven. At least, that’s my story.

Cheers to the tipple and to the text! Keep living and drinking your story.

“The greatest art in the world is the art of storytelling.” – Cecil B. DeMille