Shortly after I discovered this incredible hobby of whiskey enthusiasm, a fancy new bottle hit retail shelves – Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary. Though beyond my comfortable spending limit in 2014 ($125 was a hefty price for bourbon back then) it caught my attention. Initially shrugging it off as too expensive, my curiosity only grew and I soon began researching the expression. In fact, you could say that Diamond Anniversary was one of a handful of catalysts for my Wild Turkey fandom. But what struck me most about the release wasn’t the specs or packaging, it was the celebration of Jimmy Russell’s impressive tenure. It seemed unfathomable to me – 60 years at the same job? Who does that?
The months that followed saw a whirlwind of reading and writing that would ultimately prove the genesis of this blog. In this process, one thing became crystal clear: Wild Turkey and Jimmy Russell were an inseparable force. You simply couldn’t mention one without the other. Even though the brand itself existed well over a decade before Jimmy started working, it was as if he’d been a part of it from the beginning. Call it chance, call it destiny – explain it however you’d like – but the bond was real and as strong as gravity.
Today marks Jimmy Russell’s 69th year at Wild Turkey. If you ask Jimmy, he’ll say he’s never worked a day in his life. He might not consider it work, but the fruits of his nearly seven decades of labor are evident. It’s right before our eyes. I’m not talking about the success of Wild Turkey, though he’s certainly one of several to thank for that. I’m talking about the health of the bourbon industry and the growth of the hobby and community surrounding it. While much of how brands and individuals interact and share information takes place online these days, that exchange started years before the Internet. It started with folks like Jimmy and Jim Beam’s Booker Noe hitting the road – educating consumers, dispelling myths, and restoring confidence in bourbon.
And here we are in 2023. Much like the invisible force that binds Jimmy Russell and Wild Turkey, the strength and steadfastness of bourbon is undeniable. But it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen because of Mad Men or Facebook. It exists because people like Jimmy refused to let it die. Even when American whiskey had reached rock bottom, a time commonly referred to as the Glut Era, Jimmy kept making quality bourbon. He preserved the gospel of Kentucky’s Finest and spread it to all who would listen. In time, it paid off.
On this special day, I invite you to join me in celebrating Jimmy Russell’s 69th anniversary of service to Wild Turkey, the bourbon industry, and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Take a look in your cabinet and find a bottle that reminds you most of Lawrenceburg’s living legend. For some it might be a dusty bottle of Wild Turkey 101, for others, maybe a recent batch of Rare Breed. Whatever your selection might be, give it a healthy pour and raise a glass to 69 years of loyalty, hard work, and a dedication to craft rarely achieved in a single lifetime.
Cheers to Jimmy!
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