He calls himself a ‘bourbon aficionado’, we call him a ‘bourbon nut’, so when we were looking around for someone to go and try a range of barrel strength whiskeys and bourbons we just had to send photo-journalist Neil Hennessy-Vass. After all it was 9.45am on a Monday morning.
Pouring the shots is master distiller, interloper, passport stamp collector and all round good-guy Eddie Russell.
So what if the editor calls me a ‘Bourbon Nut’ I said to myself as I struggled to get into town ‘early’ on a Monday morning, at least I get to taste some cool stuff, I convinced myself. It was 9:45am.
So it was on the 27th floor of the impossibly impressive Shard in the office of Campari – The Negroni Bar to be precise. Yes, this is what they call a workplace.
If Mad Men was running at 60 frames a second but slowed down… that. To say this is a cool place of work is missing the point. These guys don’t think it is work, that’s what makes it cool. Number one of the ‘This ain’t no work’ crew is master distiller, interloper, passport stamp collector and all round good-guy Eddie Russell. He’s doing the rounds and it’s Monday so it must be London, Europe.
So a little bit of background, he and his old man are Kentuckian to the core and the world’s only active father/son distillery partnership. Eddie has already put in 37 years and Jimmy his dad still does a six-day week. These men from Lawrenceburg are made of the hard stuff. Jimmy is totally old school, no gismos, no modern technology he just uses his nose (and according to Eddie he’s never wrong).
Eddie and Jimmy helped save a dying industry, in 1981 there were only eight distilleries left, now Wild Turkey produces 12 million litres a year, it’s the number one marque in Australia and exported everywhere thanks to the global reach of Campari.
The mainstay of the output is Jimmy’s legacy tipple, Wild Turkey 101, (£31.95) which can trace its heritage back to the prohibition era – it’s a bold, big hitter with high rye. And at 50.5% abv powerful enough to hold up in just about any cocktail, perfect for the Old Fashioned in all of us.
Wild Turkey Rye (£27.45) is a straight-up dedication to the all American spirit, rye whiskey. With extra char (alligator 4 as they call it) in the American oak barrels it has an increased caramelisation. Vanilla and spice hold court while umpired by the ever-present rye.
The big daddy of the crew, though, would have to be Wild Turkey Rare Breed (£51.65) a pure barrel-in-your-face whiskey (56.4% barrel proof) with butterscotch, fruits and spices but with a long sweetness that allows it to be really smooth. All three liquids are available from the Whisky Exchange.
Eddie’s next stop was Manchester, I told him they like drinking there, he laughed a lot and said “I know that”. Wry smile, decades of knowledge and certainty that he and the old man are “Just doing what they’ve always done”. Long may it continue.