Eddie Russell, the new Master Distiller at bourbon distiller Wild Turkey, has some really big shoes to fill. Appointed to his new role in January this year, Russell joins his father Jimmy Russell – who with over 60 years of master distilling experience is the longest tenured active master distiller in the world – at the helm of Wild Turkey, making them not only father-and-son distilling duo in the industry, but also with a whopping total of 95 years of whiskey making experience.
Wild Turkey’s latest release, its first since Russell Junior ascended to his new post, shows his intention to make his mark in the whiskey world. The Wild Turkey Master’s Keep is a limited-edition blend that, when launched in Singapore in January next year, aged for 17 years will be the brand’s oldest bourbon available in this market.
It’s also nothing quite like Wild Turkey’s standard 101-proof offering, the one that can be found in every respectable bar and used both for bourbon shots as well bourbon-based cocktails. But the story behind Wild Turkey Master’s Keep goes a lot deeper, and shows Eddie Russell’s innovative thinking many years before he even got to the top spot. In 1997, Wild Turkey had a surplus of bourbon but not enough warehouse space to store and age them. But providence came from elsewhere – a friend at another distillery offered some empty stone warehouses to do just that.
The problem, of course, was the Eddie Russell knew that the stone walls of those warehouses would age his bourbon quite differently from those made of wood at his own distillery. But Russell decided to take a gamble, so those barrels travelled some distance to spend some time within stone walls before they returned home to roost in Wild Turkey’s wooden ones. And after a total of 17 years, he decided that they have reached their peak.
“Master’s Keep is the result of a lot of experimentation, patience and faith,” says Eddie Russell. “The sweet spot for bourbon ageing is usually between 8-12 years because older bourbons tend to become too woody or spicy from sitting too long in the barrel. What I was able to do with Master’s Keep was retain the bourbon’s rich caramel and vanilla flavours by ageing the barrels in both stone and wood warehouses, sampling from them every few months to decide their next move.”
The time spent within those stone walls have definitely had its influence; since it’s a lot cooler inside stone warehouses than the traditional wooden ones the spirit ages slower and hence extract less of the barrel’s charring, as well as giving the liquid its golden hue. On the nose is Wild Turkey’s sour mash notes so distinct in its regular offerings, but also some honeyed and sweet spice notes; its palate, once you get over the alcohol burn of its 86.8 proof (43.4% ABV), reveals sweet candied apple, floral honey and vibrant vanilla. We didn’t have the opportunity to try it with the addition of water or ice, but we suspect more floral and spice notes would emerge with some drops of water.
“I tend to not like bourbons aged longer than 12 or 13 years because they lose the caramel and vanilla flavours, but Eddie and I both agree thanks to the unique way this whiskey was aged we have something special here that we truly hope our Wild Turkey fans and bourbon connoisseurs enjoy,” adds Jimmy Russell.
We’re pretty sure that Eddie Russell also understands that the current whiskey boom is fuelled in part by connoisseurs looking for special, limited edition offerings that provide a different experience from the usual. The premium Wild Turkey Master’s Keep – which also happens to come in a beautifully crafted bottle and accompanying box – is one such product that should interest that customer segment. You could say that if Eddie Russell wanted to release a product to commemorate the milestone of his joining his father at the helm of Wild Turkey, he could do a lot worse than with Wild Turkey Master Keep.
First launched in the United States in August this year, only 60 bottles of Wild Turkey Master’s Keep will be made available in the Singapore market in January 2016 at the price of S$230. Interested parties should contact Jim Chan (firstname.lastname@example.org) to pre-order theirs.