By Elizabeth Emmons
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep celebrates the first release for Eddie Russell in his new, fully official role as Master Distiller, the son of famed Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell. Eddie, who has over 35 years’ experience and who is the fourth generation of Russell to work at Wild Turkey’s Austin Nichols distillery, succeeded his father in January after working closely with Jimmy, who himself has over 60 years of experience.
Eddie learned the business from the ground up. He started working at Wild Turkey in the summers during school and continued on in various jobs such as relief operator, supervisor of new production, warehouse supervisor, and Manager of Barrel Maturation and Warehousing. In a letter to the public celebrating Eddie’s promotion to Master Distiller, Jimmy even mentioned that he made Eddie cut the distillery’s grass when he started working there, so this man truly knows every inch of the distillery and aspect of the business. Prior to taking the helm, Eddie had already created Wild Turkey’s Forgiven and Diamond Anniversary Edition in his own right.
Master’s Keep, a 17-year old bourbon, has an interesting aging story. In 1997, when whiskey in general was not as popular as it is today, there was a surplus of bourbon at Wild Turkey and Eddie needed a place to store it. A fellow distiller (a source informed me this was the Old Crow distillery) offered his empty stone warehouses.
The aging process varies greatly depending on the environment, and Wild Turkey uses metal-clad warehouses, but Eddie decided to use these stone warehouses anyway and make it anexperiment. He stored the barrels for several years and at varying elevations in these warehouses, and then at some point brick warehouses as well, before eventually moving the barrels back to Wild Turkey’s metal warehouses. Master’s Keep was barrelled at 107 proof, and during the aging process the proof decreased due to the stone and brick warehouse environment. This decrease is unusual as proof usually increases during the aging process. Also, whiskey matures at a slower pace in stone, as the temperature is naturally cooler. When the whiskey was finally removed from the barrels it was 89 proof, and when it was bottled as Master’s Keep it was at 86.8 proof (43.4% abv).
This proof is much lower than most Wild Turkey bourbons, but it by no means has this affected the quality of the whiskey as this is truly an excellent one. It is a beautiful and balanced whiskey with threads of light sweetness, spice, and wood present in all aspects of its character.
This bourbon smells of caramel candy with hints of orange. The nose is lightly spicy with smoke and vanilla.
Master’s Keep is incredibly velvety. It is creamier than almost any bourbon I can think of, and the smoothness is not as a result of a lack in body or character as some are prone to be. The silky warmth presents a pleasant spiciness with a base of charred oak.
The finish is also extremely smooth, woody, and dry at the tail end.
Each bottle costs $150 but if you are an avid bourbon collector and/or lover, it is worth it. Not to mention, it is beautifully packaged with a majestic image of a wild turkey in flight.