Jimmy Russell

by Colonel Steve Akley


My Bourbon Heroes

Maybe I am crazy, but at 49-years of age, I still think there are people we can look up to in the world. There are still people who can be your “heroes.”

At this stage in my life, I am no longer enamored by sports, show business or other public figures. My heroes are bourbon people. Individuals who have been able to create a legacy in my favorite distilled spirit.

I’m going to make this a semi-regular part of this blog… “semi-regular” being defined as I’ll write about one of these people when it just seems right (no schedule).

I wouldn’t be true to myself, if I didn’t kick this new feature without a tribute to my “hero of heroes,” Mr. Jimmy Russell.

To me, if you love bourbon, you sure AF better love Jimmy Russell. He is the grand statesman of bourbon. He has a career that began over 60 years ago. This blows my mind.

What I love about bourbon is the fact that there is no real “creator of bourbon.” It’s been invented by people like Jimmy Russell and all of those before him with each person adding a little bit to its history and lore. I get giddy thinking about young Jimmy learning the business from old-timers who were definitely born in the second half of the 1800s as he started his career in 1954. I mean if you think about someone capping off a 40-year career in the mid-50s when Jimmy started, they probably started in the 1910s and those people learned the business from individuals who started their careers in the mid 1800s. Jimmy is literally only one step removed from people making bourbon at the time when Abraham Lincoln was our President.

That’s a pretty large scope of knowledge folks.

Recently, I got the chance to briefly chat with Jimmy at the All-Star Sampler at this year’s Kentucky Bourbon Festival. I was like a kid just hearing him talk and we weren’t doing anything other than a little chit-chat. If I ever got the chance to spend any time with him, I swear I would be stealth in anything I said. My only goal would be to get a question in to just get him talking.

I could listen to Jimmy Russell tell stories all day.

Jimmy is a true icon of bourbon and our last real connection to the history of bourbon. He’s seen the good times, the bad and the good times again. His legend is tied to the iconic Wild Turkey 101 he came up with.

Today, at the age of 84, Jimmy can often still be found at the distillery meeting and greeting fans of the brand, fans of bourbon, and just fans of Jimmy Russell. In my mind, the bourbon world is a better place as long as Jimmy continues to do that.

God bless Jimmy Russell!