A RARE BREED - KENTUCKY DISTILLERS HONOR BOURBON LEGEND JIMMY RUSSELL WITH LIFETIME AWARD
LAWRENCEBURG, Ky. - Toasting his 60th anniversary at the iconic Wild Turkey® Distillery,the Kentucky Distillers' Association today honored legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell with its rare "Lifetime Honorary Member" award.
Mr. Russell, 79, is only the sixth person ever to receive the prestigious title. He is the secondlongest serving member of the KDA Board of Directors since the non-profit trade group was founded in 1880.
KDA President Eric Gregory said Mr. Russell joined the Board on May 16, 1978, and continues today as the distillery's alternate Director, marking 36 years, three months and 18 days of gentleman leadership towards the betterment of the signature industry.
"If there was a Mount Rushmore of Bourbon, Jimmy Russell would be one of the first faces on it," Gregory said. "We are proud that he joins this elite group and welcome his continued service to the KDA, to our timeless craft and to our beloved Commonwealth."
The surprise ceremony took place at the new Wild Turkey Visitor's Center in Anderson County, with dozens of fellow Master Distillers, the KDA Board, distinguished executives and Wild Turkey employees rising in applause as Mr. Russell entered the room.
Joe Fraser, Chairman of the KDA Board, saluted Mr. Russell's many outstanding contributions to Kentucky and the Bourbon industry and presented him with a gold-framed Resolution commemorating the honor.
"Jimmy has been instrumental in the renaissance of Bourbon, paving the way for super-premium brands that have launched our historic industry into an unparalleled chapter of global success,"said Fraser, who is Vice President of Operations for Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.
During his esteemed tenure, Mr. Russell has been responsible for the creation and launch of renowned Bourbons such as Tradition, Tribute, Rare Breed, American Honey, Kentucky Spirit and Russell's Reserve, which he co-created with his distilling partner and son, Eddie.
Known among peers as the "Buddha of Bourbon," Mr. Russell was inducted into the first class of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001. He has received numerous awards around the world for his dedicated craftsmanship and lifelong support of Kentucky and its famous export.
Wild Turkey also unveiled a tribute documentary that offers fans a glimpse into the life of the respected whiskey maker, featuring dignitaries such as fellow Master Distiller Fred Noe, thegrandson of Jim Beam; Craig Beam, Master Distiller at Heaven Hill and Gov. Steve Beshear.
Rick Robinson, who represents Wild Turkey on the KDA Board and nominated Mr. Russell for Lifetime membership, called him a "true champion of the Bourbon industry." Robinson is Vice President of U.S. Product Supply Chain for Gruppo Campari, which owns Wild Turkey.
"We should feel grateful that this very special man chose to dedicate himself to this craft," Robinson said. "He's been a selfless teacher and mentor, and has provided a lot of laughs and pearls of wisdom along the way to thousands and thousands of people worldwide.
"I could not think of a more worthwhile individual to receive a Lifetime Honorary Membership to the Kentucky Distillers' Association, which perfectly coincides with his 60th year of service with Wild Turkey."
With today's award, Mr. Russell joins an exclusive club of industry titans, including:
- Dr. Frank Kraus was the first KDA Board member from Barton Distilling Company when it joined in 1963. Later an executive with Jim Beam Distillery, Dr. Kraus was
named an honorary member in 1979. He died in 2004.
- Charles King McClure of Stitzel-Weller Distillery, who led the successful repeal of Kentucky's production tax on spirits in 1966 as KDA Chairman. He served on the Board more than 25 years and was named a "Lifetime" member in 1968. He died in 1977.
- James Bigstaff O'Rear of Schenley Distilleries, who served on the KDA Board for 30 years, was hailed for his "untiring efforts" to benefit the industry upon his honorary recognition in 1965. He died in 1975.
- T. William Samuels, Sr., who founded the Maker's Mark Distillery in 1953 and served on the KDA Board for 28 years. He was installed in 1982 upon his retirement and passed away 10 years later.
- Bill Samuels, Jr., whose marketing genius and innovative leadership helped propel Maker's Mark to one of the world's most recognizable brands. He served on the KDA Board for 43 years until his retirement in 2011, when he was named a Lifetime Director.
Samuels presented Mr. Russell with a black and copper membership card signifying his Lifetime status. "Jimmy is a magnetic personality and a very constructive face for one of America's great and legendary Bourbons," Samuels said. "He is the gentle giant. And a giant all the industry loves."