A Masterclass In Bourbon Whisky With Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller Eddie Russell
— Updated on 4 February 2022

A Masterclass In Bourbon Whisky With Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller Eddie Russell

— Updated on 4 February 2022
John McMahon
John McMahon

Whisky is one of the pillars of the world’s spirit industry, the category spanning continents and centuries alike, each with their own take on the poison.

Kentucky do things differently, as you can probably assume, from the hills of Speyside in Scotland or Walkerville, Ontario.

Bourbon has well and truly taken its place as the modus operandi for how things are done Stateside. Wild Turkey, from a little town next to the Kentucky River, takes a further spin on the Bourbon style of whisky, being distilled and put into barrels at a much lower alcohol volume than most other bourbons.

What eventuates is a richer layer of flavours and a truly unique process that allows for limited edition ranges such as the Master’s Keep collection to offer a really special niche for whisky aficionados.

The Master’s Keep 1894 is the third instalment of the Master’s Keep trio, hand selected by the man himself Eddie Russell, Master Distiller of the Wild Turkey brand. This 1894 release honours ‘Rickhouse A’, the oldest barrel warehouse of the famed Wild Turkey estate and the place where Eddie himself took his first sip of the whisky during his early years on the job.

“Everybody wants something that nobody else has, the Masters Keep range is trying to harness and hold onto that exclusivity. The Master’s Keep 1894 is only being sold in Australia at the moment, and it’s already a very limited number of barrels,” quoted Eddie.

“This is for someone that wants to have something that no one else does.”

We sat down with the all-knowing master of Kentucky bourbon to understand a little more about what to expect from the Master’s Keep range and how to appreciate its unique character and exclusive differences.

The Master’s Keep 17-Year-Old

“Here we have the celebration for me becoming Master Distiller, this is the oldest whisky we have and you’re looking at about 800 barrels in total. When you consider that regular 101 Wild Turkey is 1500 barrels per batch, that’s a pretty small number for the 17-year-old, but still a fair few in comparison when you move down the Master’s Keep range to even considerably smaller numbers of barrels.”

“The 17-year-old was really unique as it’s the only whisky we’ve ever aged in brick warehouses. This whisky kept that really delicate, easy to drink palate, with a little bit of wood on the back end. But it also has that soft caramel, almost honey taste as it goes down. There’s also not a huge spiciness in the middle, even on the nose it has sort of a caramel smell to it, but that stringent woody taste to finish is a result of its maturity in the barrels for so long.”

“A lot of our drinkers like this finish, it gives it a level of prestige – sort of like ageing your wine in oak – and they want that taste. Normally 17 years would be way too long in a metal clad warehouse, because the temperature changes so much that it would get too woody, very dry, almost bitter. But the 17-year-old can be unique in this sense.”

The Master’s Keep Decades

“I’ve been asked to put out one special release per year, but that’s pretty implausible as I can’t guarentee the barrels are at the right stages and eveything clicks into place. But this one came about two years after the 17-year-old, to commemorate my 35th anniversary at Wild Turkey, and it was also a tribute to my father Jimmy who taught me everything I know about bourbon.”

“This is very much an old style bourbon, it has a lot of texture and a lot of complex layers to it. It also has that that super long, lingering finish that most bourbon guys like, along with a little more tang to it than others in the range. If you really like your bourbon, I’d assume this would be your pick.”

“The reason I called it decades is because it had some 10 and 20 year old in it, but the majority of this release is 13, 14 and 15 year old. I get sort of a dark cocoa, chocolatey kind of taste to it.”

“Another difference with this one was that because we were trying to confirm Matthew McConaughey as our brand ambassador in the US, we had to hold off release of it back home. That meant that you guys here in Australia actually got it first.”


“Matthew’s a family man, a little quirky but just a super cool guy. He grew up in Austin, Texas and he’s a little bit country. He’s also a very deep thinker. Its like his mind is constantly ticking over when he’s talking to you. I’ve been with him a dozen times probably, we deal back and forth about the whisky, the commercials, he toured the distillery with my dad and my son. He’s got these sayings you know, like ‘alright, alright, alright’ but even in emails back and forth it’s like he’s speaking in code. He’s pretty cool.”

The Master’s Keep 1894

“Australia’s our biggest export market, and the guys who handle Wild Turkey here kept asking me for something special for you. So finally everyone agreed to just do something just for Australia, this 1894 represents our original warehouse that was built in the same year.”

“This release is where my time at Wild Turkey really started for me. I started at the union rolling barrels, and the second week there I got invited to the middle floor of the warehouse and the guys gave me a taste right out of the barrel. That’s when I decided I’m never leaving, because I realised then that was what my Dad does for a living – tastes bourbon all the time. To this day that still might have been the best taste of whisky I’ve ever had in my life.”

“I had some barrels in there that I’d been saving for something. I’m always finding ones that stand out for me so I put them aside. I’m constantly tasting every day’s or week’s run of barrels, and sometimes you find ones that you think are special. This 1894 is a mixture of 2003, 2005 and 2006.”

“To me, this one is lighter and less complex. It’s much more fruity, with apple and dried pear aromas. The 1894, unlike the Decades, has a great front, a great middle, tastes good going down but once it’s down it seems like it’s gone. I’m trying to showcase how different they can taste when they all begin basically the same. Unlike Scotch, for instance, we have to use brand new barrels each time, so we get a lot more flavour out of the barrel. All my bourbon’s colour comes from our barrels, it looks just like clear water when it goes in. Scotch whisky, for example, is more of a holding vessel, whether they use port or sherry casks, they rely on these styles of storage to bring out their own unique flavours.”

Master’s Keep 1894 is available from Dan Murphy’s & Vintage Cellars.

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John McMahon
John McMahon is a founding member of the Boss Hunting team who honed his craft by managing content across website and social. Now, he's the publication's General Manager and specialises in bringing brands to life on the platform.


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