How did you get into the bourbon business? “Our family is from a small town in central Kentucky [in the United States, with a population] of 10,000 people. Most of our bourbons are from that area so I grew up around bourbon, listening to Dad and his friends talk about it, but I didn’t really think I was going to work there. My plan was to get a college education and move away to have my own business. But I went to Wild Turkey for a summer job in my last year of college and never left. It was home for me.”

When did you first try bourbon? “They rub bourbon on your gums when you’re teething as a baby, and my Dad says my first taste was at six months. As I got older, my grandmother would make me hot toddies, with bourbon and honey and sugar. I did the same with my two boys at around 10 or 12 years old. You let them taste it because, for a young kid, it’s not good. I was never a beer drinker because when I grew up it was just bourbon in my house, and iced tea.”

What do you like about bourbon? “I love the vanilla caramel that you get, the spiciness, the character of it. I drink a lot of water when I drink bourbon. My parents drink a lot of tea but I drink mainly water and Pepsi. Now I try not to drink Pepsi [laughs].”

Did your father tell you much about his job? “I went out with him [to his work] as a younger kid. Then when I got into my teens, I played sports in school and didn’t think much about it. When I was 21, I saw him make yeast and I was shocked at how much knowledge he had. He was a high school graduate and he knew as much as a chemical engineer, and about wood and how it grows and changes the flavours of your whiskey.”

Your grandfather worked at Wild Turkey, too? “He was more involved in maintenance, taking care of the equipment. He had the knowledge but he was never called the master distiller. My great-grandfather worked at a distillery called Old Joe, which is now Four Roses. So there are four generations of us who have been in the business.”

Describe your journey to becoming a master distiller. “I started out as the bottom man at the plant, rolling barrels, stacking cases, painting buildings. I did that for about five or six years and then Dad brought me into the distillery. He taught me yeast making, making the mashes, the fermentation. And then about 12 years later I took over the maturation, or the ageing of the whiskey, and picking out the barrels to make each one of our products. This is my favourite part.”

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“In the Scotch and Irish whiskey industry, there’s a person who makes the whiskey, a person who ages the whiskey and a master blender who blends the products. In our industry, we do everything from start to finish. So I’m involved in the grain selection to the making of the mash, to the distilla­tion and then picking out the barrels for each of the products.”

My grandmother would make me hot toddies, with bourbon and honey and sugar. I did the same with my two boys at around 10 or 12 years old. You let them taste it because, for a young kid, it’s not good

How has drinking bourbon changed? “People my Dad’s age drink it neat with an ice cube or some water. These days, bartenders make mixed drinks with bourbon, like Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. In the Asian market, I see bourbon with soda water, highballs. I think ginger ale goes great with bourbon as a mixer.”

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What do you do when you’re not working? “We have freshwater lakes and rivers where I live and I like to catch freshwater fish like bass and catfish, bream and crappie. I have two dogs I like to take out, so basically just relaxing and getting away from the work world. When I’m playing golf with my friends, we don’t talk about business. They aren’t in the bourbon industry but they want to hear about what I’ve been doing and about the business because it’s interesting to them. I just tell them little bits.”

Eddie Russell was recently in Hong Kong to promote Wild Turkey’s range of bourbons.