Straight, on the rocks, or swirled elegantly in a cocktail, bourbon whiskey is undoubtedly a drink that evokes class and sophistication. In a sea of flavored vodkas and fruit infused libations, the sumptuous tipple differentiates itself from the rest with a melange of robust, nuanced flavors and aromas in every sip. Imbibing this amber hued liquor is a testament to its creation, a drink crafted with an artisanal level of detailing your taste buds will thank you for.
In an interactive lecture at the Cove Night club in Okada, Manila, Wild Turkey Kentucky Straight Bourbon Master Distiller Eddie Russell revealed a few salient points about what goes into the creation of this revered spirit. As the son of legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and the third generation Russell to work at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, Eddie has 36 solid years of working intimately with the entire distillation and aging process of Wild Turkey Bourbon, ensuring every bottle meets the exacting whiskey standards set forth by their predecessors.
While bourbon is classified as a whiskey, there are certain bare neccessitites that set it apart from the rest. First, the spirit must be made in the United States from at least 51% corn in its mash. It should be aged in new, charred, American white oak barrels. and distilled at less than 160 proof (80 percent alcohol by volume) and entered into a barrel at below 125 proof. Lastly, there can be no artificial coloring or flavor added.
From those set parameters, it is the Master Distiller's job to differentiate their bourbon from all the rest. Eddie reveals it is all about technicalities and attention to detail, with techniques refined and perfected over the years. With a minimum of 51% of all bourbon made of corn, bourbon distillers are allowed a certain amount of creativity with the rest of the ingredients. A combination of corn and other grains are combined to form what is called a “mash.” Adding limestone filtered water is paramount to creating a high quality product as other minerals, such as iron, alters the taste and composition of bourbon. Older batches of mash are then added to create the perfect pH balance, resulting in a “sour mash.” The mash is then fermented with yeast for 72 hours to produce “wash” which is then distilled and transferred into the charred white oak barrels for aging at a much lower ABV than most bourbons. Eddie notes that the charring of the oak barrels also affects the final output, with Wild Turkey employing the deepest char possible to impart a smoother flavor and a warm, deep amber hue to the bourbon as it matures.
While bourbon is traditionally recognized as an older gentleman’s drink, bottles of bourbon have been popping up (and open) on the public's collective radar a lot in the last few years. Interestingly, the boom of the mixology scene has ushered in a fervent interest in bourbon, notably with women and the younger generations.
“I think it's fantastic,” Eddie shares, “It's what's growing our industry.”
Worldwide interest in the spirit has also made it more accessible to those looking to sample what the hype is about. “Before, if you wanted to try out different bourbons, you had to go to a liquor store and buy a bottle. Now, the bars have them, whether you want to do it in a drink, have it neat, or on the rocks.” says Eddie, “You can now try different ones and find out what your taste profile is. Once you find the ones you like, get on the internet and see who made it. Because for me, I want something genuine.”
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Photographs from Wild Turkey Bourbon